Sometimes, people get jealous. And when people get jealous, they might decide to play dirty and look for ways to ‘take you down a peg or two’. Unfortunately, if you are successful, you can bet that there are a few people out there that would love to see you fail. The same applies to businesses that are doing well – particularly if they are doing well in search results – someone could attempt to undo all your hard work by attempting negative SEO.
While Google denies that negative SEO is major a problem, reports suggest otherwise, and some SEO’s are even speculating that the real-time nature of Penguin 4.0 could potentially open the floodgates to negative SEO.
What is negative SEO?
Put simply, negative SEO is a way of using techniques classified as black hat, as well as other tactics that can harm your website in the hope that enough damage will be done to remove your site from search results, or at least affect how it performs in organic search.
This can be done in a number of ways. Some common techniques include:
- Spammy linkbuilding
- Mass linkbuilding
- Building links to very, very dodgy websites (porn, gambling, viagra etc.)
- Removal of your best links
- Scraping your content and republishing it on lots of other sites
- Hacking your website
- Leaving fake reviews and social media posts to discredit your business
Pretty mean, right? The good news is, unless you have a really nasty competitor, or have really upset someone, the chances of this happening to you are slim. That being said, it’s important to understand what could be a negative SEO attack on your website.
The most widely reported type of negative SEO is backlink related, as it’s relatively easy to do. There will be many businesses out there who have previously dabbled in a few dodgy linkbuilding strategies in the past that will now be paying for it, either as a result of low-quality links being identified during a Penguin update, or after the site was handed a Manual Penalty by Google. The same tactics can be deployed by those looking to harm your reputation.
It’s worth noting that not every link to your site that you didn’t expect to see is a negative SEO attack. Sometimes, people will link to you from forums based in Russia, sometimes a site will scrape a legitimate directory listing for your business and publish it on their own business listing site, and there will also be links from sites that provide domain info. In addition, perhaps it was linkbuilding techniques of the past coming back to haunt you? If in doubt, this great tool, which can indicate whether your site has been penalised, and if so – by what – and when – is a good place to start.
There are a ton of tools that you can use to monitor your backlinks, including Google Search Console. Email alerts can also be set up to inform you of Manual Penalties.
Ahrefs gives a nice overview of links (shown in the example below) so you can look for patterns that appear suspicious.
Their anchor cloud is also handy for checking if dodgy linkbuilding is afoot – just look for a whole load of terms irrelevant to your business, or an influx of dodgy links with exact match anchor text that is relevant to your business. Monitor Backlinks and Link Research Tools both have great reports that can be set up to notify you of new links.
It’s worth ruling out lots of different scenarios before jumping to the conclusion that a negative SEO attack has occurred – especially when it comes to links. Make sure you investigate thoroughly.
If Google has applied a manual action, the only way to get this removed may be through submitting a reconsideration request which is a fairly arduous process that requires you to document all attempts made to clean up your link profile. If there is no manual action, but you have detected links that appear to be harmful, submitting a disavow file might do the trick, but there is no guarantee as to when you will see any signs of improvement.
Bear in mind that link removal methods can also be used against you. There is nothing to stop webmasters being contacted with requests asking for links to be removed and so you should keep a close eye on all of your best links too, just in case they do suddenly go missing.
It can be difficult to prevent attacks of this nature, so staying on top of the links pointing to your site is, unfortunately, the only method of dealing with this.
Hacking a site is another form of negative SEO. Hackers will look for vulnerabilities to exploit, and will then attempt to take your site down. Once they are in, they can really mess things up – deleting or changing links and content and injecting/executing malicious code. Spammers may also be responsible for site hacks, so again, don’t assume that it is a negative SEO attack. Spammers often ‘hijack’ your site for their own benefit – perhaps to create pages on your domain so that they are able to sell counterfeit goods, for example.
To prevent hacks, ensure that your site and all plugins are up to date and that site security software is used to protect unwanted visitors from accessing your site. Larger sites and publishers may also want to consider software that can detect and block bad bots.
In addition to providing backlink information, Google Search Console can be used to monitor suspicious activity on your site. Make sure you set up alerts so that you know if your site is infected with Malware, has server connectivity problems, or pages not being indexed. Using a tool like Pingdom can also help you to check that downtime is not a result of a malicious attack on your site.
Thanks to Google Panda, another way that your site can be attacked with negative SEO is through duplication of content. The hope for the attacker is that by scraping your content and republishing it on loads of different domains, (or even creating copies of your whole site) that Google will see your site as being less authoritative as the exact same content can be found in multiple places. Google Panda penalises sites with thin or duplicate content, so it is important to check that your content is not being scraped frequently using a tool like Copyscape, or by searching for snippets of content from pages on your site in Google using quotation marks around it.
Just because you find evidence of duplicate content doesn’t mean the worst has happened. Some sites will take snippets of content from your site because they are too lazy to write something themselves. While this is not ideal, Google is pretty good at identifying the source of the content and providing your site is trustworthy, this shouldn’t present too much of an issue.
Social media and review accounts can be created quickly and easily, and within hours, your potential customers are reading about how terrible you are all over the internet.
Use Google Alerts to monitor mentions of your brand, and check social media mentions regularly too. If negative reviews are left, often you can flag or report them – but be careful, as you could be upsetting a genuine customer further!
Have you been a victim of negative SEO? Or maybe you aren’t sure? Let us know in the comments, or feel free to reach out for more advice.