There has been a lot of talk lately about negative SEO. Does it really happen? If so, should you be worried? How do you know whether someone is attempting to attack you with negative SEO? The purpose of this blog is to shed some light on the subject, and hopefully to reduce some of the fear exists in this area.
What is SEO?
The Internet is a large endless space with a barrage of data and information available. When a web user looks for any information or a product, he clicks and browses through the first few results that appear in his Search Results page, what we call SERPs. He will modify his search if he does not find anything relevant. This is where SEO comes into the picture! SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a set of practices to increase the quality of traffic to your website and improve search engine rankings. However, today, gaining high rankings using competitive keywords is not as easy as it was a couple of years ago. SEO has undergone a major transformation lately and there have been drastic changes in strategies employed to stand out from the bunch.
The increase in competition has also led to increasing unethical shenanigans as well. There are companies that would prefer to focus on tearing down other sites rather than building their own. This attack, referred as Negative SEO attack, makes use of black hat SEO and other unethical techniques to lower a competitor’s ranking in the search engine.
What is Negative SEO?
Some companies are so desperate for improved rankings that they resort to questionable strategies and focus on elevating their rankings by eliminating competition. Negative SEO attacks can occur as follows:
- Hacking competitor’s website
- Creating spammy links to competitor’s website
- Replicate website’s content all over the Internet
- Creating fake social media profiles and tarnishing reputation online
- Removing top performing backlinks
The ultimate goal of Negative SEO is to lower the ranking of competitors’ website.
How to prevent and combat Negative SEO attack?
Negative SEO attacks, if not handled properly can cause irreversible damage; and it’s imperative to take the following measures to avoid such a situation:
Keep track of your links
Monitor and perform regular audits on your website’s link to detect any suspicious activity. This is one of the most important steps to prevent hackers and spammers from succeeding. Check if there’s a sharp increase in a number of backlinks and linking domains. If the graph shows any sharp spikes, you know it’s time to raise a red flag. Spammers may perform Negative SEO attack by building low-quality links and redirects.
Monitor Website Speed
Page loading time of a website is vital to gain high search rankings. If your website’s loading time has suddenly increased, there are chances that you might be a victim of forceful crawling. This forceful crawling can cause a heavy server load leading your website to slow down, or even crash.
In this case, you should immediately contact your web hosting service provider, or webmaster and figure out the source for the load.
Beware of Content Scraping
Original content is one of the most important factors that affect your SEO rankings. As a result, Content Scraping has become too perennial these days. Content Scraping means plagiarizing original content from a website and copying it word-for-word on another website. During a negative SEO attack, attackers scrape your content to combine it with their wafer-thin content or a link farm attack to spam your website.
If the copied content gets indexed before your original content, then your content is tagged by Google as copied and devalued, resulting in a drastic fall in rankings. Use online tools to keep a check if the content has been plagiarized. If yes, you can report by filling out Google’s Copyright Removal form.
Monitor Google My Business
Negative reviews can be heartbreaking, but they help us improve and understand our customers’ behavior better. But, what if these negative reviews are amplified?
Unless there’s a PR blunder or some sort of controversy, this indicates that someone is attacking your site with a plethora of fake reviews to damage your reputation. With Google My Business, you can flag and report these fake negative reviews. All you need to do is follow these steps:
- Find your business listing
- Go to review summary, #Reviews in the left panel
- Click flag fake reviews
- Fill out the report form
Watch your site’s Click-Through Rate (CTR)
It’s debatable whether Click-Through Rate is a search engine ranking signal or not, but some instances clearly show that a high click-rate on search results can boost up the rankings, while a low CTR gets a site de-ranked.
A high bounce rate paired with low CTR may indicate the occurrence of a negative SEO attack. The attacker programs a bot to target specific keywords, lands on competitor websites, and causes bounce, thereby creating a false SERP bounce rate. Monitor your keywords’ CTR in Google Console, click Search Traffic > Search Analytics for any spikes and disavow the offending links.
Regular SERP rankings check
Keeping a check on SERP rankings should be a daily task for any marketer. But, here’s why it’s really important! A sudden drop in ranks maybe due to a malicious attack caused by complete de-indexing of your website. Make sure your website’s robot.txt is properly set up, along with getting regular ranking checks.
Upgrade your Security
Negative SEO attacks might not be as common as cyber-attacks, but they heavily impact your site’s search rankings. When Google detects a compromised site, it immediately flags it with a ‘This site may be hacked’ warning that can scare off your website’s potential traffic. Keep your web security updated, security patches installed, and your CMS software equipped with powerful user encryption protection.
If you believe you’ve been a victim of Negative SEO attack, don’t panic; identify and isolate the problem before it escalates and let Google know.
Whether you have an in-house SEO team or outsource organic SEO services from other agencies, please note that Negative SEO attacks are rare and simply monitoring your content and website on a daily basis helps you stem and prevent any Negative SEO attack from occurring, ever.