Negative SEO -- does it really exist? And if it does, what is it and how can you protect your site?
Consider this post a short whirlwind tutorial for a typical small business website.
What is Negative SEO?
Negative SEO is when a third party targets a website and attempts to lower its rankings and placement in search engines. In other words, someone with bad intent uses search engine optimization techniques to harm another site.
Can Negative SEO Affect My Website?
Some SEO experts disagree on whether negative SEO even exists. But most experts do believe it’s possible to target another site.
However, just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it will happen. It’s unlikely most small business websites would be targeted negatively. Usually negative SEO is used against sites that have a lot of great rankings for high-value search terms, says expert Marie Haynes. It occurs mostly in highly competitive online niches, such as casinos, credit cards and similar topics.
So if something happens to cause your small business website to lose search engine traffic, don’t immediately assume it’s negative SEO. Search engine rankings depend on hundreds of factors, and according to Search Engine Land, the factors work in combination not alone. You may need an SEO expert to diagnose the cause(s), and correct them.
Common Negative SEO Techniques
Still, it is good to know some of the techniques used in negative SEO, how to spot them, and how to counteract them.
Also, there are issues that may not strictly be “negative SEO” but could harm your search position anyway. And some of those issues, such as a hacked website, are more likely to occur. Let’s look at 5 problems that could occur:
Scraping is when other sites copy your content onto their own sites. In recent years Google gotten better at identifying and disregarding scraped content. However, it is still possible for a site that copies another’s content to rank above the originating site.
Solution: Search snippets of content from your site in Google to see if other websites show up with your exact words. Or use a tool like Copyscape, Grammarly’s Plagiarism checker or CopyLeaks to detect plagiarism. Then you can file a DMCA takedown notice and report copyright infringement to Google. Contact your company attorney first to explore your rights and remedies.
2. Spammy Links
One negative SEO technique is to bombard a website with thousands of links pointing to it from spammy sites. The links are from a group of gibberish sites called link farms.
Solution: Monitor your incoming links. A sudden huge increase (identified through Google Search Console) might be negative SEO. You can disavow such links with Google. Get an SEO expert involved to distinguish between spammy links and good links.
3. Hacked Defacing, Malware Injection or Links
If your site is hacked, it’s probably not negative SEO. But it’s definitely a problem. Is your website defaced with strange text or exhibiting strange behavior? Do you see links in your website that you know you didn’t insert (such as links to porn, casino or illegal pharmaceutical sites)? Do browsers such as Chrome or Edge put up a big red warning to visitors attempting to access your site? If so, you’ve been hacked.
Solution: Contact your web developer to clean up your site and make sure it doesn’t happen again. If you don’t have a web developer, a service such as Sucuri, Sitelock.com or OneHourSiteFix.com can help clean up your site.
4. Bad bot Attacks
A competitor may use automated programs (bots) to forcefully access or crawl your website, bogging down your server. Slow load speeds can lower rankings.
Solution: If you notice your site loading slowly or crashing, contact your web developer or hosting company. Keep in mind, slow speeds have many causes including malfunctioning WordPress plugins or poor software code. But if it is a bot attack, a combined Web firewall and content delivery network, such as Cloudflare or MaxCDN, can mitigate the impact.
5. Hacked De-indexing
Getting de-indexed happens when search engines drop your site altogether from their search index. This can be due to a mistake by someone on your web team -- yes it happens! Or it can occur if someone hacks into your site and adds a Disallow or No Index code to your site.
Solution: You can protect your business by keeping your website secure and carefully monitoring how many pages are indexed. Use the Google Search Console tool for this purpose. Bing also has a similar tool.
Summary and Final Advice
To protect your website, keep it secure and monitor it in Google or Bing search consoles. Also, visit your own website regularly. Keep an eye on things. That way you are more likely to spot a problem quickly. The quicker you spot an issue, the quicker you can recover.