If you follow the search industry with any kind of regularity, you may have heard the term "Googlebowling". For those that are not aware, Googlebowling is the act of trying to damage to your competitors' search ranking by giving the impression they were involved in a spam link campaign.
I first saw mention of Googlebowling about a year ago at Threadwatch and I've heard mention of it at SES conferences. However, thanks to Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz.org, we now have some more details to share about this activity. At the recent SES London conference, Rand secured some important information about Googlebowling; including the strategies employed and what do if fall victim to this type of attack.
According to a recent post on the SEOmoz blog, it has been indicated that Googlebowling is completely possible. In order to conduct one of these campaigns, the strategy is to pay attention where your competition is linking and point links from unsavory areas of web (spammy areas) to the same place. For example, if mycompetitorssite.com is pointing to a specific site, in order to initiate a proper "Googlebowl," you need to point links from spam areas to the same target site.
Doing so can give the impression your competitor took part in a spam link campaign and the resulting penalties (Rand gives the impression Google is much more adept at catching these) can be quite severe. Furthermore, if the site isn't an authority in it's targeted area, these penalties can be hard to recover from. Fishkin elaborates:
Related to the above; if you've got a site that's been "bowled" or heavily penalized for inbound links, here's the deal. Unless you can remove those external links (by whatever means necessary) or become a major brand in your space (such that Google will overlook any past [indiscretions]), you're basically up a creek. If you can't get the links removed, you're better off starting from scratch - even a successful re-inclusion request might be followed up by a link spam analysis the next week that gets you thrown back out.
In the SearchEngineWatch blog, Barry Schwartz indicates some are skeptical about inbound links hurting your ranking. He points to Google Blog entry where a similar topic is discussed. The post reveals:
In general, linking to web spammers and "bad neighborhoods" can harm your site's indexing and ranking. And while links from these sites won't harm your site, they won't help your indexing or ranking. Only natural links add value and are helpful for indexing and ranking your site.
Taking part in any of these goings-on can, according to the post, have adverse affects on your site's ranking. However, if you look at the Googlebowling strategy relayed by Fishkin, you see it meets the criteria of how not to conduct link campaigns, which by Google's own admission, can be damaging to your search engine presence.
From reading some of what's been written about this subject, it seems the main way to protect yourself from Googlebowling is to become an authority in your targeted field, something we've heard a number of times from Google, et al. But it looks like these were not empty suggestions.