Weaponised SEO a tempting prospect for small businesses

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19 May 2016 | 0

Billy MacInnesJust how dirty will some people get to knock out their competitors? For example, would they prepared to go full on Skeletor against their rivals or would they settle for something a little more Dick Dastardly & Muttley?

You might think that most companies, especially SMBs, would be above that kind of thing but, sadly, it would appear you would be wrong. After noticing the emergence of a number of ‘negative SEO’ attacks in recent months, UK-based SEO agency Reboot Online decided to test the honesty and steadfastness of SMBs by offering to sabotage their rivals’ websites and Google rankings.

The company compiled a wide-ranging list of local businesses, including plumbers, lawyers, IT service providers, accountants and locksmiths with a functioning website that had some level of SEO done in the past. It sent an unsolicited e-mail to 84 of them from a company called Negative SEO headlined I can get rid of your competitors on Google.

The message didn’t beat about the bush, claiming “we can get rid of your competitors that are currently ranking above you on Google”, offering a service that would make three rival sites “disappear from the first page of google results for a period of at least six months”, adding that “in some cases, your competitor’s site will not return at all”.

The e-mail detailed how Negative SEO would accomplish this goal through a combination of two methods: “establishing thousands of very low quality spammy links from some of the shadiest corners of the internet and a well-established method of content duplication and distribution that we have developed”.

In a blog post, Reboot Online’s SEO guru Shai Aharony wrote that he conducted the exercise because “I was still reluctant to believe that here in the UK, company owners, entrepreneurs, family men and women, mums and dads… you and me… would be so easily swayed to this dark corner of the business universe historically occupied by swindlers, con-men and thugs carrying out sabotage aimed at weakening, disrupting or destroying a competitors business”.

Decent sorts
Sadly for Aharony, his belief in the innate decency of company owners took a bit of a knock when 48 out of the 61 people who replied to the e-mail either accepted the offer outright (29) or wanted more information about it (19). Only 13 rejected the offer. He freely admits that “the levels of response took me by surprise”.

In his blog, Aharony posts a link to one of the replies from someone saying that not only would they be very interested but asking how long it would take before Negative SEO could get the rival website removed and if the process could be accelerated if he paid a little more because “we are coming to our busy season”.

Usually, it’s very pleasing to get an enthusiastic response to an unsolicited e-mail but perhaps not so much in this instance. The fact that Negative SEO got 61 responses out of 85 for an unsolicited e-mail was very impressive although, again, it would have been better if the subject of the e-mail had not been so unethical.

Should we be shocked? Yes, I think we should. But it also says something about technology, the way it is used and its importance to the business that people are prepared to pay to sabotage their rivals’ websites. Imagine the response if Reboot Online had sent an unsolicited e-mail offering to set fire to a rival company’s premises, trash its offices or break the legs of the managing director. You can guarantee there would have been very few replies to that particular message.

Which suggests two things: that most people don’t believe sabotaging a company’s Web presence is an especially nefarious act and they don’t view it in the same light as they would a physical attack on a rival. There’s a detachment and distance from the act because it’s not physical. It’s seems cleaner because there’s no physical damage, no burnt out rooms or smashed glass. And yet, as more businesses become ever more reliant on their websites, you could argue that sabotaging them is as damaging as attacking them physically.

So in answer to the question how dirty are some businesses prepared to get, it would appear that they are willing to get very dirty indeed – just so long as it’s not physical.

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