Digital Passive Aggression: A (Silly) Guide to Negative SEO

Your gym charged double for last month’s membership. The site from which you bought textbooks never shipped them, nor refunded you. Whatever the reason, you’re mad. But as you know, it’s 2013. And if there’s one way we love to lash out, it’s passively, dammit. Iam here today to present a list of ways you can do so without having to actually confront anyone. Disclaimer: I don’t condone sabotaging a brand’s reputation or success online. These are merely hypothetical, highly passive aggressive scenarios that you could feasibly carry out if you were burning with an undying passion and needed to do something about it before you snap (by the way, try yoga first). Anyway, this is simply a lighthearted post about reverse-SEO tactics. Why so serious?

Fair, but firm:

Forget the customer service line. Passive aggression is about attempting to teach a lesson without actually having to talk to anyone about it. Here’s where you can start:

Giving bad reviews

The digital manifestation of feedback is the best and worst thing to happen to local institutions. I know I’m not the only one who religiously refers to Yelp or Google+ Local when scoping out a new Thai joint or choosing a daycare center for my kid (okay, my dog). On the flip side, as a consumer, it’s empowering to be able to amplify my feedback for others to digest. Personally, I often hold my breath unless I’m desperate to shout from the mountaintops how much I freaking love a local brand’s service or product. Why take the time to write a review? Google is a business, too. When someone is searching for “eye doctor maplewood,” Google wants to deliver a list of the best optometrists it can find in order to retain that person’s trust. A huge indication to Google of the quality of a business is the number of positive reviews. Likewise, a boatload of single-star ratings attached to a brand is going to hurt its visibility in Local Search. So go ahead: tell that brand what you think, especially if your feedback will allow the company to grow and learn from your experience. Or heck, do it just to spite them.

Make the site your default startup page on your browser

Depending upon the extent of your aggression (and especially the extent of your passiveness), you might be interested in spanning your efforts over a long period of time. If that’s the case, bless you, and listen closely. Go to your browser’s preference settings and change the start-up page to be the dumb website of the brand you hate. At the very least, add it to your list of “favorites” so you can easily access it. Now every day, make sure to visit the homepage, but leave before clicking through to secondary pages. Why take the time to visit the site? You may be just one person, but to that site, you can be a passive aggressive pain in the digital arse. By refusing to explore additional pages, you’ll help increase that site’s bounce rate (depending, of course, on the amount of traffic it receives). Will this matter to them? Probably not, actually. But you can laugh quietly, maniacally, to yourself at night, and imagine the Bounce Rate swelling in Analytics. You cunning sonofagun.

Evil, but I get it:

If you’re wanting it to hurt a little more, you fit into this category.

Clicking PPC ads

Maybe it makes me evil. Maybe it makes me genius. Regardless, I never hesitate to alleviate my rage for a certain student loan lender after flushing a solid chunk of my budget down the pipes every month. How do I do it? Easy. I search a broad term (in my case, it’s usually “student loans”) and click away on the highest-position ad belonging to the brand I want to ruin. I immediately return to the search page and repeat the process.


Why take the time to click ads? The broader the term, the most competitive and expensive the cost. Brands don’t have to pay for the ad to show up; they only have to fork over money if someone clicks through. And that’s where you come in, assuming the company you want destroyed is running PPC campaigns. Search. Click. Smile.


Linking from your lame personal site

If you have your own website, you’re in luck a especially if its Domain Authority is hovering at a 14 like mine is. So I’ve never actually used my blog for bad, but if I were desperate enough to evoke some pain, I might try leveraging my crappy website for evil. Why take the time to link from my site? Links from shotty domains can often weaken the backlink profile of a brand (especially if its portfolio of inbound links is already thin). You could also trash talk the brand in your posts and hope that Google starts associating the company with certain negative keywords, which would then populate in Google Instant results. This tactic isn’t very practical or measurable a and honestly, it will probably make you look like a Bitter Betty. But that’s what passive aggression is all about, I guess.

Psychotic, also, you should see someone:

I’m not going into extreme detail about these because I have zero experience performing any of these extracurricular activities. I solemnly swear. But it’s interesting to think that there are people out there who actually do “negative SEO.” These efforts are not okay. Probably not even legal. And the people who do them are clinically insane.

Scraping content

Duplicate content can harm a website’s ability to rank and thrive because it harms the user experience. If your site is guilty of possessing multiple pages (different URLs) that have identical or nearly-identical content, you’re probably pissing off the search bots and your customers. (There are exceptions.) So what Negative SEOs do is scrape content from sites they want to bring down and replicate that information on random sites. This positions them as guilty of pursuing shady duplicate content strategies. It’s awful.

Hacking FTP and editing robots.txt

I especially don’t know how to do this, but I guess all you need to do is hack a site’s FTP and add a few key URLs into the robots.txt, a file that specifies to bots which pages are OFF LIMITS. So yes, assuming you decided to slip some important pages into the robots.txt file inconspicuously, you could cause serious damage and possibly bump pages from Google’s index.

Buy some links, ruin some lives

Last year, Googleas Penguin update cracked down on websites that engaged in manipulative tactics to rank higher. One huge red flag was (and still is) a shady backlink profile. For instance, a website that attracts thousands of really low quality links from sites that aren’t even related to the brand is likely purchasing them in order to appear as more valuable than it is. As a fellow agency showed in its Negative SEO case study, this tactic works against websites today. And at bargain price.


Before you go on a digital killing spree, remember to take this post not at all seriously. Instead, I hope you realize how many components are taken into consideration for Google to determine the quality of a site. You have the ability to influence the rise or demise of a website’s visibility in search engines. Isn’t it empowering? I know this isn’t an exclusive list; what did I miss here? Leave a comment below!