As if search engine optimization (SEO) wasn’t challenging enough for website owners who don’t have a stellar internet marketing firm on their side, now they’re being extorted! Scores of webmasters, web owners and even SEO professionals have reportedly received “negative SEO extortion emails” and Google isn’t taking that lying down. According to the email, the extortionists will destroy a site’s Google ranking (and other search engines’) if they don’t get $1,500 wired to them immediately. You can read the full email below, complete with typos.
Google has reported that they’re “investigating” the claims, although the search engine giant’s stance on negative SEO is fluid. In the past, Google said there’s “almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your rankings or have your site removed from our index.” That was comforting, but most recently the story is, “Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index.”
If you got one of these emails, is your site safe or not?
Don’t Forget to Wire $1 Million to Nigeria, Too
While Google hasn’t said how they’re investigating, a spokesperson says they’re “unclear how credible this threat really is.” Google’s algorithms have always been top secret, but the search engine insists that their “algorithms are designed to prevent these kinds of activities from causing problems for webmasters.” However, for those who are worried about this maybe-hoax, Google recommends using the disavow tool and to immediately report any extortion attempt to the police.
However, keep in mind that if the threat comes from overseas, there’s little that can be done. Considering the British spelling prevalent in the email, this probably isn’t from a US-based extortionist. However, if you get the threat via email, Google encourages reports to be made to https://support.google.com/mail/contact/abuse. While this email can certainly induce concern, it’s actually not anything new—scammers have been trying to use negative SEO as a threat for as long as it’s been around.
The Weakest Link
Even though the bulk of these emails have been received in the past few weeks, the first were actually reported in January 2014. Like Google says, the disavow tool really is your best friend but don’t forget to also personally keep a watch on the most recent links in your Google Webmaster Tools—disavow any that pop up and don’t seem legitimate. Links are the easiest ways to inflict negative SEO, and if this threat has any grains of truth, making it difficult for the extortionists will have them moving on to greener pastures quicker than you can say “scam.”
The biggest issue is really the idea that some webmasters today think it’s pretty easy to engage in negative SEO. Whether you’re blaming the Penguin algorithm or manual actions that are circling link penalties, believing negative SEO is “easy” doesn’t bode well for SEO pros or their clients. SEO, whether positive or negative, isn’t “easy” and given the number of reports of this email, it’s very unlikely that the extortionists would actually follow up on their threats. Check with your SEO guru, share your concerns, and keep an extra close eye on your site until the alleged threat blows over.
Check out the full details of the email here:
Subject: I Want To Buy. Please Guide Me.
Read this email very carefully.
This is an extortion email.
We will do NEGATIVE SEO to your website by giving it 20,000 XRumer forum profile backlinks (permanent & mostly dofollow) pointing directly to your website and hence your website will get penalised & knocked off the Google’s Search Engine Result Pages (SERP) forever, if you do not pay us $1,500.00 (payable by Western Union).
This is no false claim or a hoax, download the following Notepad file containing 20,000 XRumer forum profile backlinks pointing to http://www.negativeseo.cn.pn/ (this is our website and go and see on this website, you will find our email address email@example.com from which this email right now is being sent to you) :
Just reply to this email to let us know if you will pay just $1,500.00 or not for us to refrain or not from ruining your precious website & business permanently. Also if you ignore this email and do not reply to this email within the next 24-48 hours, then we will go ahead and build 20,000 XRumer forum profile backlinks pointing directly to your website.
We are awaiting your wise decision.