Negative SEO: What Happens When You Go To War With A Link Network…


I’ve picked up quite a few new links recently. In fact, in the past month I’ve picked up over 11,000.

Check out this graph from Ahrefs, which shows the total number of referring pages to top5seo jumping from 3,261 on the 12th June to a whopping 14,447 on July 11th.


Referring domains have jumped from 214 to 575 in the same period.

So, what’s the reason for this huge increase?

Well, you may already have guessed, but we’re looking at two words that are the subject of much contention in the SEO community at the moment: –

Negative SEO

And to really make this interesting, the negative SEO is being undertaken not by a competitor, but I believe* by one of the biggest black hat link networks in the world – the link Emperor Network (you’ll forgive me for not linking to them I hope!).

So What Could I Have Done To Incur Their Wrath?

Well, it’s all to do with a review I wrote about their service back in October last year. You can read the original post here, but in a nutshell I was warning webmasters to steer clear as building links through automated services such as this will get your site penalised/banned.

I didn’t/don’t have anything against the Link Emperor network in particular, more this type of link building in general, but I had seen a lot of other SEO bloggers promoting their service (Matthew Woodward for example) and I wanted to make sure that the ‘other side of the story’ was out there.

Why would my review annoy them so much? Well, I happen to rank at position 2 for a branded search (below their site) and have done for the last 6 months or so (see below).

link emperor search results

Additionally, anyone who searches for ‘link emperor review’ (and a load of other terms) is going to find my post right at the top of the SERP.


I would imagine the majority of their sales are driven from their affiliate program, but this certainly can’t be great for sales and the review picks up around 15-20 organic visitors a day.

For example, between the 1st and 16th of July the post was viewed 348 times.


Where Are All The Links Coming From?

There’s the usual classic link network mix of links from: –

  • Blog sites
  • Social bookmarking
  • Wiki pages etc

Most of the links from blog sites are just poorly spun content on a standard wordpress 2014 theme. The majority of domains are random and have nothing to do with internet marketing, i.e. this one about breathtaking whales!


But there are also quite a few pay day loan type domains in there too, just for extra spammy nastiness (see this screen shot from a Majestic SEO backlinks report).


All the links are pointing at the review page and have a mix of exact matchy anchor text, i.e. ‘link emperor’, ‘link emperor review’ etc.


What Am I Doing To Counter The Negative SEO?

Unfortunately it’s not possible to get rid of the links, so at the moment I’m updating a disavow file every week or so as the links come in.

I have been doing this at a domain level as it’s easier to manage (quicker to export out referring domains to the page) and so far have disavowed 401 domains.


How Has The Negative SEO Affected My Rankings?

So far I have not seen any negative effects in either traffic or rankings and at the time of writing the targeted page continues to rank for the link emperor branded search, reviews etc.

What is annoying is that it makes my link profile look horrible, although I liked Nick Ker’s attitude to this when he was attacked with negative SEO last year: –

Link profile is much harder to analyze. With all that spam taking up space in the charts and graphs, it is more difficult to determine what links have had an effect on rankings and traffic.

So, the million dollar question…

Is This Proof That Negative SEO Doesn’t Work?

Well, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that.

In fact, what I would say is that this negative SEO is far too obvious and a subtler approach would potentially have more impact. I won’t go into detail of what that might be here as I don’t want to give anyone any ideas…

Certainly negative SEO is a big cause for concern in the industry and although google keep telling us not to worry about it, it does seem that in principle it should work as a tactic. After all, if your site can be penalised for bad links, then how can they distinguish whether or not you built these links yourself?

Rand Fishkin recently discussed the need for an irrefutable public example of negative SEO affecting a site and I would agree that this would be useful to get google to address concerns more openly instead of telling us that everything is rosy in the garden.


The second case study in this article would also suggest negative SEO can definitely do damage to your rankings.

In Conclusion…

While I am pleased that the attack hasn’t affected me so far, I will continue to disavow just to be on the safe side.

I do believe negative SEO is a problem for the industry and can effect your rankings, so be sure to regularly audit your backlinks to look out for anything malicious. It’s pretty bad that we have to police our own links, but I guess that’s where we are at just now.

Of course if I notice any rankings changes, or receive any penalty notifications in the future I will keep this post updated…

… and if you do decide to go to war with a link network yourself, be prepared for them to fight back dirty!

* Disclaimer: while I am 99% sure the links have been built by them (and all the evidence points to this), I cannot say with 100% certainty due to the very nature of a private blog network/link building service!



  1. Glad to see you haven’t been affected in any major way by this…

    But I think the funniest (and ironic?) part of the post was “In fact, what I would say is that this negative SEO is far too obvious and a subtler approach would potentially have more impact.”

    Whoever is behind this knows nothing about SEO, which just makes this entire ordeal even funnier because it proves your original point from the first article.

  2. That makes me rethink publishing a few articles I have ready. I have like half a dozen negative reviews on poor services I tested and I don’t want to become an object of their wrath.

    These people are very sad…

  3. I’m curious – in the original article, you wrote –

    “If however you choose to ignore my advice and want to try the software you can do so here. It’s an affiliate link, so I’ll get a commission… but I’m telling you not to!”

    Did you earn any commission, did anyone ignore your advice and earn you money?

  4. Great article there David. I personally think it’s bizarre the way Google seems to breeze over this issue and simply point you in the direction of their disavow tool.

    In a previous job a new client came to us with negative SEO issues that coincided pretty definitively with a dramatic drop in their rankings. The client was convinced it was a competitor and just like in your case they brought thousands of additional links (mostly from commenting) with anchor text based around pornography, drugs, and some other somewhat “unsavoury” anchor text.

    With this in mind, it could be the case that some underhanded businesses might abandon improving their own sites link profile in favour of damaging a competitors. Something that really shouldn’t be the case under Google’s motto of “Don’t be Evil”.

  5. Jon

    “regularly audit your backlinks”

    Yep, this really sucks. To successfully run a website you now need to buy an SEO tool to help you rank well in Google – i.e. one that will report bad links. Although not bad links according to Google, but bad links according to the tool, and this might be very different.

    I have disavowed so much since Penguin (and I was affected by neg SEO) and have probably disavowed some good links with the bad.

    I really hope that Google manage to sort this mess out.

  6. Interesting.

    Though you’re being generous calling those that partake in the Link Emperor ‘SEOs’ as they mostly seem to be run-of-the-mill affiliate bloggers, just going for the black hat SEO topic.

    You’re right in that anyone buying this, or the organiser, has no idea about how SEO actually works. Or good spam, for that matter!


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