SEO tips and tricks What is negative SEO, really?
What is negative SEO, really?
A bit of backstory
“We work really hard to prevent these things from causing any problems. We work hard on our algorithms to try to recognize these kind of problems and catch them ahead of time. In practice I rarely see any issues around that and when I do see an issue where I think that maybe this is created by a competitor then usually the team is willing to look into the details and see what happened there and make sure that this isn’t an issue that is artificially causing problems for a website.”
1. Link farms
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There’s another neat hack you could use that doesn’t require a lot of extra effort if you already track how your content gets shared and linked to online. A social media and Web monitoring app like Awario lets you hit two birds with one stone here. If you use a tool like Awario, you probably tend to create alerts for your posts’ URLs and titles. To also search for scraped versions of your content, all you need to do is add another keyword — an extract from your post. Ideally, it should be a few sentences long. Surround the piece with double quotes to make sure you’re searching for an exact match. With this setup, the app is going to look for both mentions of your original article (like shares, links and such) and the scraped versions of the content found on other sites.
If you do find scraped copies of your content, it’s a good idea to first contact the webmaster asking them to remove the piece (although you might suspect they’re not very likely to respond). If that’s not effective, you may want to report the scraper using Google’s copyright infringement report.
3. Fake reviews
In local SEO, reviews mean a lot. An influx of negative ones isn’t just bad for your local rankings; it’s bad for business. But reviews are relatively easy to manipulate, and they may be the first thing a jealous competitor will try to do.
How to stay safe: Obviously, you need to keep an eye on your Google My Business listing and look through the new reviews your company gets. Fake reviews violate Google’s policy, according to which, one should never “post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or connection with the place you’re reviewing”.
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When you’re positive you’ve spotted a fake review, you can flag it for removal following these steps:
1. Navigate to Google Maps.
2. Search for your business using its name or address.
3. Select your business from the search results.
4. In the panel on the left, scroll to Review summary.
5. Under the average rating, click [number of] reviews.
6. Scroll to the review you’d like to flag and click the flag icon.
7. Complete the report form.
4. Heavy crawling
When they don’t know better, a desperate competitor may try and crash your site altogether (here is a real-life example). Mainly, this is achieved by forcefully crawling the site and thus causing heavy server load. This may slow down the site or even crash it altogether. If search engines can’t access your site when it’s down, you’ll definitely lose some crawl budget there; if this happens for a few times in a row… You guessed it — you might get de-ranked.
How to stay safe: If you notice that your site is becoming slower, or, worse, crashes altogether, a wise thing to do is contact your hosting company or webmaster — they should be able to tell you where the load is coming from. If you know a thing or two about server logs though, here are some detailed instructions on finding the villain crawlers in the logs and blocking them with robots.txt and .htaccess.
5. Click fraud
Clicks are a controversial signal in the SEO spot; not everyone believes they are a ranking signal. But there are real-life experiments that clearly show that an unusually high click rate on a certain search result can boost its rankings; while a low CTR will get a site de-ranked.
Bartosz Goralewich actually saw this happen in a negative SEO attack on a client site. It looked like a CTR bot was programmed to search for their main keywords and branded terms and click and dwell on various results. Then they’d click on the client’s listing and quickly bounce back to the SERP. Eventually, the client’s site dropped in the SERP.
How to stay safe: Make sure to carefully monitor your main keywords’ CTR in Google Search Console, under Search Traffic > Search Analytics. local seo tips seo optimization tips seo tips and tricks There, you’ll find both the stats on your site’s overall CTR across all keywords, and the click rates for individual keywords.
Negative On-Page SEO
Negative on-page SEO attacks are much more difficult to implement. These involve hacking into your site and changing things around.
Here are the main SEO threats a hacker attack can pose. local seo tips seo optimization tips seo tips and tricks
1. Altering your content
You’d think you’d notice if someone changed your content around, but in reality, this tactic can be very subtle and difficult to spot. It involves adding spammy content (and links) to a website; the trick is, this content is often well hidden (e.g., under “display:none” in HTML), so you won’t see it unless you look in the code.
How to stay safe:
Regular site audits with a tool like WebSite Auditor is the best way to continuously check your site against such threats. To run an audit, simply launch WebSite Auditor and create a project for your site. To re-run it for an existing project, use the Rebuild Project button. local seo tips seo optimization tips seo tips and tricks As long as you do this regularly, you should be able to spot subtle changes that could otherwise go unnoticed, such as the number of outgoing links on the site.
To look into those links in detail, switch to the All Resources dashboard and check with the External resources section. If you spot an unexpected increase in the count of these, look through the list on the right to see where those links point to, and the lower part of the screen for the pages they were found on.local seo tips seo optimization tips seo tips and tricks
If you identified and eliminated an attack and need to clean up the mess it created, Custom Search is a great help. To use it, go to WebSite Auditor’s Pages dashboard, and click on Custom Search. Enter the content that you’ve seen to be added to your pages when you first identified the attack (such as a keyword), and click Search. local seo tips seo optimization tips seo tips and tricks The tool will now find all instances of your query across your entire site.
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2. Getting the site de-indexed
A change in robots.txt is one simple alteration that could wreak havoc on your entire SEO strategy. A disallow rule is all it takes to tell Google to completely ignore your important pages or even the entire website.
There are multiple examples of this online, including this story. A client fired an SEO agency he wasn’t happy with, and their revenge was adding a “Disallow: /” rule to the client’s site.
How to stay safe: Regular ranking checks will help you be the first to know should your site get de-indexed. With Rank Tracker, you can schedule automatic checks to occur daily or weekly. If your site suddenly drops from search engines’ results, you’ll see a Dropped note in the Difference column.
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If this happens for a big number of keywords, this usually implies a penalty or de-indexation. If you suspect the latter, check the crawl stats in your Google Search Console account and take a look at your robots.txt.
3. Modifying Redirects
A possible negative SEO scenario is someone modifying your pages to redirect to theirs. This isn’t a threat for most small businesses, but if your site enjoys high authority and link popularity, it could be someone’s sneaky way to increase their own site’s PageRank, or to simply redirect visitors to their site when they try to access yours.
For the site under attack, such redirects aren’t just a temporary inconvenience. If Google finds out about the redirect before you do, they can penalize the site for “redirecting to a malicious website”.
How to stay safe: See point 1 above. With WebSite Auditor, it should be pretty easy for you to see if any new redirects have been added to your site by looking at the Redirects section in your site audit. Make sure to run these site audits regularly so you can see if any changes be made on your site, you are the first to know about them, not Google.
4. Hacking your site… in general
Even if the attacker has no negative SEO in mind, a hacker attack per se can hurt your SEO. Google wants to protect its users and will take a dim view of any site which is hosting malware (or linking to sites which do); that’s why if they suspect a site has been hacked, they may de-rank your site, or at the very least add a “this site may be hacked” line to your search listings.
Would you click on a result like that?
How to stay safe: Negative SEO aside, not getting hacked should be high on your list of priorities for obvious reasons. This topic deserves a post of its own, but you can find some great tips on stepping up your site’s security here and here. local seo tips seo optimization tips seo tips and tricks
Over to you
Above, I’ve covered the 9 common negative SEO tactics and how you can protect yourself against them. But this list is not exhaustive: anything that can negatively affect your site’s reputation has the potential to be used against you. The main takeaway here is to keep a close eye on your organic traffic, rankings, and backlinks.
If you have your own tips or additions to the list, please let me know in the comments below! local seo tips seo optimization tips seo tips and tricks
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