The German startup wars: now it’s DDoS attacks AND black hat SEO attacks

The German startup scene is certainly an interesting place. Last week, Andre Alpar, an investor in cigar e-commerce Noblego claimed on the company’s blog that it was the victim of DDoS attacks and black hat SEO attacks.

Alpar says in the blog post (the blog is in German, I translated it):

“We have been trying to set new standards for the cigar market from the beginning. A few of our new ideas on packaging were quickly copied by some established retailers. So far so good. You could see that as a compliment. Part of the game. We were accused of being “hard discounters”, because shipping is free for the first order. That also seems to be part of the game. We can live with tough competition, as long as it stays sportsmanlike.”

But now, the sportsmanship disappeared, says Alpar. He says his company noticed incidences of three “black hat” tactics that can hurt his company badly.

1. Spammy backlinks

Someone has been posting spammy backlinks on blogs, apparently with the goal of tarnishing Noblego’s SEO with Google. Alpar says he thinks the spammer used a spamming tool. He shows this screenshot of the number of backlinks, that shoots up suspiciously:

 Says Alpar: “The attacks ended and seem to have missed their goal. That motivated the perpetrator to find other means.”

2. Second blackhat SEO attack

Here’s the second wave of SEO backlink attacks:

This second attack is a lot worse, Alpar says, also because the perpetrator used very “spammy” anchor text like “buy cigars”, “cuban cigars”, “cohiba cigars”. Also, by backlinking from outside Germany, the links are easily recognised as spam by Google.

3. Next: DDoS attacks

And next, a wave of DDoS attacks. On the morning of 14 January 2013, a DDoS attack was directed at Noblego. Because they share a server with other webshops, all of the shops on the server were offline for 36 hours, says Alpar.

Alpar says Noblego filed a complaint with the Landeskriminalamt (prosecutor). He adds: “This is not some prank – it’s a crime that could land you in the slammer. To find the culprit and turn him over to the police as soon as possible, we also hired an IT forensic.”

According to Noblego CEO Benjamin Patock on Gründerszene, the effect of the negative SEO seems negligible for the moment.

Or… is this a linkbaiting action from Noblego?

Some commenters are suspicious of the story. One “Felix” says: is one of a few online properties of Solidetaste Gmbh that was positioned to rank #1 on the keyword “cigars”. It already got in trouble with Google because of the lousy linkbuilding tactics employed by AKM3, the company of Andre Alpar.

On the Noblego blog, a few of the commenters also say they suspect a linkbaiting strategy behind the whole story. Meaning: this is a great way to get many reputable sources to write about the company, thus pushing higher in the Google search rankings. If it is, it’s a dangerous strategy that could easily backfire, but anything is possible, of course.

If anyone can check the claims of Noblego based on those screenshots, I would be much obliged.

Last week, we wrote about the vicious warring between the German online pizza delivery scene, with both parties accusing each other of various types of mischief and even illegal tactics like copying or screenscraping each other’s data, DDoS attacks and defamation. I guess the sheer size and buying power of the German market increases the stakes so much that the fight for market share is a lot tougher.

We contacted Andre Alpar for more info.

Photo: tpetriep, Flickr

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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