Back in April 2006, I coined the term "pagerank assassination" a prediction that described the act of trying to sink a competitor's high rank in Google. It's taken six years and a major algorithm change but it's now possible to do exactly that. We now have negative SEO.
Here's how it works: You pay for thousands of links on low quality web sites to point to your competitor. Google thinks they are spamming its index and sinks them like a rock.
Negative SEO will quickly become a war of attrition that no one can win if everyone does it. The only losers are the ones that don't do it.
Killing the hyperlink...
The hyperlink, that simple yet tremendously important, fundamental building block of the world wide web is under threat because of Google's new policies.
There's now very little incentive for anyone to link to other sites, and all types of risks if you do. Consider this: If Google determines that the site you've linked to is spam-like in any way, you might be tainted as selling paid-for links -- which is forbidden by Google.
Or, if you enjoy a high rank from Google because other sites have linked to you for pure reasons, but now those sites are measured by Panda to be low quality, you could be in trouble.
You can see how this would kill the hyperlink -- it becomes a very risky thing to do.
Measuring 'quality' by algorithm...
The kicker in all of this is that Panda is atrocious at measuring the quality of content.
I've met with several publishers who have been pulling their hair out trying to figure why their post-Panda rankings plummeted, while scrapers that copied their content, now rank higher.
There are probably tens of thousands of stories, in many forums, of small online business saying that the Panda update, resulted in them losing a third or more of their revenues overnight, and having to fire people.
Panda, and Google's preferential treatment of big brands, has had the effect of a mushroom cloud in terms of the destructive impact on small businesses. This comes at a time of high unemployment in the US where national and local governments are searching for ways to encourage small business growth.
[Aaron Wall at SEOBook has been doing an excellent job in covering Google's big brand focused strategy at the expense of small businesses.]
Damned by association...
A low rank from Panda doesn't mean you are operating a spam web site or trying to deceive Google. But because Panda can't distinguish original content from copied content, or truly measure quality, you could be judged guilty anyway.
If you get a link from another site, even one that you know is a good, high quality reference, it now carries a risk to you. You might ask the web site to take it down because Panda might have judged the linking site to be poor quality, or it might do so in the future.
The hyperlink is in danger because you can be damned if you create a link out to others, and damned if others link to you.
You might even get sued in the future for linking to another site! Boing Boing recently published this post:
Also, even if all's well with all your links today, that's not true tomorrow. A future algorithm change could put you in peril from all your legacy links elsewhere.
The only good hyperlink is...
It's a brilliant business strategy by Google [$GOOG] because it makes all hyperlinks potentially toxic. All hyperlinks, that is, except those provided by Google.