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The competition of one of my company's websites has started a really dirty campaign of acquiring hack links. One of their ingenious tactics has been to seed in links to OUR site withing their hack bot, making US look like we might be responsible for it or using us to cover their tail.

These are .gov and .edu sites.

Is there any way possible to discredit these links? To disavow them at all?

EDIT: Penguin has really effected this question, IMO. Does anyone know if there is a revised opinion on disavowing backlinks to your site?

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That's a very dirty tactic :-( –  Tom Gullen Mar 10 '11 at 10:02
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Actually, it's a waste of time. –  John Conde Apr 13 '11 at 13:57
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Really appears desperate on their part. Take it as a compliment that they have to employ blackhat methods to fight their competition. –  Melanie Apr 20 '11 at 2:34
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4 Answers

FYI, this won't hurt your website from an SEO point of view. Unsolicited one way backlinks can never hurt you (if you purchase links those one way backlinks can hurt you). If they could then tactics like this would be an easy way to sabotage your competition. At worst, one way backlinks have no value. This is probably the case with the links you are referring to. The only way these links can harm you is if you link back to them. Once you do that you run the risk of being seen as part of a link scheme or link farm. That's when the penalties come into play.

If you're worried about your company's reputation I still wouldn't worry about it as the only people who actually check to see who is linking to your site is competitors and people doing SEO research (which is usually your competitors). Normal people don't check and almost certainly have no idea what a backlink is much less what a high or poor quality one is.

But to answer your specific questions, no, there is no way to discredit them or disavow them. You can't control who links to you or who sees those links. You can do as Ben recommended and contact the site administrators to let them know of their potential security problems and request the links be removed. But in practice that's probably not a good use of your time as the links aren't hurting you, and although unlikely but still possible, they may even be helping you if they have any value at all.

update 2102 -11

Google now allows you to disavow links

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I did read about a south american holiday company on SEOmoz that bought hundreds of thousands of backlinks and google delisted them. –  Tom Gullen Apr 13 '11 at 14:12
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@tom, The key word is bought. They actively sought the links which is a big no-no. I should update my answer to clarify this. Thanks for pointing that out. –  John Conde Apr 13 '11 at 14:21
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"Unsolicited one way backlinks can never hurt you (if you purchase links those one way backlinks can hurt you)." Two things: How can Google or anyone know that we DIDN'T pay for them. Also, it makes it very difficult for us to report on suspicious activity of competitive sites when the thing we are reporting happens to include us. –  Dan Gayle Apr 13 '11 at 20:47
    
@Dan, It's a grey area for sure but you can count on Google erring on the side of caution and only imposing penalties when they can confirm a link is paid for. Otherwise it would, once again, be too easy to cripple a competitor this way. Not to mention Google only penalizes sites buying links when they apparently buy lots of them (to manipulate the search results as JC Penney did). In most cases it is just the site selling the link being panelized, usually by having PR removed or not being able to "pass" it on to other pages. This would be the case for the bad sites in your example. –  John Conde Apr 13 '11 at 20:57
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I just came across a recent YouTube video from Matt Cutts on this topic. Google is now letting webmasters disavow links: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=393nmCYFRtA&NR=1

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I know this is just a small measure but I wanted to note it because it is a new feature. In the Microsoft (maybe they call it Bing, I forget) Webmaster tools you can now disavow incoming links.

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If you are concerned, I would contact the site administrators for the sites that have your link erroneously and request them to take it down. You can also let them know that a bot has been doing this so they can increase their security.

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Yes, please contact the site owners. I work for an edu and we recently got hacked through a student build site by a group setting up a link wheel with edu site. We didn't know about it until the ads started showing up in regular searches. So contacting the site admins would be very appreciated on their end. –  lovefaithswing Mar 10 '11 at 14:47
    
We've contacted the webmasters, and even went so far as to call some of the government agencies that had been hacked. They gave us the bureaucratic run-around and it took 3 weeks before they did anything. –  Dan Gayle Mar 10 '11 at 17:24
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