Plagiarized Blog Comments as Negative SEO

Its unfortunate, but there are a lot of reasons why negative SEO is on the rise.  Chief among the factors driving negative SEO is how easy it is to get stuck with a search engine ranking penalty.  These days, it doesn’t just matter who you are linking to, because the sites linking to you can hurt your rankings as well.

What is Negative SEO?

For the purpose of this post, I’m defining Negative SEO as an action that someone can execute that results in lost rankings on another person’s site.  So everything covered in the recent comment links post would be included in this, even if they aren’t intentional actions and they don’t rely on any off-page activities.  Some definitions of negative SEO might be a lot more specific, but I’m including any methods that have been used or will be used in the future so I don’t want to exclude possibilities.

A Page with a Problem

Over the last few months, one of my most popular blog posts completely lost search traffic.  The post is pretty strong:  The main content section has more than a thousand words of well-researched content and the comments section filled up with more than two hundred questions and responses!  For the first hundred or so comments, I even answered highly technical questions that required a bit of digging into state statutes.

All of that only helped the page rise, and it once reached the point of 150-200 visits a day.  Then all of a sudden, nothing.

While my first thought was someone copying my content, I couldn’t find any exact phrases from the main content area in a Google search.  I still had pagerank, so I didn’t think there was any kind of problem with the links.  Webmaster tools still showed all the organic backlinks I had picked up without too much self-promotion.  Yahoo’s more complete backlink list didn’t show any shady sites endorsing me.

The topic had also been the focus of a lot of recent articles in major newspapers, so I just gave up for a while and figured that the search engines and surfers wanted to hear the news about the most recent controversy, debate, and speculations about the future of the program.  When you’ve got hundreds of blog posts drawing in traffic, it can be hard to focus on the ranking situation of every single one – especially when its not exactly a direct source of sales.

Approved – Becoming the Content Thief

Falling off the front page was one thing, but after a few months of ignoring the post in question I found it today exactly at spot #200 in Google.  Something had to be up.  So this morning I did what I should have done in the first place.  I took the URL to Copyscape and ran a full search for duplicate content.

And duplicate content was found – on dozens of domains, apparently.  But I didn’t even recognize the phrases being claimed as duplicates.  I thought:  “This has nothing to do with the content and topics on my page.” And I almost left it at that.

But then I remembered something, an old comment that seemed strange at the time but survived moderation because it didn’t include any backlinks.  This comment seemed rambling but it was very personal and poignant – how could I delete the detailed and often tragic life story of a frustrated commenter?

I scanned through the page until that seven-paragraph monstrosity was on the screen.  Right in the first sentence, there was the first line from Copyscape.  But the next sentence wasn’t stolen from the same URL, it was plagiarized from another source.  In a methodical fashion, the comment submitter had lifted other people’s words sentence by sentence until they had written a fictional auto-biography.  Small bits of unique wording were the glue that held this copy together.

Some of the original quotes published on my site had been around quite a bit longer than than my blog had existed.  One chunk of text was even from a book published in the 1960s and quoted on websites with a higher authority status than I would ever dream of achieving  on a small-time niche blog.

Banishing the Stolen Text Salad

The offending comment has now been removed and the page now passes the Copyscape test.  Was the factor of plagiarized content from multiple sources & domains enough to knock me out of the running?  I think so – a new shady site has been flying up the ranks the whole time I was falling – but I can’t be completely sure until there’s some kind of recovery in the ranks.  What does seem obvious is that a comment without any links in it can still hurt your post’s search engine status.

I’ll try to point a few bookmark links to the updated page, and hopefully this delivers some good results in a hurry.


  1. This is interesting concept. I have lost visual PR on my site and all the pages as result and went from PR5 to 4 and current 3. I still rank well for getting traffic but overall PR just not returning to its old state.

    Been trying to figure out why – now have another idea to check

  2. Well, Mixx & Digg as well as some others have gone to nofollow, so I think its just getting tougher in general for bloggers to hold on to PR. I also had a site up at PR5 but these days anything past 3 seems like a stretch. Anyway, its that search traffic that really matters, so I try to not worry about the actual PR number so much.

    But yeah, if you have certain URLs that just suddenly vanish, I would recommend investigating any fishy comments – even if they don’t include a link!

  3. Wow that was some kind of new plagiarism. Good thing you found out. I didn’t think a comment could do that to your blog (fall off the ranking) as if you are the copy cat.

  4. hi John,
    I read this post a while ago, and then read a different blog recently that reminded me of your post.
    The conclusion of that blog post made sense. Generally, google ignores duplicate content unless it thinks it is spam, and then it punishes it. I wonder if this mix of multiple copied sentences looked like one of those blasted scraper programs that steals bits from all over and then stitches them together. That is, it looked like scraper spam to google.
    Anyway, do you still think this comment is what tanked you, and that it was because of the comment (that is, google did punish you for the content of your page rather than just ignoring it).
    And finally, do you think this was done on purpose?
    ~ Steve, the trade show sensei

  5. It seems to have fixed the issue, but I can’t be sure if it was intended as an attack. Some of the passages came from a college essay site’s samples and it was on an education-finance blog that gets a lot of confused requests from people with poor language skills. I describe a lot of scholarships, grants and financial aid opportunities but some people who don’t read English well seem to think the comment section is an application form! So, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if someone had paid into an essay writing service that was nothing more than a collection of famous lines, and they thought I was going to send ’em a check for it.

    Remember, malice is often indistinguishable from stupidity!

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