Ad campaigns can get nasty. We've all seen it happen. Sometimes marketers will choose a strategy that pulls the competition down rather than build their own offerings up. There has, of course, always been a few issues with libel and slander and other pesky legal matters like that, but they've never been enough to completely dissuade an unethical company from trying them. And now we have the Internet opening all kinds of new ways to get even nastier.
But just because a new avenue has been opened to us, does that mean we automatically have to take it? Does that mean we automatically have to test the limits of the law, the algorithms, or the boundaries of ethical practices? In a word … no.
Traditional negative ad campaigns have been around for as long as there have been multiple parties promoting multiple products. It's a natural outgrowth of having two products that are so similar you can not really convince anyone you've got something better, so you 've got to convince everyone that they've got something worse.
We see this a lot in politics … we even expect it. But it is still done in other sections quite often. But they are careful to use a certain amount of tact, or risk having it backfire or attract legal repercussions.
And now we've got the Internet making new methods of negative ad campaigns possible. And some of the SEO's with a certain sense of ethical leniency are doing their best to take advantage of them.
SEO, or search engine optimization, has been about learning the search engine methods or rules in order to discern what it will take to move a website to the top of the search engine results. It requires careful observation and strict adherence to the rules in order to effectively (and ethically) position a given website.
Of course, as some companies learn the rules and methods to ethically conduct SEO, they start to spot some tricks as well. And from the tricks they discover loopholes. And these loopholes give them the means to artificially manipulate the results. These practices were collectively labeled black-hat SEO and the search engines do everything they can to discover these practices, including penalizing a site or even banning it outright.
Unfortunately, it is specifically because of these measures that a new form of unethical SEO has cropped up – generally referred to as Negative SEO.
Negative SEO, like traditional negative ad campaigns, is all about teasing down others rather than building yourself up. Negative SEO can come in a number of forms, all of which have the purpose of doing serious damage to someone else.
Some of these methods include: Google Bowling, fake copyright complaints, click fraud, and fake duplicate content. Many of these practices are just malicious, while some of them result from new search engine policies (like in the case of Google Bowling). These practices involve conducting black-hat SEO – not for your own site, but for your competition's site. Theoretically this would cause the penalties to happen to them and open higher ranks for you.
Does this really work? Some say yes, others no. Google itself says: "There's almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index."
Of course, there's something suspicious about that "almost" and unethical SEO's have latched onto it as proof that it can be done (although it most likely refers to malicious hacker attacks and identity theft than it does search engine results manipulation).
So what is the difference between traditional negative ad campaigns and negative SEO?
One: there are laws that govern slander and libel that protect the intended victim from traditional campaigns. You do not have that luxury against negative SEO. All you can do is hope the search engine somehow has you covered.
Two: traditional campaigns attempt to sway opinion. Negative SEO attempts to remove a competitor from the running. You can not choose to ignore negative ads and click their website if there is not a website to click.
As the Internet continues to evolve, these new and unethical methods will continue to pop up. But the choice always remains the same: do you want to make yourself better, or tear others down?