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Damaging A Competitor's Ranking Is Possible

A June 28th article by Forbes magazine called "
The Saboteurs of Search" discusses "negative SEO" which is best described as purposely disrupting competitor rankings. The article has caused waves in the SEO industry as marketers debate the effectiveness of the noted tactics.

From my point of view and experience these tactics are employed and I know there is a serious market for negative SEO because I have personally been asked to offer the service many times in the past. StepForth, however, does not offer negative SEO services with the exception of Google Insulation noted below; which we have previously use to help clients defend themselves against negative publicity appearing in rankings.

What are the Tactics of Negative SEO?
There were several tactics mentioned: Google Bowling, Tattling, Google Insulation, Copyright Takedown Notices, Copied Content, Denial of Service, and Click Fraud.

Google Bowling: XYZ is dropped off the search engines because their competitor framed them for breaking Google's guidelines in an extreme manner. An example would be to create, overnight, a 1000% more links for a competitor (than they already have). The key would be to produce so many links at once that Google's sp@m trigger would have no choice but to catch it. There are various ways to íncrease the chances of this happening, but I would rather not describe them - after all this is not a tutorial.

Tattling: Is XYZ (the competitor) doing well because they purchased links? If so, and it is something you can prove, then it is entirely within your right to tell Google using their sp@m report form.

But will this work? It is touch and go whether your complaint will actually do anything in the short term because Google often collects these complaints and then upgrades its algorithm (if possible) to clean out other offenders using the same techniques; a more efficient process. That said,
as Matt Cutts said in this video about link buying Google is not above occasionally using manual methods to clean out sp@m so you might get lucky and see an immediate result.

Google Insulation: Is there negative press in the top 10 about your service? Perhaps you have a competitor that just won't budge out of a top position? In either case a Google Insulation strategy is designed to raise the rankings of other websites that positively discuss your company/services/products in order to oust competitors out of the top 10 rankings. In its raw concept I believe this tactic is ethical because it is smart competitive marketing and a great tactic for reputation management (a hot topic these days).

Copyright Takedown Notices: If a person desperately needed to drop a competitor out of a top position it could engage in a legal action that requires Google to drop the ranking for a period of time based on copyright infringement. The problem here, of course, is that this tactic exposes the perpetrator so that they can be sued by the offended company if the accusation is baseless. Here is where you can
submit a copyright infringement notice to Google.

Copied Content: Due to the fallible nature of Google's algorithm it is possible to 'steal' away the traffíc to a competitor's particular content (say an article just published) by publishing it on your own site IF your site is more entrenched than the competitor's.

You see if Google is presented with two websites which have the same content it will be forced to choose which site is the original creator. The website with the longer history and/or the highest reputation will often win out and the loser will often find their content ranks lower (if at all).

Denial of Service: This is the most evil and clearly illegal tactic for removing a competitor. Denial of service attacks (DoS) are conducted by sending a large number requests to a competitor's web server at one time. The result is the competitor's server will either be too jammed with requests to function properly or it will simply crash from the burden of so many requests - effectively taking the competitor's website offline. Evil indeed.

Clíck Fraud: Clíck fraud is no different than stealing monëy from a competitor. This is how it works: people maliciously clíck on ads to purposely eat away at a competitor's ad budget; even on a small scale this can be damaging to a competitor. The most aggressive clíck fraud is when a network of computers with specially created software is used to maliciously clíck on a competitor's pay per clíck advertisements in order to waste their monëy and destroy their advertising campaign.

Should You Be Worried this is Happening to You?
It is highly unlikely that the negative SEO techniques above have been or ever will be used against you. If, however, it does appear to be happening to you then contact us or another reputable web marketing company. At StepForth we will see what we can do about reversing the effects by contacting the proper people or conducting a negating clean-up campaign.

Additional Notes on Clíck Fraud
The one issue that you could very likely suffer from is clíck fraud but not in the way you might imagine. You see clíck fraud appears to happen indiscriminately so just about anyone can have it happen to them; in my experience it is not often a targeted action. As a result, you should be keeping an eye out for it if you are actively using pay per clíck marketing.

So how can you detect clíck fraud? The best way for me to answer this is to tell you what we use to monitor campaigns and detect clíck fraud: ClickTracks Professional.
ClickTracks Professional is a website analytics program that (among other amazing things) compares the data it collects from visitors on your website with the data you get from your pay per clíck campaign and does a pretty good job of identifying suspicious clíck-through behavior.

If ClickTracks Professional determines there is a high probability of clíck fraud in your campaign you will be presented with a detailed report you can take to your agent at the search engine you are marketing with. If your search engine agent determines there is validity to the evidence it is likely you will get a refund or credít to your account.

Now for a little plug, I liked ClickTracks Professional so much that in 2003 StepForth purchased our own copy and we offer website accounts for as little as $150 per month which is 50% cheaper than the service that provides. If you are interested just chëck out where we provide more detail and a service comparison chart.

NOTE: I had to think long and hard before publishing this post because I find many of the methods of damaging a competitor's rankings horrifically unethical. That said, I believe that understanding these tactics is important in order to identify their use if they are applied against you.

Ross Dunn

Ross Dunn is the founder and CEO of
StepForth Placement Inc.. Celebrating its tenth year in operation, StepForth is one of the oldest and most trusted names in search engine optimization and web marketing.

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11 Tips for Pay-Per-Click Success

This list details some very important points to keep in mind when creating or managing any pay-per-click campaign. Is this all there is to know about pay-per-click advertising? Absolutely not, but for those new to PPC it should serve as good place to start. Additionally, pay-per-click veterans or at least the moderately-seasoned will want to touch upon these points now and then to brush up on their fundamentals.

1) Do your keyword homework.
Use Google's free Keyword Tool or sign up for a WordTracker account to find out which keywords are the most competitive. The more competitive the keyword, the more expensive your clicks will be. While you're finding out which keywords are too expensive you'll come across some that aren't being targeted heavily by advertisers. Take a good look at these - they may be your keys to a successful niche campaign.

2) Don't bunch your ad groups.
You should be striving to separate your ad groups by keyword. Whatever your target, separate your keyword lists into closely related groups containing the same target words and write ads geared specifically to those words. Your ads will show up higher in results based on their quality, and search terms show up bold in results - a click-through rate booster.

3) Drive home your selling point.
What's your offer? Why are you better than the others? Remember that your ads are going to display with your competitors. The difference between a user clicking your ad and clicking a competitor ad is about 100 pixels on the screen - or a millisecond of time. You need to convince them that you are the one they want. You are better. Grab them.

4) Don't send users to your home page.
This is perhaps one of the worst things you can do to your Pay-Per-Click campaign. Internet users are notoriously impatient. Send them to your home page when they were searching for a specific product or service and see how fast they leave. Don't waste your advertising budget - send them to optimized landing pages.

5) Optimize your landing pages.
Your landing pages need to drive something home immediately for your users: "you have landed in the right place." They need to know that, yes, this is what they were looking for, here it is, here is why it is better than the rest and here's the easy thing they need to do to get it. In most cases you'll need to create multiple landing pages based on your different ad groups and keywords, but look at it this way - if your users aren't landing at pages geared exactly to their search phrases they'll leave and take your advertising budget with them.

6) Don't lie in your ads.
People aren't dumb. If you promise something in your ads you had better well deliver. Otherwise you'll not only waste advertising dollars but damage your brand. Be honest, and focus on points that make you stand out from the competition. Grandiose ad text might bring in clicks, but if it isn't the truth it won't bring in conversions.

7) Your domain name counts.
In most cases you can display a domain name that you own as the "display domain" but point the ads to a page on a different domain. Why does this matter? If you own a domain name that contains the keyword text it will show up bold and increase conversions. Enter the optimized domain as the displayed domain, point the ads to your landing pages and you can expect higher CTRs in most cases.

8) Utilize negative keywords.
Google has a new Negative Keyword Tool that will allow you to find negative keywords that you should specify for your ads. Negative keywords are those that you don't want your ads to display for. For example, if you're selling "blue widgets" you don't want to display your ads to those users searching for "free blue widgets." If you don't use negative keywords you are missing out on a chance to get more targeted traffic to your landing pages, and this can really hurt your conversion rates.

9) Test, test, and test some more.
The greatest thing about internet advertising is the ability it grants you to measure your success. It's easy to create A/B split tests with Pay-Per-Click advertising. Change one word, add a comma, include a value proposition. . .just make sure you only change one thing for each split or you won't know which variable it was that made the difference! You'll find out right away that this is a great way to optimize your click-through rates - just don't forget that clicks aren't everything!

10) Don't focus too heavily on CTRs.
Getting tons of clicks isn't always the name of the game. In fact, if you aren't using proper techniques to ensure that you're getting targeted traffic and sending it to well-optimized landing pages you can blow through your advertising budget in no time flat. Remember that the success of any advertisement is getting back more than you put in. It's an investment, not a cost - so do all that you can to better your rate of return!

11) Don't pigeonhole yourself.
We all know that Google AdWords is the most popular Pay-Per-Click service out there. Your competitors know it, your users know it - even your grandma might know it. It would be foolish to ignore Google as a venue for advertising, but don't forget that there are other search engines out there who offer similar services. Yahoo!'s new Panama search system is catching on, and Microsoft's adCenter is nothing to sneeze at either. Both companies are currently offering sweet promotional deals to new Pay-Per-Click advertisers to stay competitive so take advantage and diversify!

Mike Tekula

Mike Tekula handles SEO, SEM, usability and standards-compliance for
NewSunGraphics, a Long Island, New York firm offering Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, W3C-Compliant web design using full CSS layouts and all things web design/development.