True Passive Living

How My Site Dropped From Negative SEO & Not The Penguin Update


Hey everyone, I hope this post finds you well. Unfortunately, I came across something today that has put a bad taste in my mouth for the remainder of the day. I’m sure you’ve all read the recent spiels on negative SEO, and possibly the posts on SEOmoz in regards to it.

Well as of today, all that reading about negative SEO finally hit home on a personal level. A website of mine that has been stable at page 1 for multiple keywords for about a month now had started acting a bit off yesterday. Generally when you check a SERP multiple times in a 24 period, you’ll find that the site has flucatuated a bit, this is normal.

However, what’s not normal is to see the days fluctuation go haywire when compared to your sites usual 24 hour period movement. Now at first I thought ok, maybe the site was hit by this new Penguin update, but digging a bit deeper with tools such as Ahrefs reveals a much different story…

What Happened To My Site

No the site i’m referring to is not TPL, it is another authority site that I own in which I have invested a relatively substantial Ahrefs Dropamount of money in high quality content such as infographics, detailed posts and conducted all white hat back linking strategies.

Anyways, into what has happened. Well as I mentioned as of yesterday things were moving around a bit more than usual, I tried to dismiss it, however I checked on it today to find something startling. 4 out of 5 main keywords that I target were down between 9 and 68 spots. In other words, between approximately 1-7 pages. If you know anything about the usual amount of pages a search engine user goes through, you’ll know that that is a detrimental blow to your daily user base (if you’ve not built an interactive community or subscriber list).

So once I saw this drop, a red flag immediately went up. At this point I knew it was not the recent Penguin update that had hit me because previously in the day Matt Cutts had tweeted that the update was completely live (and I had actually moved up several spots because of it). At this point in time I dove into researching the link profile of my site with a tool that I HIGHLY recommend called which can be used to identify back link URLs, back link velocity trends, anchor texts, and ranking positioning.

…Negative SEO is very real, and if you don’t believe it this is proof…

serfox dropWhat I found was that had picked up a 38 backlink spike over the past 24 hours. Now that doesn’t sound like much, but that is certainly NOT natural, and was not done by me as that would be considered web spam (which I avoided with said site). After I noticed the backlink spike, I immediately started digging around to find the URLs that had picked up my site on. It was URLs with hundreds upon hundreds of comments. I thought “hmm that’s odd I don’t do comment spamming”, however I used the handy dandy keyboard short cut CNTRL F, and typed in the anchor text that said had been used. Sure enough, it was a spammy looking blog comment with my primary target keyword (which gets over 3 million local exact searches per month) as the anchor text. As soon as I saw this I became very upset, so I checked another link, and another, and another… all pulled up as comment spam with that exact same anchor text.

What I Plan To Do To Recover The Site

Well, first things first. I am busy researching all the comment spam, emailing the webmasters of those websites to try and get the IP that posted on their site and get the spam links removed. I’m going to use the IP to try and find the spammers contact information, however I don’t expect to have any luck because more than likely they’re either behind a proxy or on what’s known as a “black hat VPS”.

At this time I’ve tweeted out to Matt Cutts to try and get his attention drawn to the issue, and that something needs to get done about this. A competitor has just killed a large chunk of my business with some simple spam comments… that’s just not right. Now, moving forward I will also be emailing Google and posting on their support forum to try and get to the bottom of this and hope to get these backlinks removed, devalued, or something. I and my current writers will continue providing high quality content to our readers in hopes of our rankings being restored, however it’s really out of our control from here.

What I’ve Learned From This Experience

First off, I’m a person of optimism, so I prefer to look at the positive outcomes for every single situation I am dealt. After all life is much easier if you carry a solid head on your shoulders, right? I’d like to think so. So let’s touch base on a couple things I’ve learned from this…

1) If you are relying on a single site for your income that is largely SEO and organic traffic driven YOU’RE MAKING A HUGE MISTAKE

2) Negative SEO is very possible, I’ve just witnessed it first hand, and have the evidence in my opinion to support it

3) You can be as White Hat as you want, but you’re not safe from others. You can do everything just as Google says, but all it takes is for one person to come in and possibly ruin your whole business

4) Google’s algorithm is not perfect. It cannot detect every time someone is sabotaging search results.

5) To not sit here and mourn about losing a site, but to get back up rebuild, restructure, and move on!


Well TPL’ers what’s your opinions on negative SEO? What would you do if you were in my situation? I’d love to hear! All comments on this matter are appreciate, and I’ll personally go through and acknowledge everyone responses.

About The Author

Austin has been doing internet marketing in variations since 2010. He sold his first company at the age of 21 and now continues in product creation, video marketing, and blogging. Outside of IM you can find him surfing, weight lifting, or fishing.


  1. David Sottimano April 28, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Thanks for sharing this, it’s an old debate that’s been given new life recently but I’ve always been convinced that negative seo done properly, works.

    Just curious about the comment spam leading back to your site, were most of the links nofollow’ed, followed or a mixture?

    • Austin April 28, 2012 at 1:47 pm

      Hey David, thanks for visiting the site! I highly respect you and the whole Distilled team so it’s an honor to receive some personal attention!

      I too believe negative SEO is nothing new, however I don’t think many people stopped to think about the ability to move a website both up and down. Afterall, it’s a reasonable assumption that everything has a counter-affect in certain cases.

      To be honest, I’ve not checked the spam links as to whether they were no-follow or do-follow at this point. I’ll have to run some scans over them once I aggregate the complete list to check. I can happily update this post when I get that completed if you’d like? My initial guess is that they’re no-follow simply because of the kind of sites it was done on though.

  2. Rob Barham April 28, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Sorry to read about this situation.
    Can you give us any hints about the age and quality of the site?
    I mean, I have presumed negative SEO could only harm new sites or sites already in the grey zone.
    Does the site still rank for it’s name?

    • Austin April 28, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      Hey Rob, thanks for commenting. This site is not extremely old (a few months) however the quality is what I would consider to be high. It’s a completely unique design that I made, 100% unique detailed content, and high quality backlink profile fueled by press releases and shares of the infographics the site has had created for it.

      I just took a look at the “domain” without the .com TLD and it is on page 1 below a couple of YouTube videos. The odd thing is that 1 of the 5 keywords I was targeting is still on page 1, and actually has gone up a rank, however the others are still hanging 20-60 spots lower currently.

  3. Magnifik SEO April 28, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Hi Austin,

    I’ve been very very impressed by both your analysis, your case and the energy your are (of course) putting in this.

    Indeed we can all thank Google for the bl**dy highway they’ve just opened for NSEO. I mean look at the new website poping up on “NSEO” and you’ll understand.

    Good luck and have a nice day.

  4. Alex April 28, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    I definitely also saw the effects of negative SEO… I have some ideas on some of the ideas on the penguin update based on my sites that are still ranking vs destroyed but I think penguin with it’s over optimization penalties has made negative SEO even worse than last month (when people started talking a lot about it).

    Kinda annoying, on one hand I want to rebuild the sites that were destroyed but on the other hand, someone can jsut destroy it sooner or later… Anyway, keep us updated if your site recovers :)

  5. Sarah April 28, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    Thanks for this. i checked my stats yesterday and I have spam links on all my sites. They’re steadily increasing, and many of the same spam links are present across each of the sites, meaning that it’s all the same job. My guess is that someone ordered a Fiverr blast or something. This sucks.

  6. Jason Nelson April 29, 2012 at 2:55 am

    Thanks for sharing. Keep us updated. I hope there is a positive outcome. As for tips, start putting a really enticing email signup form on your sites.

  7. Roy April 29, 2012 at 7:15 am

    This sucks! You are taking it way better than I would. I just started a web design/seo service on a very small, local scale. Some of the people that I contact now don’t see the value of creating a beautiful,useful site if they may have to start over in six months because a competitor targets them. People invest money in things they think will be around. One prospect asked me point-blank, ‘if they bought a website from me,what would stop me from blasting them with negative seo in hopes of selling them another website 6 months from now?’ Other than saying ‘I would never do that’ how do you answer that question.
    Anyways keep us posted on how your corrective actions work, and if I think of anything I will let know.

  8. Chikara April 29, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Sorry to hear this happened. That is a small amount of backlinks to create suck a big problem. This problem is going to get worse.

  9. Grace Sevilly April 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    How old is your site? Young sites can often become an easy target for – SEO

  10. Naveen April 30, 2012 at 6:11 am

    Hi Austin- Unfortunate to see an authority site bought down with negative SEO. Well, your competitor should understand that your site going down SERPS does definitely not mean that his site is going up.. Anyways, I am sure your site will fight up. Keep us updated if Google responds to you anyway… I think it’s time for them to switch off ‘Negative SEO’ or folks selling out scrape box or xrumer blasts at fiverr are soon going to make a fortune.

  11. Wandspiegel April 30, 2012 at 6:26 am

    Without showing the actual domain, its really hard to analyze and know whether this drop is solely from the attack or if anything connected to the site contributed.

  12. Ydeveloper April 30, 2012 at 6:54 am

    There should be some actions to be taken by Google on such activities to be penalize. Difficult to find who are actually behind on such spam for a affected site owner, but for google, possible to have something.

  13. Brian April 30, 2012 at 11:45 am

    There’s been lots of speculation about negative SEO for a while, it seems that the first real signs of it are finally popping up to verify its validity.

    This is really bad, this is worst than using spam links to get ranked in the first place. Now you can actually hurt other people’s websites… I don’t know why Google didn’t have the foresight to predict something like this which is so obvious.

  14. Josh Escusa May 1, 2012 at 12:28 am

    Wow, man I hate hearing about these kinds of things – that’s just really unfortunate. It seems like with the new updates it’s going to definitely be harder and harder to protect your sites. And the worst part is that you can’t even appeal that sort of thing because Google doesn’t care about us little guys :S

  15. Scott Hendison May 10, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Sorry you went through this but we all know it’s true, despite Rand Fishkin recently claiming “I’ve never seen it work on a truly clean, established site”. Negative SEO happens, and I think it will accelerate.

    I find it interesting that Google has chosen to let this actually hurt sites rather than just removing the value gained from the spammy backlinks – I don’t get it.

  16. Pedro Cardoso May 14, 2012 at 10:30 am

    I’ve been around for a few years, and never have I seen an algorithm change bring about such upheaval. And here I thought Google’s engineers were sensible by keeping SEO positive :-/ if this is really true, the times ahead will be messy and more and more webmasters will resort to spamming other websites rather than building up their own.

  17. Pawel Reszka February 27, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Sorry to hear your story Austin. I know how it feels. I got hit with unnatural link penalty last year and it took me almost a year to finally get it revoked. It doesn’t even matter what kind of content you have or who built these links. Google sees them as unnatural so now it’s your job to remove them…I just don’t see the logic in this.

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