Google has launched two big "updates" to the Google algorithm of late: Panda (focusing mainly on 'keyword stuffing' and low quality content) and Penguin (focusing mainly on low quality inbound links, especially the overuse of embedded phrases). Along with this, Google seems to have increased its awareness of manual spam complaints. All of this is creating some unintended consequences.
Unintended Consequences of Panda and Penguin
I doubt that Google meant to increase the availability of negative SEO tactics. Negative SEO is the use of faked or aggressive tactics by your competitors to make your own site look "as if" it is doing something against Google's terms of service, or just as bad, to call Google's attention to something you are doing that many other competitors are doing as well.
So think about it this way:
- Panda = low quality content.
- Penguin = low quality inbound links
How Do Competitors Create Negative SEO Campaigns
There are a number of ways. The easiest way is to file a "spam complaint" with Google about your website. That can be done here, but you must be "signed in" to Webmaster tools. Another way is to complain directly via Penguin, here.
More aggressively, competitors can create "fake" inbound link schemes and then complain to Google via one of the above forms. It's really a lot like calling the IRS hotline, or tattling to the teacher in second grade. Just that the teacher is Google, and you and your competitor are the second graders.
Matt Cutts (Google's Web spam guru) just released a video on negative links which touches on the topic, here.
Negative SEO and Branding
Finally, some competitors are launching "fake review" sites that complain about a competitors product or name. These sites then climb to the top of Google searches and introduce FUD (Fear / Uncertainty / Doubt) that your products or services are worthwhile or honest. Creating fake reviews on Yelp, Amazon, or Google+ Local would also fall into this category.
Are you vulnerable to negative SEO? Inventory what you are doing on your website vs. Penguin / Panda. Inventory which competitors might be motivated and able to create a negative SEO campaign against you. And pay attention to your corporate or personal branding. Engage in reputation management, policing your searches to make sure that you "look good" when someone Google's you.
Welcome to the new world of negative SEO! Have fun!