Website owners threatened with damaging backlinks
A search pirate has sent an extortion email to numerous webmasters, SEOs and website owners, threatening to cause permanent damage to their rankings and visibility on Google.
The letter begins: "Hello. Read this email very carefully. This is an extortion email," before saying that "NEGATIVE SEO" will be performed on the recipient's website unless $1,500 (£900) is wired via Western Union.
The blackmailer states that this negative SEO would come in the form of 20,000 XRumer forum profile backlinks, which they claimed would result in penalties such as permanent removal from Google's search engine results pages (SERPs).
The message concludes: "Just reply to this email to let us know if you will pay just $1,500.00 or not for us to refrain or not from ruining your precious website & business permanently. We are awaiting your wise decision."
Google recommends recipients of blackmail contact law enforcement
Since Google launched its most recent Penguin update in October 2013, concerns have mounted over the emergence of negative SEO extortion.
Google told news website Search Engine Land that it has always worked hard to prevent such attacks from causing any damage. The internet giant has investigated the extortion email but is unsure as to how genuine the threats are. It went on to recommend that blackmailed organisations contact law enforcement.
One such company, Analytics SEO, sent the search pirate a tongue-in-cheek reply that spanned seven paragraphs and made fun of the threats. An Analytics SEO employee has said that the extortionist has not yet launched the proposed 20,000-link attack.
Daniel Nolan, managing director at theEword, commented: "SEO extortion concerns build up occasionally. Google have said for a long time that such threats are difficult to carry out, but that it is possible. Usually this can be prevented by closely monitoring your recent links in Google Webmaster Tools and using the disavow tool if necessary."