Anyone who spends any time at all looking around online for search engine optimization news and information has seen a lot of buzz lately about negative SEO. What is negative SEO you ask? Negative SEO occurs when someone makes an attempt to lower a website’s rankings in the search engines. An easy way to look at negative SEO is to view it as the exact opposite of good SEO. Meaning the intent is to drive search rankings down instead of up. When someone is doing negative SEO on your site, they’re basically doing everything Google says not to do in order to make it appear as though you are violating Google’s policies. Negative SEO is a dirty tactic that is talked about quietly and one that causes much worry, making it akin to a scarey bogeyman that lurks in the dark while aiming to take your site down.
If you’re a business owner who has a good working knowledge of how “doing SEO” brings traffic to your site and helps move it up in the world of rankings and relevance, you probably have a good SEO strategy in place. You most likely also have an effective marketing campaign running wherein you’re doing everything in your power to get the word out so you drive traffic and sales. But even if you’ve mastered SEO and marketing, it’s possible for one of your competitors to launch a negative SEO campaign against your business to create a whole lot of trouble and turmoil for you. That is IF you don’t keep an eye on a few things including your link profile and online reputation.
How the Bad Guys Do It
Negative SEO can be done in many ways but some methods are more common than others. Here are the most common ways your site can be attacked:
- By building bad backlinks to your site using keywords that are unrelated to your topic
- By hacking into your site to add malicious code
- By creating phony social profiles of your company
Unscrupulous people have been using negative SEO to destroy businesses one spammy backlink at a time for quite some time now. Why would someone do this? To knock a direct competitor out of the way, that’s why. For example, a person running a dog walking service in NYC called ACME Dog Walking wants to get all the business in the area. But to that business owner’s dismay another similar service called Bill’s Dog Walking is in the way as Bill’s is doing very well thanks to it’s strong web presence. The ACME owner then decides to try to knock Bill’s site down in the search results by doing negative SEO. Maybe he pointed multiple spammy links from complete nonsense blog posts at Bill’s site. Perhaps he hacked into the site and added some malicious code that will send Bill’s site plunging down in the search results.
How Negative SEO Can Hurt Your Business
Three of the worst things that could happen to any business are losing customers, getting a bad reputation and having the business website drop out of Google’s search results. Unfortunately, all three of these things can happen at once if your business is affected by a negative SEO attack.
Negative SEO can go even further than this. It can even consist of direct, personal attacks wherein someone is posts defamatory content about your business while making sure the content ranks highly in search engines. Some people even create page on their own websites criticizing their intended target’s business so that its reputation is damaged.
Another significant problem with negative SEO is the fact that Google cannot always differentiate between a site being hit with negative SEO and an actual spammer. This is why you need to keep a close eye on your website links and traffic. If you notice your site suddenly has many non-relevant links pointing to it, someone may be out to destroy your site. The same holds true of you’ve suddenly received a spike in traffic coming from questionable sources.
How to Fight Back
Google has changed its stance considerably regarding negative SEO. Google stated a few years ago that there is “almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index”. The search giant now says it “works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index.” While Google has long down-played negative SEO, it is now addressing this problem by providing solutions through it’s Webmaster Tools and the Disavow tool.
If you use Google’s Webmaster Tools to analyze the links pointing at your site and discover many unfamiliar or unrelated websites linking to yours, you may have been attacked. But before you panic you should know that Google is unlikely to penalize you for a few hundred links from bad sources if your site has been around for a while and is well-established. But you do need to remove these links using Google’s disavow tool as they are harmful.
Deal Directly with Defamatory Info Posted About Your Business
To deal with the problem of someone posting defamatory information about your business online, contact the perpetrator directly and demand that the site or page with the negative info be taken down immediately. If that doesn’t work track down their hosting company and inform it. Most hosting services have terms and conditions that must be adhered to. The person attacking you may have violated these rules wherein you’ll succeed in getting the hosting service to take the site down.
Create and Spread Good News and Info About Your Business
You also can fight a personal attack by creating and spreading positive news and information about your business on numerous platforms including your social media profiles. Another tactic to consider is putting together several new websites with different hosts so they rank quickly to fill up the first page or two of the search results for your business with positive content.
Being consistently proactive is key to handling a negative SEO attack. Regularly check your incoming links and if something looks out of place, disavow it immediately. It’s a good idea to enable the Google Disavow Links Tool as doing so can save you lots of time by allowing you to disavow an entire domain, eliminating current links as well as future link attempts coming from that same domain.
Google Alerts for Monitoring Your Online Reputation
To regularly check your online reputation, you could use Google Alerts to notify you via email anytime Google finds a new piece of content about you or your business. All you need to do is enter your name, your company name and any common misspellings of your company name into Google Alerts wherein you’ll be alerted right away when new content appears online that mentions you or your business. You will have to check each alert you receive to determine if it comes from you or not and whether the mention is negative and one that could drive down your organic ranking.
Unfortunately, many businesses have been greatly harmed and even destroyed by negative SEO. For many victims of negative SEO, the problem spun out of control because no one bothered to monitor the site’s backlinks regularly. For others, weak passwords were used wherein hackers were able to gain access to the site to add spam or bad code. And for some, defamatory content and negative reviews were posted about their business without their knowledge. Again, to fight negative SEO you have to be diligent and proactive so you can quickly identify an attack and then take the appropriate measures to minimize its effects.