Negative SEO is not a phrase you hear every day in the marketing world. It's a bit like an illness people rarely get, but it's still beneficial to know the signs to look out for to diagnose the problem.
In this article, we'll discuss what negative SEO is, usual tactics for people performing negative SEO, and how you can combat it.
Negative SEO encompasses a set of malicious activities that aim to decrease a website’s Google rankings. In essence, it is the polar opposite of the good SEO practices that many website owners have learned to adopt. Negative SEO attacks are carried out either for fun, revenge, or to gain a competitive advantage.
Is it common?
Google stands by their statement that true negative SEO does not happen often. We do have to wonder if that’s the case when you can see tons of articles on the subject and easily find people for hire to perform negative SEO.
For example, this graph below shows how Jellyfish’s search rankings were trending in 2014 in relation to several comparative SEO companies. The decline towards the end of the timeline occurred when Google implemented the Penguin 3.0 update which sought to penalise low quality (spammy backlinks).
Thankfully in this case the SEO manager frequently checked the site’s ink profiles so they were able to quickly diagnose the problem.
However, it should be noted that the preponderance of materials on negative SEO result from pseudo-negative SEO practices. Despite knowing this, it is best to know what these tactics look like, how to monitor them, and how to fight back.
What are Some Negative SEO Tactics?
Before Google’s Penguin update, you use to be able to increase your site’s rankings by linking it to anything. It was very much a quantity over quality state of being.
Released in 2012, Penguin was meant to discourage website owners from excessive backlink building. In other words, Penguin penalizes websites that are linked to too many spammy, unrelated, or low-quality sites.
Knowing this, hackers could use the update against their competitors by creating tons of backlinks to the competitor’s site on spammy websites.
Often, these spammy links include niche words that are unrelated to the target site’s industry. These words include “porn", “Viagra,” “casinos," "payday loans," and more.
Posting Copied Content
Google’s algorithm also penalizes websites for having duplicate content published on the web. They recognize this might sometimes happen if a website is indexed incorrectly, but more than a few instances of copied content will cause your SEO ranking to decrease.
By copying your content and publishing it all over the internet, a method called "scraping," negative SEO hackers can use this method to signal to Google your site is spamming other websites with the same content.
Site hacking can include changing your content to make it look suspicious to your site’s visitors and to Google.
Hackers won’t visibly change anything on your site but rather can make your site display “this site may be hacked” in Google searches, thereby deterring visitors and dropping your SEO ranking.
They can also de-index your page or cause all of your website’s external links to redirect to a spammy site.
Tools to Fight Back Against Negative SEO
Since backlinking is the most common way to conduct negative SEO, it’s particularly important that you have a system through which you can monitor your links.
We suggest conducting a backlink audit once a month to see if there have been any spikes in backlink activity to your website.
There are several solutions to track backlinks available to site owners, ranging from free to paid subscriptions. Popular choices include OpenLinkExplorer, Monitor Backlinks, and Ahrefs.
While monitoring your backlinks, you should also keep in mind which links are most valuable to your site. These tend to be the links that receive the highest constant traffic and are the hottest targets for hackers. You should ALWAYS check to see if those links are still live.
Removing Bad Backlinks
As you perform your monthly audits, keep track of suspicious-looking links that could hurt your rankings.
If you determine those links should be removed, you should get in touch with the webmaster for that site and request the link to your site be taken down. You can use whois.com/whois to find contact information for the site.
If the webmaster is unresponsive, you can either get in touch with the hosting site (use whoishostingthis.com) or add the links to Google’s Disavow Tool.
For example, WP Bacon, a WordPress podcast site gained thousands of links with the anchor text “porn movie.”
During 10 days WP Bacon fell 50+ spots in Google for most of the keywords they were ranking for. (Thankfully the webmaster disavowed the spammy domains and eventually the website recovered most of it’s rankings).
Secure Your Website
Many times, your site can be bombarded by spam, and you have no idea. To better protect your site, install a 2-step verification plugin, like Google Authenticator plugin, which sends a confirmation code to your phone number once you enter your password into WordPress.
While you’re at it, you can also install the Google Webmaster Tools Email Alert system, which will send you emails whenever suspicious activity has occurred on your website, such as an attack by malware, connectivity problems, or if your site has become unindexed.
There are many examples of this happening, including this example when a client fired an SEO agency he wasn’t happy with, and their revenge was adding a “Disallow:/” rule to the client’s site resulting in the site de-indexed.
Check for Duplicate Content
There are a few ways to go about doing this. If you fear one piece of content has been duplicated, you can simply run a Google search of a line of the text with quotation marks (“example text here”). Searching this way will generate exact matches if they exist.
If you have too much content, you can use a tool like Copyscape.com, which allows you to copy and paste your entire website into the bar and it will tell you if any of your content has been duplicated elsewhere.
We realise this can seem like a lot of information to take in and we hope you are not suddenly on high alert to try to root out negative SEO happening on your website.
It is very unlikely that your site will ever be the target of negative SEO, but it is still best to know the warning signs and how to recover from a negative SEO attack.
Here are a few key points to remember:
- Negative SEO usually comes in the form of hundreds of spammy websites linking back to your website
- Audit your backlinks each month to monitor any spikes
- Set up email alerts so you know when suspicious activities occur on your site
- Secure your website with a 2-step verification password and other security measures
- Keep up to date with best practices for Google’s algorithm