People sometimes use shady tactics to boost a rival website by plunging its rankings. A negative SEO attack can achieve this.
There are many ways in which this attack is carried out. The ultimate result caused by this is that your website rankings go down. Google scraps your website from the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) as a search engine.
In the end, this decreases your website’s traffic, making you suffer losses.
That’s why we decide to come out with a basic tutorial about negative SEO and tell you how to avoid negative SEO effectively.
1. What Is Negative SEO
Negative SEO is a series of practices to lower your website’s ranking in the search engine results, most probably by your competitors or someone who wants you to see financial or branding losses.
When defining negative SEO, getting specific can be tricky because there are so many tactics employed by black hat scammers. However, if you understand the basics of white hat SEO, then you should be able to figure out how people can use these strategies to attack others.
In most cases, negative SEO is achieved by creating wrong links. But many other techniques may cause a downwards in your website ranking.
2. Types of Negative SEO Attacks
- Hacking your website.
- Remove quality backlinks from your website.
- Point low-quality links to your site with keywords like adult, poker, and Viagra.
- Steal, copy and deliver your online content all around the Internet.
- Build massive spam links to your website.
- Creating fake reviews about your business.
If you search the Internet, you can find many bad guys willing to make a negative SEO attack for you in return for money. In these scenarios, prevention is better than cure.
Instead of waiting for an attack, it is better to already have a defense in place. This can drastically minimize any losses you might suffer if your website has suffered a negative SEO attack.
2.1. Link Farms and Spammy Backlinks
One of the most common forms of negative SEO is using link farms to create a bunch of low-quality, spammy links that lead to a website. This is also a clear example of black hat professionals using Google’s guidelines to harm the website they build links to intentionally.
When this happens, within a matter of days or weeks, spammers build a series of negative SEO backlinks by writing similar content with the same anchor text on dozens of low-quality websites.
From the search crawler’s perspective, your website is trying to develop a link-building campaign (and doing it very poorly). The spammers go out of their way to make the links seem poor and unnatural, so your website will get flagged for penalties and drop your rankings.
An example of this happened to Jacob King on his website for his podcast, “WP Bacon.” King noticed thousands of links with the text “porn movie” and other adult film-related keywords. The original keyword “porn movie” alone made up 20 percent of his link profile just 10 days after King noticed the negative SEO campaign. In that time, “WP Bacon” fell more than 50 spots for most of its ranking keywords. Traffic plummeted, new listeners dropped, and “WP Bacon” was left to pick up the pieces.
Make no mistake, negative SEO is a severe threat to your website and can decimate years of search efforts within a few days.
The Solution: Link Monitoring and Disavow Files
Like any disease, it’s best to catch a negative backlink campaign before it spreads and wreaks havoc on your website. Without proper monitoring, it might take weeks to realize the drop in traffic and rankings was caused by suspicious backlinks harming your SEO. The longer these spammers have to build their campaigns, the more damage they can do to your pages.
Prevention is key when it comes to someone trying to point bad links to your brand, so this report helps keep an eye on your backlink profile. (This tool also allows you to find competitor backlinks, so you can use it to learn about your competition.)
If you do find that spammers are running negative SEO campaigns against your brand, submit a disavow file listing the attacking domains. submission through Google Search Console instructs Google to ignore all links from bad domains so they don’t affect your rankings. Even though this solves the problem, it isn’t a one-time fix. You need to monitor and disavow spammy links as they appear continuously.
2.2. Scrapped Content Duplicated Across the Web
The first negative SEO strategy takes advantage of Google’s fight against bad links and causes websites to get penalized through the search engine’s Penguin updates. The second negative strategy takes advantage of Google’s Panda updates.
In this case, content scrapers take your content and repost it as their own. While Google is typically good at identifying original versus copied content, it’s possible that your website will be punished for the copied posts instead of the spammers.
There are two reasons why spammers will scrape your content:
- A low-quality website wants to buff up its content by stealing it from others.
- A spammer wants to scrape your content before Google crawls it, so your website is punished for duplications.
While the first reason is less malicious (though ethically wrong), the latter can destroy your SEO when your content is repeatedly stolen to discredit your work. Often, the content is spread across link farms to confuse search engines further and convince Google that your content should be punished.
In a world of content marketing, where it takes hours and days to write quality SEO content and blog posts, this attack can be particularly disheartening for content creators who see their work immediately discredited and used against them.
The Solution: Google’s Copyright Infringement Report
When you discover duplicate content, the first step is to reach out to the webmaster.
It’s entirely possible that the website’s editor or administrative staff didn’t realize the content was stolen, especially if it works with several contributors and guest editors. Bringing the stolen content to their attention could prevent that website from getting penalized for duplicate content in the future because they may identify a content provider contributing stolen content.
If you find that content was stolen maliciously, and the webmaster refuses to believe your content is the original, then turn to Google’s Online Copyright Infringement form. You can report scraped content to make sure Google acknowledges you as the true publisher and doesn’t hurt your SEO through a duplicate content penalty.
2.3. Hacked Websites and Malware Attacks
What images come to mind when you think about hackers breaking into your website? Perhaps you picture masked criminals gaining access to your website to shut it down.
While this is definitely a real threat, more subtle hacking techniques are also used to create negative SEO.
If hackers break into your website to implement negative SEO techniques, then it’s unlikely that you would notice. They might target pages that are rarely accessed (like old blog articles) or make subtle changes on your latest pages that damage your site.
A few of these tactics include:
- Adding low-quality or disturbing content to your pages.
- You get penalized by replacing your content with duplicate content from other sources.
- Adding or replacing links to drive to their pages or that drive traffic to unethical websites.
- Removing links and images from your pages.
- Hiding content changes in the HTML, so webmasters would only notice it if they check the code.
If you have been creating content on your website for years and post frequently, you might have a website that targets this tactic because you have so much content. You may also have a problem if you have a website you haven’t accessed in a while or web pages that receive relatively low traffic levels. It’s easy for these subtle hackers to change those websites and negatively affect your SEO.
The Solution: Regular Website Audits and Admin Monitoring
When you regularly audit the performance of your website, it’s possible to keep track of noticeable changes on your pages.
You don’t have to be an expert at fighting a black hat technique like this. A few warning signs you should look out for include:
- A spike in traffic to a few pages that have remained consistent over the past few years.
- A sudden influx of backlinks to previously dormant pages or backlinks from websites that would not normally link to you.
- Keyword rankings increase for unsavory or irrelevant keywords.
These negative SEO tactics could also result from a disgruntled employee or contributor.
Spammers might not be competitors trying to get a leg up, but rather upset employees who want to get back at an employer. If you recently let an employee or contractor go but didn’t completely revoke their access, then they could subtly be wreaking havoc on your website.
2.4. Fake Reviews Across the Web
Negative SEO tactics don’t just target your website; they also go after other pages on the web.
Some business owners have noticed a flood of bad reviews hitting Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, and other accounts. While the attacks on third-party sites are often used to discredit businesses, the results on Google can directly impact your local SEO.
These low ratings also directly impact your sales, as businesses tend to see a significant dip in sales whenever they lose a star in online reviews. This is even worse when paired with a drop in traffic because of lower SEO.
The first step in determining whether negative SEO is to blame for your sudden drop in ratings is to check the reviews. Unless you are in the middle of a major PR crisis, then it’s unlikely that you would suddenly see a spike in reviews – especially negative ones.
There are a few qualities to check for when determining whether a review is fake:
- The review typically only has one star and a one- or two-word review (e.g.., “bad” or “hate”).
- The reviews typically occur within a few hours or days of each other.
- The reviewers typically don’t leave reviews for other companies or have a long history of reviewing other pages.
On the flip side, most normal reviewers offer authentic feedback for companies or use review sites to warn others why they should avoid a business.
Businesses should be able to see what other reviews they leave, usually a mixture of positive and negative feedback. Expect to see both good and bad reviews. But if you see a series of one-word negative reviews, that is likely a sign of a negative SEO attack.
The Solution: Flag Fake Reviews
Most review sites let businesses flag fake reviews. While you should respond to legitimate negative reviews politely and honestly, there’s no point in being courteous to fake reviewers. By flagging the fake reviews, Google and other review sites can identify spammers and stop them before they can damage the reputation of other brands like yours.
3. How to Avoid Negative SEO
Here are some tactics that can help you avoid negative SEO and maintain a high ranking for your website.
3.1 Track the Backlinks
When it comes to the backlink profile, it allows you to monitor all the links created for directing your website. If it shows an unnatural spike in the number of links, your website is being attacked.
But to be safe, you must do a detailed analysis because this does not always mean that negative SEO is being done. Some of the tools that can help you track the links are NeilPatel.com (Free), Google Search Console (Free), SemRush (review and tutorial here), AHREFs, and Majestic SEO.
3.2 Protect Your Backlinks
Sometimes, a negative SEO attack can happen in the form of the removal of good links. A spammer can request to remove the link using your identity. To avoid this, you can use an email address created with your domain instead of the conventional Gmail or Yahoo.
In the example below, you see how such a request looks like:
You should keep track of your backlinks using a tool called Monitor Backlinks. If you notice any lost links in a short time, it may mean that somebody is actively contacting the websites linking to you and asking for removal.
3.3 Use Google Analytics to Search for Irrelevant Keywords
Run Google Analytics on your website and take note of the keywords that lead your visitors there. If you see any keywords that should not be there, you must investigate them and find out how they have got there.
Check in the example below how someone made a negative SEO attack on our website, mainly focusing on this page by creating a bunch of low-quality backlinks with adult-related anchor texts:
3.4 Avoid Content Scrapping
Sometimes just writing intriguing content is not enough to gain viewership. You also have to check whether someone is duplicating your content on another website. For this, there are many tools available online, like copyscape.com.
3.5 Get a List of Referring Sites and Identify the New Ones
You need to get a list of the sites referring to your website one month ago and another list of these sites two months old. Compare the lists and see which of these sites on the one-month-old list are not found on the two-month-old one. These are the new referring sites. Look for anything that might seem odd about them.
3.6 Keep a Watch on the Site Loading Time
Negative SEO can also be done by a spider crawling your site and storing the contents in a database so many times. This can increase the site loading time.
If you are experiencing a more than average site loading time, you need to access your servers’ log and find out which program has been using the most resources. You can then block that program.
Also, using services as CloudFlare will help to keep scrapping bots out of your website.
3.7 Have Someone Check Your Website
Find some volunteers and ask them to go through your website online. Ask them to search for your site on a search engine and see how easily they find the site or posts using the right keywords.
Tell them to look for any delays in loading, how it is viewed, or how easy it is to browse through. Ask for their feedback. This can help you know whether your website is working correctly.
3.8 Set Up Google Alerts to Track any Fake Reviews
Another way to do negative SEO is by posting fake negative reviews on your website. These reviews may discourage people from visiting your website, destroying the ranking. Some of these reviews might be genuine.
If you suspect them are fake, run them on Google search and see if the same reviews are posted on other websites. Another way to track such reviews is to set up Google Alerts with your website’s name as a keyword.
3.9 Use Google Search Console to Set up Email Alerts
With Google Search Console, you can set up alerts to be received by email if something wrong happens on your website. For example, you can know whether there is malware attacking your site or some pages of your site that is not indexed.
3.10 Protect your Website from Malware Attacks and Hackers
Make sure that your website is safe and secure from hackers. You can install WordPress security plugins like Defender or WordFence to protect your website. We have created a particular security page containing a series of website protection tips.
Negative SEO attacks are a real threat.
And even though you can disavow links or report them to Google, it might take some time before Google can conclude that you are innocent and not the one who’s behind the Black Hat practices.
It’s better to be safe than sorry. Now that you know what negative SEO is, set aside some time to check for negative SEO, and if need be, resolve it using whichever technique is most appropriate.
It is also a good idea to be nice to others and avoid giving anyone any reason to attack you in the first place. After all, being nice is free.
Further readings on Negative SEO: