Search engine optimization, or SEO, is almost as old as the public internet. As soon as there were enough pages to require search engines, there were people trying to find ways to make their website come out on top of the search results pages. And as soon as Google came on the scene in the late ‘90s, all eyes turned to their incredibly powerful new generation of search algorithm to determine what tact to take.
And as with any new technology that impacts people’s business and bottom line, there developed two camps: those willing to work within the boundaries and those who looked for the back doors and hidden ways to beat the system. In SEO, these became known as White Hat and Black Hat SEO.
Where Did Negative SEO Come From?
The first thing you need to know is this—the vast majority of you will never experience a negative SEO attack. Yes, it’s real. No, it’s not very common.
With that said, where did this negative SEO appear from? It’s what Black Hat SEO became once Google started cracking down on the tricks being used to circumvent their algorithms. Where once someone could submit their site to directory pages to build backlinks, now Google down-ranks sites for being linked to from these sorts of pages, so those same people will instead fraudulently submit their competitors URL for listing.
Google’s crackdown led to people thinking “how can I raise my rankings without making changes to my own site?” Thus was born Negative SEO. In essence, it’s the practice of conducting primarily off-page activities in an effort to lower a competitor’s website ranking. Occasionally, rarely but it happens, this will slide from being in a gray area to being outright illegal when someone actually hacks their competitor’s site to alter the content in such a way as to affect their SEO negatively.
We can’t emphasize enough that these tactics and practices are not very common in the real world. That said, the best practices for preventing these sorts of attacks are generally good ideas for any business with a web presence to follow, so we would like to take you through a handful of examples and discuss what you should be doing to keep yourself and your business happy and healthy online.
Most Common Forms Of Negative SEO Attacks, And What To Do About Them
Building unnatural backlinks
By far the most prolific and yet least technically savvy type of negative SEO attack takes the form of someone submitting your website to scammy directory pages. These pages will then create a large number of anchored links to various pages within your domain. In the past, this boosted your SEO juice, however with more modern search algorithms these pages have been largely discredited, leading to a link here having the opposite impact—down-ranking your site.
What to do:
- Conduct monthly backlink audits.
- Monitor backlinks with a tool like Ahrefs or MozPro for deeper insights.
- Disavow linking domains via Google.
Duplicate content/Content scraping
Plagiarism is nothing new. What is new is the impact it can have on how your site is indexed by Google. Let’s say you post awesome new blogs every Monday in the early morning. Your competitor then scrapes your content and reposts it on their site with no attribution. Google then indexes new pages and sees their page first. Now your blog is dinged for being a duplicate, even though you created the content.
What to do:
- Run plagiarism checks—Google a paragraph in quotes for a quick and dirty check or use a tool like Copyscape for bulk checks and in-depth research.
- Email the offending page, sometimes they don’t even realize the negative impact this practice can have.
- Submit a DMCA takedown request via Google’s DMCA dashboard.
Negative reviews/Fake profiles
We combine these two as they have similar impacts and the solution is the same. People can be vindictive, and one of the easiest ways for them to get back at someone for a perceived wrong is to write incendiary false reviews of their business. Some take it farther and hire a content farm to flood review sites or create false social media profiles that are similar to the real account name then post defamatory links, updates, etc. This is all done in an attempt to undermine your online reputation and your authority with the search engines.
What to do:
- Set up Google alerts for review sites you’re on, with your business name in quotes so you’re notified anytime someone mentions you there.
- Stay on top of your existing profiles and create further alerts on social media platforms, especially those you don’t use. Consider creating a profile to reserve your business name.
- Read and respond to all reviews, the best way to stop someone from creating false negative reviews is to handle any legitimate ones you receive professionally and in a timely manner.
Hacking your site
This is far and away the least likely tact for a competitor to take simply to downrank a website. Chances are that a hack is for far more nefarious reasons, so the practices put in place to safeguard your site from general attack will also protect you from these. What a negative SEO hack would most likely look like is someone getting into your CMS and creating ghost pages full of content intended to tank your rankings. This generally means content and links to known scam websites.
What to do:
- This is far too massive a topic to cover here. The bottom line is that if you fear you may have been hacked, it’s crucial that you address the situation immediately as there is far more at stake than negative SEO.
How Relevant Is This, Really?
Unfortunately, there are people out there who would rather spend their time, energy, and money attempting to take down their competitors rather than on building up their own presence and reputation. This means that as a business owner doing business online, you need to be aware of these sorts of tactics and keep a vigilant watch for any signs that you’re under a negative SEO attack.
Google has safeguards in place that catch many, if not most, such attacks. That said humans are still in control of their algorithms so things get overlooked and there will always be people looking out for the loopholes such oversight creates. Being mindful, monitoring your properties and knowing how to respond are crucial to mitigating any effects of a negative SEO attack and keeping your sterling SEO and online reputation clean.