Do you remember being a kid, growing up in a big creaky house, afraid to move the covers at night for fear that the monsters would get you? The monster under the bed, the monster in the closet, the monster outside the window, they were all out to get you if you so much as made a move or exposed a foot to the chill night air.
In this analogy, and you’re going to have to stretch your imagination here, you’re your website. Your bed and covers are Google’s trust in your reputation. The monsters are negative SEO actions that others can take to earn you a penalty. This is fitting, because many people don’t believe they exist, yet some people die mysteriously in their beds every year.
Following the chain of thought, negative SEO on YouTube is like the well-meaning but not very scary monster hiding out in the hall. He’s late to the party, and he can certainly scare the crap out of you if you let him, but he’s even more elusive and difficult to pin down than the normal monsters. No one thinks about the hall monster; the closet and bed monsters take the spotlight.
Before getting to the meat of the article, first I’m going to explain a bit about negative SEO and how it works.
Essentially, negative SEO is a consequence of how Google has started to operate. The search engine has decided that some actions, particularly bad link building and bad content farming, will have a downward effect on your site. This, in an ideal world, is a good punishment and a good disincentive for people using underhanded techniques to boost their ranking.
Unfortunately for us all, this is not an ideal world. Far from it. This means others can put these bad techniques into use for you, targeting your site. Rather than punishing you for paying to use bad techniques, you just notice your site tanking one day. You struggle to find out why, and discover thousands of bad links, blog posts and duplicate content pointed your way.
Negative SEO is only guarded against by Google’s trustrank, their internal measurement of how trustworthy a site your site may be. Think about it as having the benefit of the doubt. Google looks at your site and sees a long history of staying within the rules, ranking well and generally being a benefit to the community. Then one day it wakes up to find you accused of murder. Rather than running with the prosecution and denouncing you, Google shrugs and says “well there’s no way he’d do it, it’s totally out of character.”
Of course, it takes a while to earn enough trust from Google that you have that kind of protection. The younger your site is, the smaller it is, the harder it is to resist that accusation.
Now here comes the fun part. What about SEO on sites other than Google? Sites where ranking is important, and where ranking factors can be artificially manipulated? Sites like, say, YouTube.
YouTube only has a few ranking factors that matter throughout their site. One of the biggest is just the sheer number of views a video has. This is why YouTube pauses your view count around 300, to audit your views and make sure you’re on the up and up.
Virtually every video is going to end up with some fake views. It’s just the nature of the beast. The problem comes when you pull in thousands or hundreds of thousands of fake views in a short amount of time. Embed a video on a website and cycle through user agents refreshing the page and watching the first 10% of the video; boom, instant fake views.
In the past, Google has performed audits and removed millions if not billions of fake views from videos across the site. It hurts some creators, but for the most part everyone keeps on trucking as normal. Recently, Google has decided to kick it up a notch. Now, instead of removing the offending views and possibly sending a warning to the creator, Google has started removing videos altogether.
This has opened up a whole new world of negative SEO. Have a competitor you don’t like on YouTube? Are they ranking higher than you? Send a few hundred thousand views their way. It’s $5 for 20,000 or so views on Fiverr, it’s not even expensive. Heck, 20,000 views might do it, if your competitors only average 1-2 thousand per video. The point is to push them out of the ordinary very quickly.
Unfortunately, this works. We’ve tested it. We funneled 100,000 views at a target video and within days that video was removed. I don’t have proof to show you, but it’s cheap and easy to test yourself. I recommend, of course, not using it maliciously; you don’t want to be That Guy.
Here’s the kicker. On Google, with traditional negative SEO, you can build trust and a reputation. You can reach a critical mass where your site is more or less impervious to all but the most dedicated negative SEO attacks. On YouTube, however, it’s a different story. There’s not really anything you can do to protect or immunize yourself against negative video SEO or video removal. You just have to suffer it when it happens.
This is a direct result of Google’s penalty-mindedness, and the unique nature of YouTube. Until the video social network comes up with some form of video trustrank, you’re going to suffer whenever someone decides they want to nuke one of your videos. Google will have to dial back on the video removals if they want to keep the site from becoming a dog-eat-dog war of who can nuke each others’ video first.
There’s no such thing as a YouTube view disavow tool; you can’t even see your views in detail. The best you can do – the best we can do – is bring the matter to the public eye and force Google to implement some kind of solution. Whether or not they do so remains to be seen.