Negative SEO is a contentious subject in the SEO world. You hear about it a lot, but does it really happen that frequently? Could this be the cause of your abrupt dip in rankings? Should you be concerned?
How can you tell if someone is attempting to harm you using bad SEO? Is there anything you can do to keep yourself safe? How simple is it, actually, to derail a competitor’s ranking?
Negative SEO is something that no company wants to deal with. It is not enjoyable, it harms your site’s ranking in search engines, and it can take a long time to clear up.
However, as the web grows in popularity, bad SEO is becoming more common. Many sites that have done nothing wrong are suddenly being targeted.
We are here to clear up the misconceptions and help you understand what negative SEO attacks are, why and how they happen, and what you can do to protect yourself from negative SEO attacks.
So, if you have any questions about the poorly understood world of black hat SEO and negative SEO attack management, just read on below for the answers you need.
Table of Contents
What Is Negative SEO?
Negative SEO is the practice of employing black hat SEO techniques on target websites in order to get them punished by Google. Negative SEO may be used to degrade or fully eliminate the SEO attributes of a website.
Negative SEO is a collection of operations designed to lower a competitor’s site ranks in search engine results.
These behaviors may include purposefully constructing spammy or otherwise unnatural links to the target site, content duplication, and even full-blown site hijacking.
Finding and addressing negative SEO attacks on a website can be difficult since they are not easily detectable.
A negative SEO attack can only usually be identified when a website’s search ranking and organic visitors start to drop as a result.
The Types of Negative SEO Attack
There are several different types of negative SEO attack that you need to be aware of in order to properly understand how to keep yourself safe. Let’s go through the most common types of negative SEO attacks now.
Building Spammy Links
A common kind of negative off-page SEO is the creation of low-quality backlinks, or worse, fully spammy backlinks, all pointing to your website.
Backlinks are an important ranking element for Google. While high-quality, contextually appropriate backlinks improve your backlink profile and help you rank better, spamming backlinks from low-quality sites will result in a penalty.
A single spam backlink to a site will have little effect on its rankings. That is why link farms are used to have a negative SEO effect on the target site by generating a huge number of spammy links pointing to your site at once.
If Google discovers that the backlinks going to your site are from link farms, the search engine assumes you are part of a link scheme like a paid backlink network.
That is a breach of Google’s Guidelines, and the search engine giant will penalize you. Sites that have been penalized often rank lower.
Worse, Google could potentially fully delete you from its search results, ensuring that you do not appear in the results pages for user searches at all. This would make your web page unable to gain any organic traffic from search results.
One of the most expensive SEO strategies is website hacking. People use it, however, when they are determined to lower a site’s rankings by any means necessary.
You lose control of your website if it gets hacked, and the hacker takes control, leaving them able to edit it as they see fit.
Once an attacker has gained control of your website, they may do whatever they want with it. That is one of the worst possible examples of a negative SEO campaign.
The assault might include anything from bombarding your website with duplicate or low-quality material to flooding it with low-quality links, unnatural links, or toxic or suspicious backlinks pointing to your site, all built from unethical link farms or private blog network systems.
In the worst-case scenario, hackers can even edit your robots.txt file so that Google bots entirely disregard your site, and Google will, therefore, be unable to crawl and index your pages, meaning they will not show up in the SERPs at all!
Scraping content is a major negative SEO strategy that can undermine the reputation and online discoverability of your website.
Original content is essential for demonstrating your knowledge and increasing the authority of your website. But what if someone steals your material? That is precisely what content scraping is.
Content scraping is simple. It entails copying material from your site (or just copying your entire website!) and posting it on several sites, generally PBNs.
This can be a problem because Google will usually index only one version and completely ignore the copies found on other websites.
Normally, Google will rank the original version of the duplicate material and disregard the clones, but this is not always the case.
If the original material has not yet been indexed and Google discovers one of the duplicates before the original, it will most likely rank the one crawlers find first.
As a result, scrapers frequently target recently released content for duplication. If they get in fast enough, they can use the duplicate content to steal a competitor’s rankings and get the competitor penalized as a thief.
Malicious Backlink Removal Requests
Your more unethical competitors who plan to outrank you on the basis of backlinks will seek to undermine your backlink profile.
Such individuals may engage in extremely sketchy black hat SEO tactics in order to fully remove your valuable backlinks from external websites, bringing down your site’s PageRank as a result.
They may contact webmasters while claiming to be you or a representative of your site and request that hyperlinks to your site be removed from their own page.
The more backlinks you lose, the more vulnerable your backlink profile becomes: both the number and the quality of your backlinks matter.
This may eventually cause your website to fall in the SERPs. Ranking drops like this are hard to defend from in advance, and such attacks are only usually noticed once a number of other sites have been tricked into removing your links.
Leaving Fake Negative Reviews
Positive feedback enhances your internet presence. Negative reviews, on the other hand, might harm your internet reputation.
However, one of the first things your rivals are going to do is propagate false bad reviews for your business or products. Your malicious competition may overwhelm your website and social media sites with phony bad feedback.
Nobody wants to buy items or services from websites that have a high percentage of negative ratings.
As a result, fake negative reviews might have a significant impact on your traffic flow and conversion rate, particularly if you fail to catch them quickly or outright ignore them.
Fortunately, Google’s identification of fake reviews is improving rapidly.
Which Websites are Most Vulnerable to Negative SEO Attack?
Every time your site climbs the SERPs, you push another site down to make room. It is unpleasant to consider that others can use negative SEO to undermine your efforts, but if you provide excellent services that could draw money or visitors away from someone else, your site is in danger.
A negative SEO assault can happen on any website, but local companies and startups with few referring domains tend to be more at risk than others. The more limited your backlink profile, the greater the impact of any low-quality or bad links.
If half of your links are spammy and you are a new site, Google crawlers will look at your backlink profile and conclude that you are trying to manipulate them, and they will probably de-rank you as a result.
It is very important for rookie webmasters to pay close attention to every backlink they obtain. This is also true when you hire a link building business for their services.
Some website owners are cautious about engaging with large-scale paid link building because they have had bad experiences in the past with SEOs that used spammy practices that ended up destroying their site’s reputation rather than boosting and nurturing it.
Spammy links will have less of an influence on your domain authority and rankings as your backlink profile expands.
It is always a good idea, though, to keep a close eye on your backlink profile’s referring domains and anchor text variety just to make sure there is no sudden influx of spam and low-quality links creeping in.
How to Spot a Negative SEO Attack
Now that you have identified the different ways negative SEO might harm your website, it is time to work out how to identify and defend against negative SEO attacks.
Google Search Console: Your First Stop
Google can notify you if your website has been attacked, if pages are not being indexed, if there are search engine penalties, if there are server connectivity difficulties, and so on.
The Google Search Console is your new best friend here, with a huge number of vital tools hidden away in this single piece of software.
You can adjust your email notifications from the Search Console by going to User Settings and selecting Email Preferences. Set up notifications to let you know if anything unexpected changes, and then you will be warned as soon as anything slightly dodgy happens.
With the help of Google Search Console, you can keep a close eye on your site and avoid SEO attacks, especially when you catch them early.
Monitor Your Backlink Profile
Backlinks from low-quality sites with little domain authority, minimal relevance to your sector, or otherwise sketchy vibes should always be regarded with caution.
If you notice a huge flood of these low-quality links, they might be from a link farm with the infrastructure to produce a large number of links from multiple sites rapidly.
If you have a new site with a high percentage of bad links, Google will most likely suspect you are engaging in black hat manipulation.
Backlinks in the comment sections of blogs or forum sites used to be one method SEOs used to manipulate their site authority and are now used to try to gain penalties for rivals.
If you notice hyperlinks in the comment sections of older blogs that have no topical relevance or traffic, someone may have included them maliciously.
Regular Site Audits
All site owners should have a regular site audit schedule in place anyway. If you do not have one yet, let this be the sign that it is time to set one up.
Regularly auditing sites let site owners know when something changes, whether that is new links from high authority linking domains or a flurry of manipulative links from a link farm.
There are many different website auditor tools available: just pick one you like the look of, and use it regularly to spot toxic links and concerning changes to your metrics at any time.
This usually involves clicking something like a “rebuild project” button and then watching the progress graphs for a while. Your chosen tool should have detailed instructions available on how to use it to perform an audit.
How to Fix Negative SEO Damage
It is never easy to recover from a negative SEO campaign, but it is possible.
If you are a responsible webmaster and routinely monitor your backlink profile, you should have a strong grasp of what your backlink profile normally looks like and will be able to spot when anything starts to look a bit suspicious and when unnatural links start to crop up.
If you suspect that the increase in links is the product of malicious intent, you have a few alternatives for repairing the damage before Google penalizes your site.
Some of these alternatives are more expensive than others, but they should all be treated with caution to avoid accidentally wrecking your site even further by removing the wrong links.
If you are not a seasoned webmaster, it is generally advisable to seek the advice of an SEO professional.
The first step in removing a link is to contact the webmaster and request that the link be deleted. This is not always successful.
However, before proceeding to option two, make certain that you have tried all efforts to get the link deleted before asking Google for assistance.
If the link came from comment spam, the blog’s owner may be prepared to moderate or delete the comment. Some webmasters are known to charge clients a fee to have links deleted from their websites.
You can choose to pay that fee or move on to other possibilities based on the amount you are prepared to pay.
If they do not respond to your contact efforts, it might be time to move on to engaging with Google’s disavow tool.
The Disavow Tool
Google launched the disavow tool in Google Search Console in 2012 to provide webmasters with a bit more control over their off-site SEO.
No one can entirely control the websites that choose to connect to theirs (referring domains), which can be a problem if other websites link to you in an unfavorable manner, so penalizing your site, as a result, is not always a fair response.
Google is aware of this, and in response, they have developed the disavow tool for disavowing links. Note, however, that site owners are still advised to use it carefully and only when truly necessary.
You will need to make a disavow file and then upload it to the disavow tool. A disavow file is simply a list of links that you want removed from your domain or that you do not want Google to consider when determining the quality of your website.
The GSC help site contains thorough instructions on how to submit a disavow file. Take note, however, that these links are not truly eliminated; Google just no longer considers them the next time they are crawled and indexed.
It makes the most sense to perform a disavow on the domain level, which will protect your site’s content from toxic links from any page on the malicious site.
To do this, select “entire domain” when you disavow links, and Google’s webspam team will ensure that those links are all ignored.
If you are utilizing SEO tools like SEO powersuite to assess the quality of your backlink profile, you will almost certainly need to submit the disavow file to your third-party SEO tools as well if you want the metrics there to truly represent how Google perceives your site.
Positive Link Building Campaigns
In contrast to black-hat SEO, high-quality, contextual link building employs unique material to obtain links on relevant, industry-specific media.
The top SEO agencies will boost site authority the proper way, using Google-compliant strategies that will not affect your results in the long run.
If you are not actively seeking high-quality links for your website, you are not only missing out on the potential to enhance your overall keyword ranks, but you are also putting your site at risk.
You are more likely to escape a Google penalty if you seek persistent link profile growth and build up a strong backlink profile before a negative SEO program begins.
This is not going to be the best way to repair your own site’s PageRank after an attack, but building new links to your web pages with the help of an SEO agency (or on your own!) can serve as a great preemptive defense against spammy link attacks.
There are many tools you can use to help recover from a negative SEO incident, such as SEO Powersuite, but you should always start by doing what you can to protect yourself from attack.
Whether it is fake reviews, fake removal requests, or problems with link popularity, some SEO agencies are unethical and malicious and can harm your site significantly.
There are several ways webmasters can deal with fake reviews and bad backlinks in order to regain their positions on the search engines results pages, so even if you have been hit by an attack, you do not need to turn to your hosting company and shut your site down!
Just be calm, follow the steps carefully, and do what you can to protect your site.
How Common is a Negative SEO Attack?
Most websites are now almost entirely immune to negative SEO attacks. Google has grown much better at detecting spam backlink attacks, so even if they occur, these sorts of attacks are unlikely to affect your results.
So, if your rankings suddenly decline, run through a checklist of common explanations before blaming a negative SEO attack.
There are more advanced methods of negative SEO, such as full-blown website hacking, which are much less well-defended against by Google.
However, these efforts are highly costly to plan and are rarely worthwhile. Unless you are running an internet casino, you are fairly safe. This is the only major sector where negative SEO is a common problem.
Searcharoo is a Link Building & Content Marketing company run by SEO’s based in the UK.
Our goal from the start has been to provide premium links and content services, at fair and affordable prices.