A search engine pirate has been making the rounds in the online marketing industry, but the threat might not be quite as serious as it seems.
The email purports to be “an extortion email” and threatens to put out 20,000 permanent backlinks to damage the targeted company’s online reputation unless they pay $1,500 within “the next 24-48 hours.”
The extortion threats play on marketing fears about Google’s Penguin algorithm, which went live in 2013 and penalizes companies who practice dishonest or black hat SEO to get higher on search pages. Another case of SEO extortion appeared in January when a webmaster was threatened over the phone with negative SEO if he didn’t pay £10 a month.
Reports of these emails are widespread enough that they got the attention of Google, though the search engine didn’t seem too concerned. When website Searchengineland forwarded them the emails, they responded that they’d investigated the claims and that it was “unclear how credible this threat really is.”
They cited algorithms that prevent negative SEO attacks and keep other webmasters from damaging a company’s reputation and search engine ranking. Google also pointed to it’s disavow tool, which allows companies to distance themselves from false search engine hits that damage their reputation.
“As a site owner, I’d look at this email the same as any other phishing email and delete it without a second thought,” says Jeremy Simpson of Suburban Marketing. “These guys all prey on the fears of innocent people to make a quick buck. They have no intention of doing any real work and setting up 20,000 links sounds like real work.”
They also pointed out that extortion attempts should be reported to the police, which isn’t a viable option for many people since it seems the threats are not coming from the US. Threats on Gmail however, can be reported at https://support.google.com/
In the wake of these extortion emails, webmasters are advised to keep an eye on recent links and use the Disavow tool on anything that seems suspicious. This should prevent most SEO attacks fairly easily.
Not everyone in the industry is so concerned about the extortion scheme. In fact, Analytics SEO employee Matt O’Toole went so far as to reply back with a tongue-in-cheek email praising the extortionist for only charging $1,500 for 20,000 links. “I’d love to know your secret.” he said. “We’ve got engineers here and they’d laughed at me if I asked them to add a link to a page for 8p!”