Negative SEO isn’t a myth, it certainly is real. Ever since Google’s Penguin Algorithm Update, the search engine giant has been catching and dishing out harsh penalties for those websites that use black hat SEO methods.
Black hat in SEO refers to using aggressive strategies and tactics that focus solely on “pleasing” search engines.
More often than not, black hat SEO doesn’t follow search engine guidelines. If you would like to know more about black hat SEO, I have written a blog.
In the world of business, not everyone’s intentions are pure. This is also true in terms of SEO, business’s aren’t solely focused on improving their own search engine rankings. They are now looking at ensuring their competitors go down in rank. Your competitors may be doing this to you.
This is what is commonly known as negative SEO.
Other websites could be using black hat methods directed to your website in the hope that you will receive a penalty from Google. I know it is awful to think that some businesses would actually do this, but it is a real possibility and you have to be aware of it. The more you understand negative SEO, the easier it becomes to pick up and fight off before any serious ramifications.
This blog post is here to shed some well needed light on negative SEO. After reading this blog, it is hoped you know more information about:
- What negative SEO is
- The different types of negative SEO attacks
- How to protect your website from negative SEO
What is Negative SEO?
I basically explained the essence of negative SEO above; it is the act of using back hat tactics on other websites in the hope of that website receiving a penalty from Google. As well as this, negative SEO includes limiting the effectiveness of a particular website’s SEO properties by immobilising or changing them.
The real problem with negative SEO is that most of the time it is out of your control. Also, negative SEO can be difficult to detect until it is too late. Negative SEO isn’t as brazen as some hacking practices where businesses aim to deface or go as far as try to remove a website.
Negative SEO is done quite sneakily and usually slips under the radar.
It doesn’t affect the look and feel on your website. You don’t usually know that you have been a victim of a negative SEO attack until you see your website’s search engine ranking and incoming traffic take a hit (this is the most common form of a Google penalty).
When unethical businesses perform negative SEO on your website, they usually do so through the off page SEO i.e. link building. They will use malicious backlinks as well as aggressive backlink spamming which sends the message to Google that your website isn’t of high authority. However, there are some on page negative SEO tactics that you should also be aware of (I will discuss this soon).
Why do businesses think using negative SEO is a good idea?
Obviously, those that preform negative SEO think it is a good idea; otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it. There are many reasons businesses perform negative SEO, the main reason being they want to sabotage a competitors website. If a particular business uses white hat methods on their own website and black hat methods on their competitors website, there is the chance that they would go up in the rankings even faster.
You may not think it, but there are some cases of unintentional negative SEO. Businesses are performing their own SEO, not realising that it is having a negative impact on someone else’s website. As well as this, they may be unintentionally using negative SEO tactics on their own website.
Business owners or employees and even sometimes a hired SEO professional may be using out dated SEO practices (that are now considered black hat). They think they are actually helping improve their ranking; however, it actually results in a negative SEO attack.
Type of Negative SEO Attacks
Similar to normal SEO, negative SEO has both on page and off page components to it. It is important that you are aware of all the different types of negative SEO attacks. By understanding where an attack can originate from, you can better prepare and defend your website.
Off page negative SEO
You are more likely to see an attack of your off page SEO. This is because off page negative SEO is much easier to perform (and potentially get away with). Off page negative SEO is when you see an attack that doesn’t affect your website directly. Negative SEO that is off page usually relates to link building.
Below are some of the most common forms of off page negative SEO:
1. Link farms – this is a series of webpages that are created solely to link back to another webpage. Inbound links are usually a good thing, but when a website sees too many links from unrelated or even spammy website, it shows Google that you are bending the rules and are trying to unnaturally increase the number of links.
During a negative SEO attack, unethical businesses will create really obvious link farms back to your website. It becomes extremely easy for Google to identify and because they think you are doing this, your website will be penalised.
2. Duplicate content – competitors can also falsify duplicate content which means they are copying and pasting the content from your webpages over and over again. When there is an increase in duplicate content across different domains, it sends the signal that you are trying to manipulate the algorithm to get different websites ranking for the exact same content.
3. Copyright complaints – this is a little bit more difficult than the first two. Essentially, it involves another business claiming that you have published content or other material on your website, when it actually belongs to them. Most of the time this results in instant removal of your webpage for about 10 days. Yep, poof! Just like that.
On page negative SEO
This type of negative SEO is a lot more difficult for businesses to perform, and lucky for you, it is much easier to catch malicious parties that are trying this type of attack. It is also easier to fix on page negative SEO (obviously, because it is on your own website).
Basically on page negative SEO involves other businesses hacking onto your website and making changes. Hackers could be in and out of your within a few minutes, making small changes that could wreak havoc on your SEO efforts. Hackers can introduce viruses or unsettle your website’s coding very quickly.
Below are some of the most common forms of on page negative SEO:
1. Altering the robots.txt – this is probably one of the most important files on your website in terms of SEO. This file tells search engine bots how exactly to interact with your website, telling them what to index and what to leave alone. A hacker can change the robots.txt to tell Google to skip over your most significant pages, or even the website as a whole.
2. Adjusting redirects – Google doesn’t like error pages. Usually websites automatically redirect from an error page on their website back to a normal page and this means you don’t usually see a penalty. Attackers can change all this to mean that your website has more error pages. Google will see this and probably penalise you for it.
3. Changing SEO properties – this could include changing simple things like the alt text on your photos. Think about it, are you really going to pick up on that quickly? Attackers look to target the SEO properties that come under the categories of "set and forget". These changes are minor, but they can actually have a big impact in the long run.
How to Protect your Website from Negative SEO
I know it seems a bit doom and gloom but there are some ways to protect your website and defend from negative SEO. Like I said above, on page negative SEO is much easier to defend against then off page. However, there are still some things you can do in order to better protect your website.
Have a read below at the top 4 ways for you to protect your website:
1. Search for duplicated (or scraped) content
Content marketing is so important for your SEO. And what makes up a huge part of your content marketing? Your content! Google loves new and fresh content. This is why so many businesses are now including things such as a blog on their websites.
Unfortunately, constantly producing new and fresh content is hard. So instead some businesses are simply copying the content from other competitor’s websites. When someone scrapes content they are literally copying verbatim from another website.
The attacker will say it is their own work and sometimes they even use a link farm attack to further spam your website. Google hates duplicate content and there are serious consequences if you get caught. However, if the website that copied your work gets indexed before your website, you are the one that is likely to take a hit.
If you are worried about content scraping, you should use the tool called Copyscape to find out if any website has plagiarised your content. If you find out that someone has copied your content, you can ask the webmaster to remove it and if they don’t you can report them to Google.
2. Monitor your backlinks
Companies attacking your website will likely use backlinks. Therefore it is important that you always keep track of your backlink profile. A great tool to check is anyone is backlinking to your website is Monitor Backlinks. It does cost money, however you do get a free trial to test out the tool.
This tool is so easy to use and it will send you emails whenever your website gains or loses a backlink. This means that you don’t have to be constantly checking, you will be notified if something changes. The faster you are aware of a negative SEO backlink attack, the faster you are able to do something about it.
3. Upgrade your website security
While negative SEO still remains fairly uncommon, you are probably aware of the increase in cyber-attacks. By increasing your website’s security you are limiting the chances of a hacker being able to steal you (and your clients) information as well as hackers having access to your website to perform on page negative SEO.
You should always ensure your software is up to date and purchase an SSL certificate. This will mean your data is encrypted and even if a hacker gets the information, without the encryption key it means nothing. The great thing about an SSL certificate is it also sends a position ranking signal to Google and it has the potential to improve your overall SEO.
4. Monitor reviews
The thing about external review websites is that people can say anything they want. You work to build up your brand’s reputation and all that can go to waste if you don’t monitor reviews. The most trusted and used external review website is probably Google Reviews.
A negative review now and then isn’t the worst thing. You should be concerned when there is a tsunami of negative reviews. Unless you have made a serious business mistake, the negative reviews are probably part of a negative SEO campaign from one of your competitors.
It sounds petty, but it does happen.
Your competitor will set up fake Google accounts and leave fake negative reviews, by doing this they seriously damper your brand’s reputation. This is why you always need to check your reviews and take action accordingly.
If they leave a fake name you can reply publicly to the message saying that there is no one in your database that matches the name that they have provided. Also respond by saying that you would like to fix the situation and ask if they could get in contact with you. Most of the time other potential customers will read reviews and they won’t think any of them are fake, so it is important to treat the review like a real one even if you aren’t so sure.
You can also report the fake reviews to Google to try and get the review removed altogether. If you would like more details about negative reviews and what to do when you receive one, I have written a blog that address this issue.
Negative SEO is rare; however every year there are more and more reported cases of websites been impacted by negative SEO. It is important that you understand negative SEO and the types of attacks so you can better protect and defend your website.
Negative SEO can take its form in on or off page tactics. Majority of the time malicious businesses will use black hat backlink strategies to negatively impact another website’s SEO.
The goal of negative SEO is to ensure another rival website receives a penalty from Google.
Luckily, there are a few ways to protect your website from such malicious attacks. It is important that you are always searching for scraped content. If you find a certain website that has copied your content, you will need to report it. You will also need to monitor your backlinks. By using the Monitor Backlinks tool, you will receive an alert email every time a backlink is removed or added.
Don’t forget to upgrade your website’s security. By doing this you are limiting the chances of a hacker gaining access to your website and the information it holds. Lastly, you need to be constantly monitoring reviews. On external review websites, people can say anything they like about your business, no matter if it actually is true or not.
Sarah is the head of guest posts outreach and an SEO expert. Her interests are search engine optimisation, social media and brand management.