With such competitiveness existing in the online world, people are resorting to unethical means to lower down a competitor’s ranking. This is what negative SEO is all about. With various Google algorithm changes and the search engine becoming a whole lot smarter, it has taken a toll on websites that ranked with the help of black hat SEO.
Since black hat SEO is no longer that easy to implement and do not produce similar results that they did a few years back. It was negative SEO that provided the alternative route. An alternative route that resorted to attacking a website, ruining its online reputation, and penalizing it with Google search engine violations.
Read on to know about negative SEO in details…
What is Negative SEO?
Getting an email with the threat of killing your website is not something that anyone looks forward to. However, this is what the victims of negative SEO encounter when they get an extortion email demanding money.
Yes! Negative SEO is real. It is not a myth. Negative SEO has cost several websites years of hard work, business, and rankings. In the simplest terms, negative SEO can be said to be unethical and black hat SEO tactics that are used to sabotage a website’s rankings in search engines.
Most definitions of negative SEO focus on a competitor trying to harm a website by unethical means. However, it can be any person (a competitor or not) with enough SEO knowledge and resources, who harbors negative feelings towards you or your business.
Negative SEO can affect anyone, be it an old website or a new one. This practice is done by anyone who has a strong desire to ruin your rankings for a keyword.
Following are the different negative SEO practices to harm a website:
- Scraping content from your website.
- Hacking your website.
- Inserting malicious codes on your website.
- Linking your website content to unrelated words.
- Creating tons of fake social media profiles and tarnishing your online reputation.
- Removing good backlinks from your website.
- Connecting spammy links to your website.
- Using keywords like online poker, porn, or others to link to your website.
Is Negative SEO a Threat?
Yes, negative SEO is very much real, and it is definitely a threat. There are several websites that had to bear the brunt of negative SEO. You can get the sense of how real negative SEO is by going to any black hat forum. There you can find numerous people bragging about how they destroyed a site with their black hat expertise.
If you still feel that negative SEO is not real, just go to Fiverr and search for negative SEO. You will find that thousands of people are ready to kill a website by using black hat techniques for just $5.
Google has addressed the issue of black hat SEO by releasing it’s disavow tool. However, the tool takes about 4 weeks to solve the problem. No business can afford to have their website penalized for such a long time. It will cost them huge loss. Therefore, disavow tool is often used as a last resort.
It is not uncommon for popular or renowned websites to get random links from almost any type of website. In reality, the more popularity you enjoy the more random links you will receive. In this article, we will enlighten you on what are the different negative SEO practices and how to tackle them.
Common Negative SEO tactics
Now that you know what negative SEO is and why one does it, it’s time to enlighten you on what activities constitute a negative SEO attack. Well, negative SEO tactics are all those practices that a search engine frowns upon and ultimately penalizes. It is all those unethical and black hat techniques that divert from the Google guidelines.
While black hat techniques are usually used to improve one’s ranking with the wrong means, when the same is used for other websites, then it comprises a negative SEO attack. In such cases, the person behind it will either report you or overtime Google will automatically recognize and penalize you.
Off-page Negative SEO
Off-page negative SEO are those practices that do not directly alter your website. They are mostly concerned with malicious link building for your website.
1) Irrelevant Anchor Texts
This is one of the most commonly used negative SEO techniques. Irrelevant anchor texts are those links that are associated with irrelevant keywords that do not fall under the topics or niche discussed on your website.
It is important for websites to always be on a lookout for this type of negative SEO technique. This is because Google will penalize your website if your site is found to be linked with irrelevant anchor texts.
2) Bad Links
It only takes a few dollars from the competitor to build bad links to a website. You will usually receive such bad links from online poker, porn, and banned websites. Getting links from link farms is a sure-shot way of attracting a Google penalty.
This negative SEO technique is usually directed towards a particular page on a website. Some aggressive bad linking can even result in the ban of your website.
3) Unrelated Domain Redirects
Redirects that are often used to solve canonical problems for maintaining a good SEO of your website can be used as an instrument for negative SEO as well.
You might know that redirects send 90 to 99 percent of the link juice on to the redirected pages. In such cases, if by negative SEO a competitor redirects your website to a banned, unrelated, gambling, or adult domain, than you lose your essential link juice.
On-Page Negative SEO
It will take only a few minutes for a hacker to hack your website and change its internal structure. These types of attacks are usually invisible and are recognized only when it’s too late. Some on-page negative SEO techniques range from spoiling the coding of the website to introducing viruses and malwares into the website’s source code.
1) Infect your site with malware and viruses
Malware and virus injection is another common negative SEO practice. This can be carried out by a hacker by inserting malicious codes into a website’s HTML source code. Google is soon to delist any such websites that contain malicious codes.
When your website is infected with malware and viruses, you will receive an alert mail from Google tools. You may also realize that your website is infected when someone searches your website and finds a message on your website that warns users from visiting your website. These messages are generated by Google.
2) Altering the Robots.txt file
The robots.txt file tells Google crawlers which pages on the website to crawl. If someone hacks your website and gets access to the robots.txt file, they can stop google crawlers from crawling or indexing certain pages on your site. They can even stop the crawlers from crawling the entire site. This will badly hit your search appearance.
User-agent:*Allow (This command lets bots to crawl the website)
User-agent:*Disallow:/ (This command blocks every bot and prevents them from accessing any of your pages, blocking your entire site.)
It just takes a little tweak that can result in Google ignoring your entire website.
3) Creating numerous fake profiles
Among other practices, creating numerous fake profiles is also a common practice. These constitute spamming blogs with competitor’s links or wrongful use of competitor’s domain names to spam people.
4) Creating problems
The negative SEO techniques do not just stop there. The attackers also carryout out several other activities to cause problems for a website; some may scrap your content or create duplicate content. Your website may even be linked to pages that do not even exist.
How threatening negative SEO is
We have already mentioned that negative SEO is real and not a myth. Numerous websites have been affected by it. In most cases, it’s the big and popular ones who are the target. However, it doesn’t mean that startups and new websites do not fall victim to it.
Negative SEO is very threatening. Affected sites will get a maligned reputation, and rankings will significantly drop. The worst is not just being penalized, but being banned by Google. No one wants that!
Why should you not ignore and regularly check for negative SEO attack? This is necessary because even with Google’s earnest steps, the search engine still fails to distinguish between who is under a genuine attack and who is a spammer.
Tactics to Prevent Negative SEO Attack
After fully grasping the severity of negative SEO attack, you probably must be thinking about how to prevent it. Great! Your mind is in the right direction. Being aware of negative SEO and knowing how it’s done was only the first step.
Now, we are going to acquaint you with a series of steps that are going to protect you from negative SEO. You will come to know how to get notified if such attacks happen in the future. Further, we will also teach you how to prevent and also how to tackle negative SEO if your website becomes a victim.
Setting up Google Webmaster Tools Email Alerts
You need to connect your website to Google webmaster tools. This will allow you to receive email alerts if your site is under threat or has some Google violations.
For this, you need to first login to Google webmaster tool. After that, go to ‘webmaster tools preferences.’ Here, allow the tool to send you notifications and under the type of issues, in which the tool can send you an email, select ‘all issues.’ Then by clicking on ‘save,’ confirm your settings.
By doing this, you allow this Google tool to send you notifications when your website has been infected with malware, pages have not been indexed, there are server connectivity issues, or you get a manual penalty.
Keeping track of your Backlinks Profile
Bad backlinks are the most powerful weapon that negative SEO attackers use. This makes monitoring your backlinks profile a top priority that needs to be done from time to time.
To check whether low-quality backlinks or redirects are plaguing your website, you should choose some tools such as Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, or MonitorBacklinks.com.
Among the above-mentioned tools, MonitorBacklinks.com may be the most convenient. To use this tool, you will need to first create an account on MonitorBacklinks.com. After that, you need to provide your domain name. Google Analytics account needs to be connected for tracking purposes.
Once this process is completed, you will immediately get to see the backlinks that your site contains. This tool will regularly give you a report on the backlinks that you gained and also the ones that you lost. Checking your backlinks status manually every day won’t be necessary if you use this tool.
Protecting your best backlinks
The easiest way to cost a website its good rankings is by removing its best backlinks. Therefore, if someone decided to implement negative SEO against you, they will definitely go after your best backlinks.
To protect your best backlinks, you need to keep a close watch on them. How can this be achieved? This can be achieved by using the tool MonitorBacklinks.com.
Open MonitorBacklinks.com and go through the list of your backlinks. To differentiate your best backlinks from the rest, you can add a tag. A tag can be added to a backlink by going to the edit option shown against them. Give a name such as ‘best links.’
You will soon see this change reflected on the backlinks list. Now, it will become easier to track your best backlinks. When you notice one of your best backlinks removed, just contact the webmaster to know the reason.
Mostly attackers contact website owners pretending to be you, and then they ask the website owner to remove the backlink. To ensure that this doesn’t happen, you should use your domain email id. They look something like this email@example.com. Using this email id will convey to the webmasters that it is indeed you who is sending the email.
Securing your site from malware and hackers
As we discussed earlier, injecting malware and viruses to your website is a common method of hampering your website. Now, the question is how to prevent this?
First, you might want to monitor the content that is uploaded on your website. This should be a mandatory practice if your website allows users to upload files. For this, you can contact your hosting provider and ask them if there is any provision for installing antivirus.
For securing your website from malware you can install plugins to scan your website. This will immediately notify you if you have malware injected in your source code. Another thing that you can do is implementing firewalls. Firewalls will protect you from future virus and malware attacks.
If your website is based on a CMS like WordPress, safeguarding yourself from malware can be done by regularly updating your WordPress and all the plugins.
Additionally, you may also want to have a 2 step verification process for login. The two-step login process can be implemented on your website by installing a plugin named Google Authenticator Plugin.
If you install this, the plugin will send you a code on your smartphone. You will be required to enter this unique code each time you want to log in to your website. Both iOS and Android options are available for the Google Authenticator plugin.
Another step that you must take to protect your website from malware and hackers is having a strong password. Do not keep an easy and short password that is easy to guess or hack. Keep a password that is long, contains numerical and special characters.
Lastly, always-always backup your website data! You will be thankful if you do. Backups can be a godsend if someday your website crashes or gets attacked with malware.
Checking your Duplicate Content
Content quality is high on the priority list of Google. Therefore, if Google finds any website violating its content guidelines, the websites get severely penalized. Negative SEO attackers are well aware of this fact, and they use it to their advantage to hamper your website.
What attackers do is they copy the content from your website and spread it (or publish it) all over the internet. This creates a duplicate content issue, even though you are the original content creator.
Google doesn’t take duplicate content lightly, and sooner than later, your site may get penalized. The same may be reflected in your traffic volume. Now that we have disclosed what duplicate content issue is now, let’s come down to its solution.
It is extremely easy to check whether your website is a victim of duplicate content. For this, you may take the help of Copyscape. Copyscape is a website where you can search the internet to find out if there exists a duplicate copy of your original content. You can do this by either entering your domain name or the article body on Copyscape.
Copyscape will scan the web to find out whether your content has been published somewhere without permission.
Monitoring your Social Media Mentions
If one wishes to malign your company name on the internet, one great way to do it is on social media sites. To do this, the spammer may create a fake social profile with your company name and logo. They will pretend to be your brand and engage in wrongdoings and suspicious activities to attract attention.
You must search the internet to find any fake profiles created by using your name and company logo. Before they cause any additional damage by getting more followers, you should immediately report them on the respective platforms.
When the fake profile engages in some wrongdoings, it will attract negative attention towards your company. Consequently, people may not trust you and start seeing you in a bad light. No brand wants that! This can severely hamper your reputation and business.
Another common practice that spammers may use to tarnish your image is by badmouthing about your brand. In a day where internet reputation has great importance, badmouthing should never be ignored by a brand.
These were the two most common ways of tarnishing a brand’s image. Now let’s tell you how to resolve them.
Have you heard about Mention.net? If not, then you must familiarize yourself with this extremely useful tool. Mention.net informs you whenever someone mentions your name on the internet-It can be on blogs, on online forums, social media or others. This tool can also tell you when someone is wrongfully pretending to be you and engaging in suspicious activities.
By using Mention.net you can track what people are saying about you, and if there is a need, you can decide to take action against them. To use Mention.net go to their website and create an account.
After that, select the option for creating an alert. Give a name to the alert and feed the keywords that you want to metion.net to track. When someone uses those keywords, you will be alerted. This tool also allows website owners to implement the settings in multiple languages. Further, you can feed the sources in which Mention.net should check for any malpractices.
Mention.net also has the provision of instructing it to ignore certain domains that you specify.
Watching your Site Speed
Website speed is of utmost importance for user experience. If suddenly one day, you find that your website is taking too much time to load, then it can be due to a spammer.
A website’s loading time can be slowed down by sending numerous requests/ second to your website’s server. Failing to recognize this in time and not taking immediate action may result in the crashing of your server.
You can use various tools to monitor your site loading time. One such tool is Pingdom.com. Using this tool is absolutely easy. All you have to do is create an account on their site and enable the email alerts. Through this, you can keep track of when your website is down.
If you sense that your slowed loading time has something to do with a spammer, it is advisable to contact your hosting provider and ask for help.
Never use SEO tactics that are not accepted by Google
It has been seen numerous times that websites are getting badly hit not by a spammer or attacker but rather by the wrongdoings of the website owner himself. If you are observing low traffic and drop in your rankings, the first thing that you must do is analyze whether you are causing it.
Sometimes due to ignorance of Google guidelines on the part of the website owners, their websites get penalized. Therefore, it is always recommended for website owners to familiarize themselves with various Google guidelines thoroughly.
Some common mistakes that website owners commit in the name of SEO are:
- Buying links from link farms.
- Publishing tons of low-quality articles.
- Linking to banned or penalized websites.
- Overuse of money keywords for backlinks.
- Selling ‘do-follow’ links on the website to others.
Routinely check SEO properties
We would recommend regularly checking as well as revising your SEO properties. Checking SEO properties includes the content’s image alt, header, and Meta tags. You should also make it a point to see if the commands in your robots.txt files are right.
For checking SEO, you can make use of the SEOPressor Connect. This tool makes checking SEO properties easy and will generate a SEOPressor score for each of your content. In this way, the content with a bad SEO score will be easier to detect and fix.
Secure Administrator Login
Usually, to hack your site and alter its internal structure, the attacker needs to have some form of administrator access. Therefore, ensuring that your administrator login is secure is essential. It doesn’t hurt to add extra levels of security. This will ensure that getting access to the important files of your website is not that easy.
Additional security levels will prevent:
- Disrupting important files
- Changing SEO
- Redirect Modifications
- Don’t Create Enemies Online
You never know who you are talking with online. Therefore, do not get involved in name-calling or arguing with people in online forums. Do not engage yourself in online bashing or arguments. This is also true for clients. Do not get into furious arguments with them.
The feelings of animosity can lead people to hamper your website and in turn, business. The most common reasons for negative SEO attacks are:
- For taking revenge
- Just to have fun by destroying websites
- To lower down a competitor’s ranking so that the attacker can outrank.
How to check that your site is Victim of Negative SEO
Though it is not always that easy to find out whether you are a victim of Negative SEO or not. There are some methods and tools which can help you figure out the same.
1) Do a Backlink Audit
Since backlinks are the first thing that an attacker might target to sabotage your website, it is also the first thing that you must monitor to see if you are being targeted with negative SEO. There are several tools out there which can help you do a backlinks audit; for example, you can use Open Site Explorer, Google Webmaster Tools, Ahrefs, etc.
Visit the website Ahrefs.com. Insert your domain name and then go to inbound links. From inbound links go to links, here will get a detailed report on all the links to your website. Analyze each and every link nicely. Further, you should look out for links from websites that are not indexed by Google. You should also check for websites that have zero Google PageRank, have malware warning, and are designated as link farms.
In Majestic SEO
Another great tool for conducting backlink analysis is Majestic SEO. Go to the Majestic SEO website and enter your domain name into the search bar. Check the ‘Use Fresh Index’ for searching. Select the Backlinks tab and download the file.
From Majestic SEO, you will obtain a list of your best backlinks, their URLs, domain flow metrics, URL flow metrics, and type of link.
2) A sudden drop in traffic
Without violating any Google guidelines, there shouldn’t be a massive drop in website traffic. If that’s the case, you may be a victim of a negative SEO attack.
A sudden drop in traffic is the first sign that someone is out there harming your rankings. To confirm this, you need to observe your traffic volume and their sources regularly.
Some of the best tools to do this are SEMrush, Google Analytics, Searchmetrics, and Google Webmaster tools.
In Google analytics
To track traffic in Google Analytics, go to it, and open the acquisition menu. Under the acquisition menu, click on ‘All traffic’- This report will give you detailed information about your website traffic.
SEMrush is a very popular digital marketing tool. This can also be used to monitor your traffic. For this, just go to the SEMrush website and insert your website URL. You will get a detailed report on your traffic history as well as an overview of your website traffic.
3) Keep an eye on Unnatural traffic
Check for any unnatural traffic coming to your website. If foreign IPs are coming your way even though your website location and audience are not from that location, then you must check these traffic carefully. See if these IPs show multiple links.
For checking unnatural traffic and foreign IPs, you can make use of SEMrush. Just insert your domain on the SEMrush website and select ‘Backlinks’ from the menu. Then click on ‘Referring IPs.’ You will be presented with a detailed report, analyze it thoroughly to see if you need to block some IPs.
4) Check the presence of duplicate content
If you suspect that it is duplicate content that is causing you trouble, you can easily confirm that theory out. Just go to Copyscape. This is a plagiarism tool that can easily detect the presence of duplicate copies of your original content on the internet.
Insert your website URL or the article (you suspect to be duplicated) and let Copyscape scan the internet for finding duplicate content.
Recovery from the Negative SEO
After testing out your doubts through the above-mentioned method, if it’s confirmed that you have been the victim of a negative SEO attack, then it’s time to take the necessary steps to combat the attack. Yes, preventive measures are the best way to combat negative SEO. However, do not cry over spilled milk now.
Concentrate on how you can recover from the effects of negative SEO. You can do that by following the below-given methods.
1) Creating a list of backlinks you should remove
If you are really under attack, then chances are there that thousands of bad backlinks are pointing to your website. Therefore, the first step that you must take in this situation is carrying out a backlink audit. Some great tools that you can utilize for this purpose are Cognitive SEO, URL Profiler, and Backlinks Monitor.
By using the said tools, it won’t be necessary to check each and every backlink from the huge list. Choose your preferred backlink audit tool and start identifying the bad backlinks.
While looking for bad backlinks, the first thing to do would be making a list of all the newly created backlinks. From this list of newly created backlinks, you will have to identify the bad links. After you identify them using a tool, the next step would be removing them.
2) Removing the bad links
After you have identified and made a list of bad backlinks, it’s now time to work towards their removal. Yes, you can definitely disavow them, but we recommend first asking the websites to take down the links.
For this, you can send a polite message through email. They may be malicious parties or competitors, but you can still see if they agree to remove the links or maybe at least agree to convert them to ‘no follow’ links.
If you are not able to find their contact information, you can use the Whois.com. The Whois.com will provide you the email address for the webmaster. To get the contact email, you just have to enter the domain name of the website and find the ‘Registrant email’ section.
While composing the email, include details like your name, designation, the deadline for removal, and your contact information. Also, clearly mention on which pages you have found the links that you want them to be removed.
If they ask for money or do not agree to take down the links, you have two options:
- Contact their web hosting company and ask for help
- Go for the disavow tool.
Most web hosting companies will help you when you approach them with your problem. You just have to contact them and ask the respective web hosting company to remove those spammy links. You can find out who is hosting the website’s hosting from the website WhoIsHostingThis.com.
In most cases, the option no. 1 will definitely result in the removal of the spammy links. However, if you were denied or couldn’t carry out the first option for some reason, you can then go with option two i.e., using the disavow tool.
It’s recommended to maintain an excel sheet to record the status of the links i.e., which ones have been removed and which are still live. This will help you to prepare the list for the disavow tool.
3) Creating a Disavow list
Now that you are ready with the list of bad backlinks, it’s the time to see which links are actually harmful to your website and which are actually harmless.
Google has disclosed that disavowing links may negatively affect your website. However, if the links are coming from malicious websites, then it is a must to disavow them.
Let’s enlighten you on which links you can leave out (harmless links) and which are a must to include in the disavow list. For example, if you are getting thousands of links from spammy sources such as a gambling website, do not think twice before including them in the list. These are definitely malicious links and must have been put there with a wicked intention.
However, if you see one or maybe two links coming from blogs that have the anchor text ‘read here’ or ‘know more,’ then you can leave out such links. They are harmless and won’t cause any problem to your website.
Once your disavow list is ready, you will need to make a text file mentioning the full domain names of the links. After you have done this, simply go to the Webmaster tool and upload it there. Google has published detailed information on carrying out the disavowing process. You can consult that for more information.
4) Use Rmoov tool
Webmasters’ contact details can be easily found by the Rmoov tool. Not only this, the tool can send automated requests for link removal to the webmasters. You can send bulk requests and can also customize the messages sent for removal requests. A free version of the Rmoov tool is available. You can use it, but it only allows you to search 250 URLs. You can go with the paid version to search for more.
5) Undo Spammy links
It is not enough to just remove bad backlinks. You also need to remove all the spam links on the website. These spammy links may be unrelated links posted on the comment section of blogs. Again, low-quality links and unnatural anchor texts also need to be cleaned out to regain good ranking.
Don’t fall victim to negative SEO. The first step was to know about this malicious tactic, and now it’s time to apply the preventive and protective measures discussed here to safeguard your website.