Q: Can bad links hurt my site? A: Yes

This is one of those questions which comes up every now and again in the SEO community but tends to get skimmed over because there’s not a huge amount of conclusive information available on it.

“If a bad (spam) site links to me, will it damage my rankings by association?”

This naturally has to lead on to the more important question for SEO’s:

“If I buy bad links for my competitor will it damage their rankings and therefore help mine?”

I doubt many SEO’s haven’t ever though about ways to do a number on their competitors and mess up their rankings. As search results become more and more competitive, competitor sabotage is at some point going to become to the SEO world what click fraud is to paid search. Except with SEO you’ll have no Google account manager to run to when someones out to mess up your rankings. Let me start with a hypothesis:

Probably the fastest and easiest way to take down a site is by pointing spammy paid links at it.

There I said it.

This isn’t just speculation. I’m going to share with you a few examples of exactly how this could happen. In these examples I nobbled myself but I believe I could just as easily of nobbled a competitor with the exact same tactics. Hold tight as we cross over to the dark side people!

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Hiding your backlink profile from competitors

This is a sneaky little trick more than a hard and fast strategy but I explained it to some SEO people the other day and they found it interesting so I thought I’d turn it into a post.

Here’s the problem- one of the best ways to beat your competitors rankings is to mine their backlinks and copy all the open links. Unfortunately that means your own backlink profile is vulnerable to getting mined.

Now the best way around this is to create a backlink profile which can’t be easily replicated. But realistically parts of your profile like your directory listings, forums you participate in and associations you’re a member of are essentially FFA links for anyone with the time and possibly money to pursue them.

There’s plenty of link data sources out there – yahoo, linkscape, majestic seo etc and there’s no way to block these web services displaying your link data so instead we’re going to rely on good old fashioned user error.

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