Ever feel like your friend / enemy (aka frenemy) ranks everything they touch, using nefarious tactics? Or your competitor keeps beating you in the ranks by spamming? Or are they ranking and you just know they must be doing something sneaky, but you can’t quite figure out what? Well, there is a reason some of us call the real definition of spam to be “Sites Positioned Above Mine”. So how can you out them or get them some extra scrutiny?
First a disclaimer, if you plan to out a competitor, chances are good that your market area could come under the Google spam team microscope. So even if you aren’t stating “Hey, I am the owner of ABC Widgets and I want you to know that Orange Widgets R Us is spamming” be prepared that all the ranking sites in that space could get some extra special attention by the powers that be at Google. Those in glass houses should not throw stones 😉 And of course, there is that whole thing about karma to be reckoned with.
There is also the whole ethics thing where some people claim it is unethical to out any website while the other side of the coin is people claim it is unethical to NOT report spam. To each their own.
But if karma be damned and you want to do some butt kicking to your competitors and frenemies, here are some things you can do to see your competitor banned from Google. Do note that this will only work if they actually are doing something spammy. If their ranks are from white hat SEO, these tricks won’t work.
Google spam report
In a world where your Google account ties you into this, it is best to find a nice proxy or coffee shop, sign up for a throwaway Google account and use the spam reporting tool.
Google does use the reporting tool for spam checking, so particularly if it is a clear cut case of regular old spam that just hasn’t tripped the spam filter yet, this should be your first stop. Google has asked for more reports post-Panda and post-Penguin, so include as much details, hit submit, then start watching.
For posting post-Penguin spam specifically, you should read this tweet from Matt Cutts, head of Google spam.
To report post-Penguin spam, fill out https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/spamreport and add “penguin” in the details. We’re reading feedback.
Drawback to the Google spam report method is that it can take a long time to have any effect, it it does at all. So really, if you want to see that site crashing and burning, you need to do one of these more, ahem, extreme spam reporting tactics.
Slip a note
Slyly hand Matt Cutts (or anyone else on the spam team) a piece of paper with the URL if you run into any of them at an event . While webmaster central team members can be used, note that they deal mostly with webmaster problems, and not so much with the spam end of things. But it can be effective, especially if it is some new kind of spam.
@reply Matt Cutts
Matt seems to read most of the @replies he gets. Use a throwaway Twitter account, and make sure you use a tiny URL type service (preferably one that does a blind redirect), because your competitor can discover what you have done if you go this route (along with all those people who follow all @mattcutts activity, both send and received) even if they can’t figure out who you are. Bonus points if you use a tracking URL shortener that shows you the click stats. Wait until you see clickthroughs originating at Google, then nuke the @reply spam report.
And it is always fun to have a look at some of the @mattcutts tweets (and comments on Google+) and see what is getting outted, there are usually a few anytime you take the time to look.
Send an anonymous hat tip
There are some SEOs who refuse to participate in any outings (at least until the outing has been done, then it’s considered fair game) while some love to do nothing more than get the publicity by outing someone, especially if it is a large site or big brand. Find one of those who love the publicity and notoriety of being the one to out someone, and send them the anonymous tip. Proxies and anonymous email addresses are your friend, unless you don’t care if the person you chose tries to figure out who you are – after all, that person just might know the owner of the site you are attempting to out.
Go to a conference
A conference is a great place to bend the ear of industry celebrities and Google employees. Choose a few targets, carefully drop a “You wouldn’t believe what ____.com is getting away with.” Be sure to mention things like “really sneaky” and “never seen this kind of spam before” to arouse curiousity and ensure they remember to look. Everyone loves to check out cutting edge spam that hasn’t been caught by Google. To remain truly anonymous though, flip your badge around or do your dirty work in the bar 🙂
Post on your favorite SEO forum
Again, proxies and anonymous emails/usernames are your friend. Post on forums with titles like “check out this clever spam that is ranking”. It might hit the spam bin, ironically, for outing a website, but chances are enough eyeballs will see it and even more people will report that site to spam or someone will out it more visibly.
Post on your favorite SEO blogs
Same with forums, leave a comment on a high traffic SEO blog. Just make sure it is either an edgy blog that will publish an outting comment or someone who will do the outting for you after reading it.
Report to the hosting company
Is the spam obviously spam? Report it to the hosting company, as many hosts will disable accounts hosting clear cut spam. Might not solve the problem permanently, since hosting companies are a dime a dozen, but will cause some headaches and could see the site deindexed for a while if the owner doesn’t notice it has been disabled (you would be surprised how often that happens, especially if it is a huge spam farm network).
Go big or go home
Is your competitor a big brand or well known name? Public outings in the New York Times successfully saw JC Penney go down in a (temporary) firestorm. If the name is big enough, contact reporters who have done outtings in the past.
Trace the spam
Don’t forget to trace back the spam – and trace it forwards. You never know where it leads, and even the best spammers can leave an accidental footprint. The bigger story might not be the site that is giving you problems in the rankings, but the well-known SEO company or consultant that is behind the spam.