If you’re new to search engine optimization, you probably know little about different tactics and approaches. Most people perceive this activity as something that can help websites rank higher in Google and search engines’ results. However, there’s a much more sinister side to this marketing strategy.
Marketing experts categorize the activity into white, gray, and black hat SEO. White hat SEO pertains to strategies that are in accordance with Google guidelines, while gray hat methods teeter on their brink. Black hat, also called negative SEO, is the worst kind of activity that doesn’t focus on improving your site. Instead, it tries to affect the competitor’s rankings through unethical actions.
In this article, we talk about the impact of negative optimization, different types of negative SEO, and how you can protect yourself from this strategy.
What is negative SEO?
As previously indicated, negative SEO tactics refer to all activities that go against Google’s policies. These attacks are malicious in nature, reducing competitors’ placements within search engine rankings, affecting their reputation, and causing Google penalties.
Any marketing expert worth his salt will tell you that negative SEO isn’t something you should practice. Aside from ethical considerations, this method doesn’t always provide the results you were hoping for. What’s worse, you’ll spend time and money trying to tear down competitors instead of spending those resources more productively.
Legit marketing companies don’t dabble in these activities and would shut you down immediately if you ask for help. In fact, in this day and age, it’s even hard to find negative SEO brands as the strategy is becoming less effective with each passing year.
Main issues with negative SEO attacks
Many website owners live in constant fear of negative SEO attacks. While we can’t neglect the disastrous consequences of these strategies, there are even worse things to consider.
Aside from reducing your rankings and damaging your site, here are the other problems directly or indirectly related to negative SEO:
- The biggest problem with negative optimization is that you have no way of punishing the perpetrator. Aside from the fact there aren’t any legal actions you can take, it’s also hard to prove who has done it (even if there’s a clear suspect)
- Because of this, negative attacks can become a recurring theme. Even if they stop for a while, a person might go back to this tactic causing more damage in the future
- It isn’t always easy to spot a negative SEO attack. Because of that, a person can cause massive damage to your backlink profile, online reviews, and content without you even realizing it. This is especially troublesome for larger sites that get a lot of views and online exposure, as it can affect their reputation in the long run
- Some website owners are too worried about unnatural links pointing back to the website. They will remove anything that looks slightly dangerous. Although this isn’t always a bad thing, it might also affect your ability to scale and diversify your link profile
- If a site experiences a drop in organic traffic due to algorithmic changes, an owner might think that the site is under a negative SEO attack. As a result, he might start doing various modifications to the backlink profile and content. Sometimes, this can hinder your own site’s PageRank and Domain Authority, as there’s always a chance to commit errors when you’re making fast, hectic modifications
In a nutshell, while a negative SEO attack can be disastrous in its own regard, it can also lead to other secondary problems.
7 Most common types of negative SEO
A negative SEO attack can come in many shapes and forms and can affect multiple sites simultaneously. The impact of an attack can vary significantly and is mostly related to your current brand authority and reputation.
Major platforms aren’t that affected by these strategies as they have solid reputations, versatile link profiles, and top-tier security measures. On the other hand, they can be disastrous for smaller blogs on the verge of a breakthrough, completely running their traffic and reputation.
Most website owners notice irregularities in Google Search Console and try to remedy them as soon as possible. Without further ado, here are 7 common types of negative SEO attacks you might experience:
Website hacks are the most damaging type of attack that can affect different processes on your site. The only saving grace is that this negative SEO approach is quite expensive, so it’s less common compared to other tactics.
The reason why hacks are so good, or should we say bad, is because it gives the intruders the opportunity to directly affect website content and structure. For example, a hacker can access your WordPress and make all sorts of havoc on your articles. They can add harmful links to your older pieces or ruin their ranking potential, thus affecting individual pages and the site as a whole.
Perhaps the worst “trick” is adding changes to the robots.txt file that would prevent Google from accessing sections of your website. This one is hard to notice at first, and it can cause quite damage to your rankings by the time you do.
For the longest time, Google has used backlinks as a measure of content relevancy and quality. Although they aren’t as powerful as they once were, they remain one of the top-ranking factors. So, it isn’t surprising that most negative SEO attacks revolve around manipulative links.
As already mentioned, by hacking into a competitor’s CMS, you can place many bad links into their pieces. An even more common negative SEO strategy is linking to the target’s site from link farms, adult, and casino sites. Backlinks pointing from irrelevant pages and websites are also problematic as they’re considered highly unnatural.
The tactic is especially effective if you send dozens and even hundreds of links from a few referring domains. Given that this rarely happens in practice, Google’s algorithms will perceive it as a result of a negative SEO technique.
Aside from adding low-quality links, attackers can cause a mess via good links. In other words, they can remove all backlinks received from reputable websites, significantly reducing the target site’s authority.
Fake negative reviews
In the last few years, local SEO has become a vital consideration for companies and SEO experts. Appearing in Google Maps and in the search engine’ Three Pack can significantly increase lead generation for all brands that depend on local users. That being said, it isn’t surprising that attackers have started targeting this area.
Page and website placement for local keywords is mostly predicated on online reviews. Companies that get lots of positive feedback tend to rank higher in search engines and have more opportunities to score featured snippets. Furthermore, they usually rank higher for local keywords.
By adding lots of fake reviews, an attacker can affect the placement within local searches. Aside from affecting optimization, this activity can also reduce sales for that provider. Although Google has become smarter in addressing this issue by tracking mobile data, it still doesn’t have a perfect solution to the problem.
The worst thing yet, posting fake reviews is rather easy to do, as it doesn’t require big investment and technical knowledge.
Fake social profiles
Social media doesn’t have a direct impact on your optimization efforts, but it can provide huge indirect benefits. Gaining more exposure on platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn can significantly improve your link profile growth. Furthermore, these platforms can drive lots of quality traffic, which can boost your website engagement metrics.
Similar to local optimization, social media performance is predicated on appearances. Creating fake social profiles and fake news is a common negative SEO practice that can hinder your growth potential. Although it doesn’t have a direct impact on search engine rankings, it can still cause a negative cascading effect.
Google always puts users first. It prioritizes content that can provide a top-tier user experience and relay quality information to visitors. That being said, one of the search engine’s primary concerns is eliminating and downgrading pieces that serve no value to users.
Content duplication is another problem website owners have to be wary of. Attackers track articles on your blog, and as soon as you publish something, they copy-paste the piece and post it on several platforms. If Google indexes these pieces before yours, your article will be considered a copycat, pushing its ranking potential down.
Use of malware
One of the more complex attacks comes in the form of malware use. During a negative SEO campaign, a hacker tries to infect your platform with malicious software, which will prompt a Google warning. Each time visitors open your page, they will be greeted with messages like “This site may be hacked.” When this happens, most users will simply leave the platform instead of taking the risk.
These negative SEO attacks have a major impact on your traffic. What’s worse, they will affect the page stats as visitors will immediately bounce after reaching your platform. Every page that was affected in such a way will slowly start dropping in rankings as Google will perceive a high bounce rate as a result of irrelevant content.
As mentioned in the previous sections, Google pays close attention to bounce rate, but also other metrics that indicate user satisfaction. Content that visitors perceive as low quality will have a hard time ranking at the top of search engine pages.
Attackers nowadays use bots that visit competitors’ main pages. After reaching the landing pages and main articles, these bots will immediately bounce back. This increases the pages’ bounce rate sending a strong negative signal to Google’s algorithms.
Besides the high bounce rate, Google will take note of the unnatural click-through rate. While this might seem like a positive thing, as it boosts your rankings, it will send a negative signal to Google.
4 Ways to stop negative SEO attacks
The best way to spot potential issues is by checking the data in Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Any sharp change to traffic and click or major influx of unnatural links can indicate an attack. You should also pay attention to warnings and penalties issued by Google.
The only good thing about negative SEO campaigns is that there are numerous ways to prevent these issues, such as:
Improve your site
The first thing you should do is improve site protection. Aside from using a strong password and top-tier malware suite, you’ll also need two-factor authentication to prevent intrusions from external devices. Modifying settings in your Console can also help, as the software can notify you of medications to your indexing process.
On top of that, it’s vital that you perform regular site audits. Although checking your data won’t prevent the initial intrusion, it will allow you to quickly address the issue before it causes too much harm.
Most website owners are well aware of their backlink profiles, especially if they have a small or inactive site. Still, you need to keep track of any links coming your way and pay close attention to potential link spam.
During a negative SEO campaign, you’ll experience a massive influx of external links with strange anchors. As mentioned, they commonly originate from link farms and various suspicious sites.
In a normal situation, website owners make fake link removal requests asking a poster to eliminate the troublesome link. However, as this is an intentional action and a user doesn’t want to honor your fake removal requests, you’ll have to use Google’s disavow tool to tackle the problem.
Nowadays, many negative SEO strategies revolve around fake reviews. This is why you have to keep a close eye on what people say about you online. Using software that monitors mentions can definitely help with this task, but it’s even better to check reviews in person (especially true for Google reviews).
Nowadays, website owners can report users who claim a connection to a business yet post negative reviews. Google usually know what’s up in these cases and has no problem sanctioning malicious poster. Of course, aside from negative SEO attacks, you should also address legit bad feedback.
Aside from negative reviews in search engines, you should also pay attention to social media chatter. Creating a fake profile is something businesses do all the type in an attempt to slander their competition. If you notice that someone’s using this strategy, you can report them to a platform’s support team.
Safeguard your content
For a while now, companies have been using Copyscape to check the authenticity of web posts. The tool can quickly find any online duplicates, allowing you to tackle this form of negative SEO attack with ease. On top of that, you should always use canonical tags whenever posting new content so that Google understands you are the original author.
In a few rare cases, some people will copy entire website content. Although this is a much bigger issue, it’s one that you can prevent rather easily. By simply reporting the platform in question, you can avoid any penalties and downranking caused by the attacker’s duplicate content.