Here at Relative Marketing, we've had a few enquiries from businesses that have come under fire from negative SEO attacks. We thought it would be beneficial to talk about what negative SEO is, and how we might go about fixing it.
Negative SEO is when a competitor or rival uses ‘black hat’ and unscrupulous methods to harm a website’s ranking in search engines, particularly Google. Doing this allows the rival to climb higher or overtake their target website by making the search engine think that the attacked website is less trustworthy or legitimate.
Negative SEO techniques
There are quite a number of ways that competitors can perform negative SEO techniques - and they may implement one or a number of them. So, there are a lot of things to look out for.
Negative SEO 'attack' techniques include:
- Hacking the website
- Building hundreds (or even thousands) of spam or toxic links
- Pointing links to the website using suspect keywords (of which we won't list here so as not to impact our own SEO - but think 'adult' topics.)
- Removing good backlinks
- Hitting the website with negative reviews
- Scraping and copying content
- Duplicating web pages or even the website in its entirety
Creating identical content causes cannibalisation issues and could mean that the site or certain pages are removed completely from search results.
New websites and start-ups are particularly susceptible to negative SEO attacks.
The truth is, every time one website moves up the SERP rankings, it knocks another one down. Some people will use these negative SEO attacks to gain position and outrank their competitors. Any website is open to a negative SEO strike, but they are particularly prevalent in highly competitive, niche, or high-money sectors such as casinos, payday loans, insurance, etc.
Identifying a negative SEO attack
The best way to protect against a negative SEO attack is essentially to stay vigilant. It's important to constantly be on the lookout for any sudden changes, and to keep your site healthy and compliant with best SEO and Google practices.
If you do become open to a negative SEO attack, it can be difficult to prove. Often, people jump to the conclusion that they are the victim of an attack as soon as issues arise with their site. However, changes in search engine ranking or keyword positioning could also be to do with regular things like a Google update, changes to algorithms or not keeping on top of good SEO practices and therefore competitors usurping you.
Best practise SEO
Theoretically, if you’re producing unique, good quality content and you’re regularly checking links and keywords, you should be resistant to any updates or changes.
If you do find yourself victim of negative SEO, the good news is that a seasoned SEO expert can clearly recognise it and take action to protect your website and minimise harm (ideally before your site is penalised by Google.) As always, prevention is better (and cheaper) than the cure, so it’s imperative that you have a robust SEO strategy in place to catch and fix any and all issues that may arise in a timely manner.
Protection against negative SEO practises
So how can an SEO expert protect you from a negative SEO attack?
Firstly, they would set up a backlink tool to monitor your backlink profile. Ahrefs is a particularly favoured tool for specialists. A quick daily check will enable them to see what new links have hit your website. Ahrefs, used alongside Google’s Search Console, are the best defences to protect your website from a malicious negative SEO attack.
Any links that look suspicious (i.e. they are from an unrecognised domain from an unrelated sector, the metric score of the domain is poor or rated as toxic), these tools will immediately flag these and add them to your "disavow" file.
Setting up and monitoring your backlink profile doesn’t take too much time, but it is imperative that a specialist regularly and routinely checks the links that have hit the website to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Along with the active backlink profiling, it is important to frequently run your site through a speed test. Forceful crawling is another black hat tactic employed to ruin a website’s performance. Unusual load times that come out of nowhere are easy to detect, and dealing with them is usually done at the hosting level. A swift and savvy professional can always disallow suspect crawlers from within your website’s Robots txt file.
Negative SEO is, unfortunately, not an unusual tactic. Handling and warding off negative SEO is not overly complex, but it requires quick and immediate action. Staying on top of your backlink profile and monitoring site performance will keep you ahead of any potential attacks and, hopefully, ahead of your competitors.