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June 6, 2006

GoogleBowling: Urban Legend or Competition Killer?

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Is your site in danger of being GoogleBowled?

We thought this issue had been settled. Especially when the Google Sitemaps team assured us last month that links from bad neighborhoods would not harm a site’s ranking, only links to bad neighborhoods. But, no. The topic of GoogleBowling is back in the forums and even Rand Fiskin says the idea of ‘bowling’ down your competition by pointing spammy sites at them is “totally possible”. Or, at least to a point.

Barry defines GoogleBowling as knocking out a site from the Google SERP by linking to it from spam sites or sites from ‘bad neighborhoods’. Surely Google’s algorithm is smarter than middle-school antics, right? Matt Cutts told us link-selling sites lose their ability to affect reputation, so how could they affect yours?

Though dormant for awhile, the issue of GoogleBowling was resurrected by a ‘case study’ created by an anonymous competitor in the recent V7ndotcom SEO contest, who says his site was “bowled over” for soliciting links. The unnamed competitor says “lots of people”, reportedly more than 40,000, began linking to him when he announced he would donate the prize money to charity. Soon after, his site began slowly dropping from the rankings. The unmasked man blames the drop not on increased competition, but on Google penalizing him for soliciting links.

I have an issue or two with this guy’s story. First, he entered an SEO despite having a disclaimer on his site that reads “I am NOT a professional SEO or whatever…” I think it’s the “or whatever” that really gets me. Secondly, the case study documents his site’s slow progression down the SERP. Surely, if Google was taking action against his site, it wouldn’t be done slowly. The site would immediately disappear and would never be heard from again. But that didn’t happen, in fact, the site made its way back to number three shortly after.

And though he’s causing a fuss over being ‘penalized’, the unnamed man is still practicing the same techniques.

Adding fuel to the fire, upon returning from SES London, Rand Fishkin announced a trusted source had told him GoogleBowling was possible. Though this re-sparked the forum debate, it’s likely because many users only read what they wanted to hear.

Rand blogged that Bowling was only possible if the up-to-no-gooder’s made it look like the targeted site “participated” in the program by creating the illusion of reciprocal linking. Rand also said the only sites vulnerable were newbie sites, freshly 301’d sites, sites that changed ownership or ones that have never had strong rankings. Sites that have already established themselves need not worry about being taken out. You’re safe.

There is virtually nothing another site can do to hurt you.

Is GoogleBowling possible? Technically, but only if you’re just starting out and have already managed to severely annoy your fellow competitors. Otherwise, if you play by the rules and keep an eye on your competition, the only person responsible for the success or failure of your site is you. And that’s the way it should be.

Like the MythBusters would say, we determine this myth plausible.





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