What is negative SEO and how can you protect against it?

Ever noticed your website has suddenly and unexpectedly dropped in rankings? Do you have an increase in links from untrustworthy or spammy sources? While not always the case, these can often be caused by a negative SEO attack.

What is negative SEO?

Negative SEO is essentially a series of activities which aim to decrease a competitors search engine rankings. These tactics are generally considered to be black hat SEO and in violation of Google’s Webmaster guidelines.

So what are some tactics that are perceived as negative SEO?

1. Scraping

Competitors can damage your SEO by scraping your content. This essentially means they are taking your content and copying it to other websites. Thanks to Google’s crawlers, generally the original version is found first. However, new content is often copied quickly after it’s originally published, meaning the duplicate copy may be crawled first. Duplicate content is a common reason for websites receiving penalties.

How can you protect yourself against getting your content scraped? You can use tools such as Copyscape.com. All you have to do is add the URL of your content, and you’ll be able to see whether your content has been published elsewhere.  

2. Link farms

You want links pointing to your website to improve your SEO. However, the problem occurs when your website is connected to link farms. These link farms will often use the same anchor text. Often the anchor text will have little or nothing to do with the website that is being targeted.

So how can you tell if you’re being targeted by a link farm? The best way to do this is to regularly keep track of your link growth profile. This will show you how many referring domains are pointing to your website. If you notice an unusual spike in numbers of referring domains, you should try and note where they are coming from. Look for links that were created around the same time as your referring domains spiked.

Once you have identified the link, you need to create a disavow file. You can do this by using Google’s disavow links tool. This means Google will not take into account the spammy links when assessing your website.  

3. Having your website hacked

Hackers may not be aiming to damage your SEO, but it may be the unintentional result. Google will note if your website is hacked, which can result in it being removed from rankings. Websites that are suspected of being hacked can also receive a “this site may be hacked” line in the search engine results below the domain name. While people can still visit your website, they may be less likely to after reading the warning on Google.

Once in your website, hackers can also implement subtle changes that can damage your SEO. Hackers can often add spammy links in your coding, or even redirect your pages to theirs. If their website is considered malicious by Google, your website could end up receiving a penalty.  

To avoid having your website hacked, you need to ensure your website is secure. You can read our blog on five ways to secure your WordPress website for more tips to increase your website’s security.

4. Attacking backlinks

You want to make sure you protect your best backlinks, as these can easily come under attack. Essentially, a person will email the website with your backlink pretending to be you or your business, and ask if the link to your website can be removed. This is an effective method as you generally won’t even be aware it’s happening until the link is already gone.

There are a few ways you can prevent this type of attack happening to you. Always make sure to communicate through the email address associated with your domain name. Attackers will use a generic email address, such as @gmail.com or @yahoo.com. This makes it easier for people to see it is a fake email.

You can also keep track of your backlinks by using tools such as Monitor Backlinks. This will help you to see if a backlink gets removed. If you notice a backlink has disappeared, contact the business to ask why it was removed.    

What are the best ways to protect your website from negative SEO?

If you want to avoid this happening to you, there are a few things you can do to notice when an attack is happening. This includes:

  • Google Webmaster Tools Email Alerts: Google will send you an email alert when your website is being attacked, you receive a manual penalty or your pages are not indexed. This can alert you to a problem you may have otherwise not discovered.
  • Monitoring backlinks: to avoid being attacked by link farms, or even being connected to low-quality links, it’s best to monitor your backlinks. There are several tools available which will help you to do this, including Ahrefs or Moz’s Open Site Explorer. Using these tools will allow you to manually check if someone is building links to your site.
  • Secure your website: you want to protect your website from malware and hackers. You can do this by installing two-step verification password, having a strong password, and backing up your files frequently.
  • Check social media: what does social media have to do with your website and negative SEO? Spammers may not only attack your website. Sometimes they will create spam social media accounts pretending to be your business. Before the accounts start to get traction, make sure to report them to get them taken down. You can use tools such as Mention.net which will alert you to where your brand is being mentioned.
  • Website speed: your SEO will be impacted if your website loads too slowly. Sometimes this can be an external attack on your server. To be notified of your server uptime and loading time, you can use tools such as Pingdom.com. You can sign up for email notifications, which will be sent when your website goes down.         

Following these steps will help you to ensure your website is more secure and you are less likely to come under attack from negative SEO.

Got any tips? Let us know in the comments.