The majority small to medium-sized businesses are happy to employ underhanded tactics through search engine optimization to stay ahead of the competition, researchers claim.
It is now expected for both small businesses and large corporations to have an online presence and so search engine optimisation (SEO) is big business. By optimizing websites and ensuring the correct keywords and search terms are in place, business owners can gain more exposure for their websites and then, hopefully, new customers and revenue.
It is a legitimate practice to invest in SEO to bolster website rankings in search engines. However, according to a study conducted by Reboot online, some SMBs are leveraging SEO to get ahead of the competition in a more underhanded manner.
The SEO optimization firm, while keen to emphasize the practice isn't on their to-do list, decided to explore the practice of "negative SEO" -- in other words, sabotaging competitor websites and removing them from Google search results.
There are a number of tactics employed in negative SEO -- and most involve practices that Google frowns upon, leading to search engine rank downgrading or removal altogether.
These tactics include posting spam containing backlinks to the rival website, posting comments containing mass links and creating extra links stemming from suspicious sources.
As a result of negative SEO, backlink rates go up but Google does not like it, leading to dropdowns and traffic plummeting, which can in turn ruin a business's reputation and hit revenue streams hard.
If a business is high up the SEO ranks, they may end up being a victim of negative SEO. Couple this with the fact search engine optimisation work is going cheap, Reboot online calls such tactics a "growing problem" -- having been targeted itself in the last month.
Reboot online found that when asked if they would hire a service to conduct negative SEO on a rival, almost half of 84 SMBs contacted through the study -- 47 percent -- said yes and asked for payment details.
In addition, a further 31 percent registered their interest.
"That's a total of 78 percent of businesses who were interested or outright accepted the offer of negative SEO on a competitor," Reboot online notes. "A practice that is Illegal as well as underhand."
Out of the businesses which responded to the cold-call email, only two businesses gave the company a well-deserved round of abuse for their offer, and 19 politely declined. In total, 23 did not respond.
This is a small sample but does appear to highlight a potential lack of interest in maintaining an honourable business and decent business practices in a stiff and competitive market.
A single negative SEO hire can be disastrous for an SMB relying on their internet traffic for work, and it is unclear what is being done to tackle the problem by the search engines we rely upon in our daily lives.
Read on: Top picks