There is a lot of speculation on the internet regarding the concept of "negative seo" and what can be done if your website is the victim of a negative seo attack. When Google rephrased it's commentary on the effects of possible negative seo attacks from "there is nothing that another person can do" to "there is ALMOST nothing that another person can do" with regards to attempting to push the rankings down of a competing website, seo professionals worldwide saw that Google was admitting a weakness in their system that could be exploited. Within six months, the volume of postings on websites like Fiverr mentioning "negative seo aspects" nearly tripled, and the industry of negative seo was born.
Negative seo is the practice of doing the specific things that are well known as against Google's terms of service, and applying them to a competing website in order to attempt to get that site penalized or pushed down in rankings. Most website owners do not even know how to find out if a penalty has been levied on their site by Google, let alone what to do about it if you find that one has been. Unfortunately, this is the element that Google states gives control back to the webmaster, through the DISAVOW tool which is available through webmaster tools. For those website owners who do not know what webmaster tools is, it serves as a method of communication between yourself and Google with regards to the website you have verified as your own. You can track usage and rankings, and more importantly you can set specific elements to be followed by Google, including the links into your site that are counted. This is crucial in the process of discovering negative seo or penalties on your website, which may be the source of a rankings drop. Through a process of analyzing the inbound links into your site, you can see if they look legitimate or not, and if they are not then you can tell Google not to count them. You must proceed with caution, however, as there is no way to undo what you are doing when you disavow links.
There are two elements that really control rankings of a website, the content on the site and the inbound links into the site. Without going into an explanation of the difference between good and bad links, lets just say that a good link helps your rankings and a bad link hurts it. This opens up the door for negative seo in that software can be used to systematically build bad links to any website that is targeted. The disavow tool is a manual process of telling Google to not count a single link, while the linking software used in negative seo can run constantly, literally building millions and millions of links within days. Attempting to chase down each poor quality link and disavow it would prove to be unbelievably time consuming, so the tendency becomes to download all of the inbound links to the site and disavow them all without scrutiny. What you have just done is to take away all of the quality links by trying to get away from the bad quality ones, and damaged your rankings anyway.
The takeaway is that negative seo is a reality. "Google Bowling" was once considered a myth, but the recent terminology that Google uses as well as many, many case studies on the matter prove that it is completely possible to de-rank a competitor's website using specific negative seo techniques. If you have been made the victim of a negative seo campaign and would like information on what you can do about it, you can download a whitepaper on the subject here: http://www.focusinternetservices.com/google-penalty-removal/
While this paper is presented more from the standpoint of recovering from a Google penalty that you may have accidentally caused yourself, the information still will help navigate a negative seo attack.
If you need information on negative seo, or the effects of a negative seo attack, consult an seo services professional.
Raymond Santopietro is the president of Focus Internet Services, a Las Vegas-based seo services company and online marketing firm.