One of the latest challenges webmasters and search engine optimization experts have to face is the prospect of negative SEO. Negative SEO is an unethical practice where someone takes action with the intent of hurting their competition’s ranking with the search engines. One example is buying thousands of back links from low-quality sites toward a competitor’s website, which could cause the competitor to lose ranking in Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). This has only really been possible for a few years, but the practice is growing in popularity.
Who is at Risk?
Negative SEO isn’t going to be a concern for every website owner out there. Huge corporations and extremely well established authority sites don’t have much to worry about; it doesn’t matter how many low-quality back links get created pointing toward Facebook.com, it isn’t going to cause the site to lose ranking. The types of sites most at risk are those created fairly recently and those that have not established themselves as an authority in their niche. Even some large sites are at risk, but not to the same level as newer or smaller sites.
Unfortunately, this means the vast majority of websites out there are at some significant risk of becoming victim to negative SEO. With this in mind, all webmasters and SEO experts need to know how to respond if they ever find that a competitor is coming after their site in this way.
How do I Know if My Site is Being Targeted?
The first thing you need to know is whether or not you are being targeted with a negative SEO campaign. This isn’t always as easy as it should be, but with a little bit of investigation, it is possible to be confident a site is or is not being targeted. The following items provide great clues:
- Rapid Loss of Ranking – If a site has been in the top five spots for specific keywords but then suddenly drops off the first few pages, this could mean there is negative SEO taking place. This is especially true if no other significant changes have been made to the site, such as a redesign or a removal of content.
- Changes to Back Link Profile – It is extremely important all website owners keep an eye on their back link profile. This is quite easy to do using analytics tools like Google Analytics (a free service). Just keep an eye on how many links are pointing back toward a site and where they are coming from. There is no set number that is good or bad, and this number will typically go up slowly over time. If the number starts growing rapidly or an excessive number of links are appearing from the same domain, this might be an area of concern.
- Negative Keywords – Look at the keywords people are typing in when they visit a site. If a growing number of them are negative keywords, this may be an indication that someone is trying to hurt the site’s reputation. Negative keywords might be something like, “Site Name Scam” or “Fake Site Name” where ‘site name’ is the name of the site being targeted.
- Fake Reviews – If applicable, watch out on review sites for fake reviews about the site. If people are taking the time to write bad reviews, they will likely also start active negative SEO campaigns against it. In addition, those reviews could have an impact on the overall rankings of the page.
Overcoming Negative SEO
Site owners or SEO professionals who are confident that a site is being targeted with a negative SEO attack will want to take action to overcome it. There are several steps that can be taken to help recover from negative SEO. These processes are typically fairly simple, and can restore lost ranking to a site. It may take some time for the search engines to restore the ranking of a site, however, so acting as quickly as possible is essential for each of these steps.
- Google Disavow Tool – Within the Google Webmaster Tools service, there is an option to disavow a specific back link from a site. Essentially what this does is tell Google the owner of the site does not want that link to count for or against them in the rankings. When used, it can remove any impact the back link has on the rankings of the page. This is something many webmasters will do before they even think they are victim of a negative SEO attack just to help keep their back link profile clean. Of course, this could also hurt the site’s rankings if they disavow a link that was helping them, so be careful.
- Disavow Domains – Similar to the disavow tool that deals with each link, it is possible to request Google to ignore all links from a specific domain. There are some domains that are well known for their use by spammers, so removing all association from a full domain can be a quick way to protect a site.
- Request a Link be Removed By Site Owner – Rather than dealing with Google, it is often possible to have links removed by the owner of the site where the link is coming from. This is a great option because it will help restore rankings to all the search engines, not just Google. It can also be more time consuming, however. To have a link removed from a site, simply find the email address of the website owner, and send them a message explaining that the link should be removed and why. Provide them a link to the page where the link is located so they can easily remove it. Most site owners will comply without a problem, though others will just ignore the request.
- Official Complaint to Google (and other search engines) – All the search engines have policies against negative SEO. If all else fails, an official complaint can be filed with the search engines, and they may be able to assist further with direct intervention. This should be a last resort, however, and if it is not, the complaint will be ignored.
- Positive SEO – One of the best ways to fight negative SEO is to have impeccable positive SEO strategies. Having a quality back link profile, low bounce rate and customers that keep coming back to a site will go a long way in showing Google and the other search engines that a site deserves to be ranked well. The better a site serves customers, the less likely it will be that its rankings are lost.
How do you protect your site from negative SEO? Share your tips in the comment section below!
James N is a blogger and entrepreneur. He enjoys creating websites and helping bloggers improve their sites. When not blogging at WPBuddy, he's spending time with his 2-month-old son and playing video games.
photo credit: leg0fenris