Negative SEO campaign against CHR and PGT-A

Having one’s intellectual property illegally appropriated, in a strange way, can be viewed as an ultimate compliment. Similarly, one could argue that competitors or other adversaries viciously attacking your web presence by illicitly linking to your website from irreputable and nefarious websites, in what are widely called negative SEO attacks, may be even considered more of a compliment, considering how much of an effort and how much of a financial investment such campaigns require. As we here at CHR can attest to, having to face such attacks is, however, no fun.

Detecting negative SEO campaign and taking steps to protect our website is time-consuming. Image by Charles via Unsplash.

This is the second time within a little over three years that CHR faces such an attack. When it first happened approximately three years ago, the malicious linkages had been established months before they were discovered. They, indeed, became apparent only after an investigation was initiated to find out why, inexplicably, CHR’s Google rankings had been dropping, and with it the number of visitors to our website. In other words, for the longest time, we had no idea that we were under attack. Once we discovered the problem, it became quickly obvious that somebody was spending a lot of money in engaging multiple sources, most likely outside of the U.S., trying to drag down CHR’s organic rankings on Google. Though we engaged cyber-experts and attorneys to pursue potential sources of these apparently well-coordinated attacks, we were not surprised to run into practically impenetrable walls behind which responsible parties were successfully hiding.

Fortunately, Google offers in such circumstances processes that allow the decoupling of websites from these malicious links. Letters threatening legal actions from CHR’s attorneys to some companies that hosted the first wave of irreputable websites linking to our website may also have helped in ending this first attack, with CHR’s superior Google rankings quickly returning to normal. Ever since then, we have been on the lookout for potential repeat attacks since, should it happen again, we did not want to have to experience similar delays in our responses than before.

And, lo and behold, in January of this year, it happened all over again!

The “clean-up,” therefore, has started again, and probably will take a few weeks to months. This second attack, quite obviously, again raises the question: Why would anybody do this to CHR?

There, of course, is no clear answer, but the timing of both attacks may offer some hints: Both attacks occurred at critical moments for the clinical practice of what is now called preimplantation genetic testing for aneuploidy (PGT-A) and was known as preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) for years before.

Readers of these pages, of course, have already seen PGS/PGT-A here addressed much too frequently, and know that CHR’s physicians have been among the leading opponents of this procedure. In the second half of 2016, and then again in the last quarter of 2019, PGS/PGT-A, for very good reasons, received in these pages of the VOICE and through CHR publications in the medical literature especially bad press. In July of 2016 ridiculous new guidelines for PGS/PGT-A were published by the genetic testing industry after the industry could no longer defend prior practices. The impetus for these new guidelines was the news about delivery of chromosomally healthy offspring after transfer of allegedly “chromosomally abnormal” embryos, so designated by PGS (then, after July 16, renamed PGT-A). The first investigators to report such healthy births were CHR’s physicians in October of 2015 when CHR’s Medical Director and Chief Scientist, Norbert Gleicher, MD, presented five healthy pregnancies at the annual ASRM meeting in Baltimore, MD. As of today, hundreds of healthy births have been reported, and increasingly more colleagues have accepted the opinions on PGS/PGT-A expressed by CHR’s investigators for over a decade.

In the fall of 2019, CHR became aware of a study to be published, the so-called STAR study, which conclusively demonstrated that all claims made by the genetic testing industry for so many years, were unfounded. An article in these pages suggested that this publication may become the final nail in the sarcophagi of PGS/PGT-A, and when the paper finally did appear in print in December of 2019, the field was, indeed, shaken up by two editorials accompanying the article raising the question of why PGS/PGT-A should be performed at all.

That both attacks on CHR’s website occurred following such crucial periods in the genetic testing industry’s marketing drive of PGS/PGT-A, and with CHR being very visible in questioning the utility of this procedure, it seems more than curious that the malicious cyber-attacks against CHR’s website so closely coincided with these time periods. Though it all may be one big coincidence, in medicine, there is the saying, “what is frequent is frequent,” and in medical research, based on this premise, one develops a third sense for possible rational connections observed in clinical practice. The timing of both negative SEO attacks on CHR’s website, therefore, appears less and less coincidental, and more and more likely driven by interested parties in the field, in one way or the other, linked to the genetic testing industry. They apparently really don’t like what CHR stands for, and especially don’t like that CHR has been right over and over again!

This is a part of the February 2020 issue of the CHR VOICE.

Norbert Gleicher, MD, leads CHR’s clinical and research efforts as Medical Director and Chief Scientist. A world-renowned specialist in reproductive endocrinology, Dr. Gleicher has published hundreds of peer-reviewed papers and lectured globally while keeping an active clinical career focused on ovarian aging, immunological issues and other difficult cases of infertility.