Imagine putting tons of effort into optimizing your site for SEO only to do a test search and find out your page didn’t make it anywhere near to the first page of the results page. Sounds terrifying? Welcome to the dark side of SEO; a place where unscrupulous site owners bend the rules by using bad SEO practices to harm the ranking of their competitor’s website.
Although Google and other search engines have done a lot to detect and counter these attacks in the last years, the best strategy against them is to maintain a proactive defense. In this article, we’ll discuss the basics of what negative SEO is, show you how a negative SEO attack looks like, and give you the weapons you need to defend your website’s search ranking.
What is negative SEO?
Negative SEO, also called Black Hat SEO, describes a range of unethical practices which are used to lower a website’s search engine ranking. Negative SEO is an easy way to get to the top of a search results page without having to do the time-consuming work of link-building.
The history of negative SEO goes back many years, but it was in 2012 when it really went mainstream. That year Google released Penguin, an algorithm update which should’ve put a stop to manipulative practices like keyword stuffing and link schemes. Instead, it became a weapon for black hat SEOs which discovered they could use it to sabotage their competitors’ website ranking to the point of de-indexing them completely by search engines.
Today, negative SEO lives on in many ways despite the frequent algorithm updates made to combat them. Whether it’s duplicating your content and publishing it in hundreds of pages throughout the web, repeatedly linking unrelated content to your website, or trashing your company’s reputation with fake bad reviews, your site’s ability to attract a healthy amount of traffic depends on you knowing how to counter SEO attackers.
Type of negative SEO attacks
The resourcefulness of black hat SEOs knows no limits. From their humble beginners as link spammers, they have developed a wide range of techniques to harm their competitors’ websites. Since they are too many to deal with in detail, we’ll focus on the most commonly used types of attacks.
The oldest and most commonly used negative SEO tactic is also one of the least effective today, thanks to Google’s continuous efforts to improve its linking algorithm. Nevertheless, it’s still too soon to let your guard down.
Link spamming involves creating unrelated external links to your website. Though mostly ineffective today, this tactic is extremely easy to implement but can be particularly damaging if your competitor decides to link your page to untrusty gambling or adult websites.
Although these places are more likely to put you under Google’s radar and move them to de-rank your page, link-spamming is most often done using poorly-moderated forums, comment sections, and low-quality directories.
Content scraping is a technique that involves duplicating your content word-for-word into other websites and then attempting to index these before your own. The attacker, therefore, hopes to confuse Google’s bots by overwhelming their ability to tell your website from all of its fake copies.
If the attack succeeds, your page could be ranked after your attacker’s copy pages, which would invisibilize it for potential visitors and potentially earn you a penalization. The effects of content scraping succeeding are higher if it’s carried using a website which is more authoritative than yours, such as the forum of a highly-regarded website.
The most qualified, and dangerous, black hat SEOs will look to hack your page directly and insert malicious code into it. Hackers will often go for popular, authoritative websites and try to find a weakness that allows them to insert and hide a code with links to the pages they’re trying to rank.
The other popular strategy used by hackers is the Distributed Denial-of-Serve Attacks (DDoS). The aim of a DDoS attack is to make Google bots crawl your site continuously until it slows it down or even brings it down completely.
A less tech-heavy technique involves leaving hundreds of negative reviews of your company’s products and services all over the internet. Bad reviews, the digital equivalent of gossiping, can corrode your company’s reputation if left uncontested and negatively impact your ranking.
Reviews are one of the factors that Google’s algorithm takes into account when listing and ranking pages. Attackers know this and that’s why they try to use fake reviews to destroy your credibility, ranking, and try to get your site penalized.
Bounce rate manipulation
Bounce rate manipulation happens when attackers use multiple bots to repeatedly visit and then immediately leave a site. Since both high bounce rate and low dwell time signal a poor user experience, a successful attack could lead to your site losing rank or being de-indexed for good.
How to prevent and fight off a negative SEO attack
Audit your links
Regular link audits are a healthy SEO practice which helps you measure the success of your campaigns. Furthermore, keeping an eye on your links can allow you to detect and stop a negative SEO attack before it has time to cause further damage to your website.
Depending on the site of your website, you can either audit your links manually or use specialized software such as CognitiveSEO. Whichever you choose, remember that a sudden increase or decrease in traffic should raise your alarm bells.
Disavow backlinks from untrusted sources
If you suspect any of your backlinks could be part of an organized spam attack against your site, you can tell Google to stop considering it in future assessments of your site. This can easily be done by using the Google Disavow Tool that comes as part of Google’s Webmaster Tool package.
Keep publishing great content as often as possible
Search rankings are constantly changing, so today’s top result might be located on the second or third page next week. Building high-quality website content as quickly and often as possible is the best way to keep your site on the top search results.
Remember that no matter how many tricks the bad guys throw at you, in the end the sites which have more to offer to their users will always come on top.
Regardless of how despicable they are, the truth is that negative SEO practices aren’t going anywhere. For every algorithm update, Google makes, black hats SEOs will always find a way to counter them. That’s why it’s so important that you learn how to mitigate the risks by keeping a proactive defense.
Keep an eye on your backlinks and quality indicators while also building engaging content and see how your unscrupulous competitors watch powerlessly as you consistently raise your company’s website to the top results page.
If you have any questions, our team would be more than happy to help. Call us today at 215-393-9787.