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A Complete Guide to Negative SEO

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Negative SEO | One Search Pro Digital Marketing

“It’s possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.” These words by Picard from Star Trek hold true even in the realms of SEO. You might’ve everything properly optimized, following every rule in the book and yet you’ll be bewildered by negative results for the site you’re trying to rank. 

Well, don’t beat yourself up because:-

  1. This might not be your fault
  2. This could be the works of negative SEO 

Indeed, negative SEO exists – this black hat SEO approach basically refers to a strategy to bring down another website’s presence on the internet, be it in terms of keyword rankings or brand visibility. 

This is done with malicious intent usually towards direct competitors, so that at the end of the day, the perpetrator’s website is the one ranking on the first page of Google while the other websites get beaten down or kicked out of the SERP into oblivion.

Sounds serious? No doubt, it could pose a big threat but understanding negative SEO in detail will help you prevent or navigate out of the circumstance. Here’s what you’ll learn from the article: 

  • The different types of negative SEO methods like malicious link building, fake reviews, and content scraping. We’ll also be covering how these methods are carried out as well and how they can cripple your website’s ranking on SERP
  • The telltale signs of your website being attacked by negative SEO approaches. We’ll be including symptoms like sudden rankings drop and unusual backlink activity
  • The preventive and precautionary measures you should take like site auditing and backlink monitoring. 
  • Real-life cases of negative SEO happening from Kinsta.com and Jellyfish. We’ll also discuss the remedy options and the long-term effects.

What is Negative SEO? 

Recognized by some as “Google Bowling,” or adverse SEO represents a darker side of search engine optimization where instead of bolstering one’s online presence, the aim is to harm a competitor’s. Despite advancements in Google’s algorithm and its efforts to devalue irrelevant and low-quality links, the threat of negative SEO still lurks.

The Types of Negative SEO Tactics and Techniques

Negative SEO is not a one-trick pony. The darker side of SEO encompasses a set of underhanded methods aimed at damaging a competitor’s search engine rankings. Common negative SEO techniques include the creation of toxic backlinks and various forms of website sabotage.

Here are some examples of tactics used:

Malicious link-building is an underhanded tactic intended to undermine your website’s search engine rankings. This form of negative SEO involves the creation of numerous spammy and low-quality links pointing to your site.

Looking into spammy links, attackers tend to build a large number of artificial links using irrelevant or over-optimized anchor text making them irrelevant. The brothers and sisters to this link-spamming include linking your site to and from networks known for distributing low-quality links and distributing these links to random sites and comment sections.

Fortunately, it’s actually not too difficult to notice these malicious link-building behavior. The key characteristics of these links are their anchor texts are keyword-rich; unnatural and overused. They also have questionable domains where they are placed on irrelevant sites with poor reputations. 

Malicious Link Activity | Negative SEO | One Search Pro Marketing

Example of malicious link-building activity, in which low-quality backlinks targeting keyword-rich anchor texts can be found when running a backlink profile check on Ahrefs.

Ultimately, the perpetrator’s objective is to convince the search engines to penalize your site, consequently making it drop in ranking and visibility.  Engage with Google’s disavow tool to communicate the illegitimacy of these links to search engines, safeguarding your site’s standing.

Content scraping is a technique where someone copies material from your website and publishes it elsewhere without authorization. The process typically involves the use of bots that crawl your site, identify content, and replicate it across various domains.

Content scraping occurs through various methods. Firstly, automated bots are programmed to search the internet and gather data, which is then duplicated on other websites. Secondly, individuals can manually copy content and republish it without consent. Lastly, specialized software tools are utilized to automate the scraping process.

Here’s a flowchart of how malicious content scraping works:

Content scraping using bot | Negative SEO | One Search Pro Marketing

By using bots, the perpetrator can copy content from your website and use them to outrank you. Image source: Imperva.com

As for its impacts, content scraping, imagine this: when Google’s algorithms are programmed to only show one version of the content in search results, which can cause some trouble. 

First off, search engines might have a hard time figuring out where the original content came from, so your site’s authority could get a little diluted. Plus, if search engines think your site is a copycat, you might face some SEO penalties. To top it off, you could lose some precious web traffic as users get redirected to the site with the copied content.

To prevent this from happening, it’s important to take proactive measures. Start by monitoring your content regularly using plagiarism detection tools to identify unauthorized copies. 

Legal action is also an option against those who scrape your content without permission. Additionally, implement technical solutions on your website, such as CAPTCHAs and IP blocking, to deter scraping activities.

Fake reviews are intentionally false or misleading assessments posted on the internet. They can be detrimental to a business by distorting the public perception and influencing search engine rankings. Typically, these insincere evaluations fall into two categories; positive and negative fake reviews.

Spotting fake reviews | Negative SEO | One Search Pro Marketing

Fake reviews tend to be posted by dubious profiles and are ambiguous in their identity. Image source: ReviewTrackers

The positive fake reviews are intended to boost a company’s reputation artificially while the negative ones are aimed at harming competitors or retaliating. Some decent ways to spot these spoof reviews are pattern observation and reviewer verification.

Through pattern observation, you would want to look for reviews that are repetitious, use similar language, or are posted in a short time frame. As for reviewer verification, you would want to investigate the reviewers’ profiles for authenticity, including their history and the range of their reviews.

The art of unwanted hotlinking is quite subtle in the sense that it uses technical sophistication to make your website’s rankings tank. It often goes unnoticed and if left unattended can lead to slow loading time and unresponsiveness of the said site.

Hotlinking commonly occurs when you link directly to media on someone else’s server, such as images, from your website without their permission. This practice uses the host’s bandwidth every time your page is loaded. If your site attracts significant traffic, this can strain the host server, potentially increasing their operating costs and slowing down their website.

When the effects of hotlinking take effect, bandwidth theft can occur when it utilizes the host site’s allocated bandwidth each time an image is loaded on your site. This can result in increased costs for websites paying for bandwidth, leading to higher hosting bills.

Hence, if you wish to safeguard your website against hotlinking, consider implementing protective measures. One approach is to implement a Content Delivery Network (CDN) with built-in hotlink protection. Additionally, you can modify your server’s .htaccess file by accessing it via FTP to prevent unauthorized access.

Implementing CDN through Cloudflare | Negative SEO | One Search Pro Marketing

Here’s an example of how website users can set up their CDN through Cloudflare for hotlink protection. Image source: Hostinger Tutorials

Preventive Measures

Now that we’ve ascertained that negative SEO is bad for your website, the million-dollar question is—how do you prevent it from happening?

To safeguard your website from negative SEO and harmful backlinks, it’s essential to be proactive. Start by setting up alerts in Google Webmaster Tools to notify you of potential issues. Here are key strategies to protect your website:

Now that we’ve established the dangers of negative SEO, it is imperative to safeguard your website from potential hacking attempts. Keep your software up to date, use strong passwords, and consider implementing security plugins to fortify your website’s defenses against negative SEO attacks.

Forming a strong password using complex combinations | Negative SEO | One Search Pro Marketing

An example of a strong password includes different kinds of characters and symbols. Image source: Keeper Security 

Regular audits of your website’s performance and search rankings are vital in identifying any unusual fluctuations or negative SEO tactics. Utilize trusted tracking tools to gain insights and promptly address any issues that may arise.

A proactive measure against negative SEO to ensure your content remains high quality and unique is super important. With the correct precautions, your valuable content will become less susceptible to negative SEO tactics, consequently helping establish your site’s credibility.

Preventing and being aware of content theft is also vital to protect your website from negative SEO. Duplicate content can harm your search engine ranking, so it’s important to set up alerts to detect content scraping and take necessary steps to have plagiarized content removed, thereby safeguarding your website from potential negative SEO tactics.

An example of plagiarized content found by Toolsaday that contributes to the low-quality content metric. Image source: Toolsaday.com

When you’re managing your website’s SEO, monitoring the quality of your backlinks is crucial. The importance of backlinks and their removal is the process of identifying and disassociating your site from spammy, artificial, or low-quality links. This may negatively influence your search engine rankings.

To begin, conduct a backlink audit to identify undesirable links. Tools like Ahrefs can assist in this process, allowing you to compile a list of links to review.

Here’s how you can use Ahrefs to detect broken links and remove them:

Removing undesirable links using Ahrefs SEO toolbar | Negative SEO | One Search Pro Marketing

Quickly find the undesirable links (404 broken links) through Ahrefs where you can promptly remove them. Image source: Ahrefs.com

Site AuditChecks for technical SEO issues.
Backlink AuditIdentifies link-based issues within your profile.
Disavow FileInforms Google to ignore specific backlinks.

Note: Removing backlinks should be approached cautiously. While disassociating from harmful links can improve your SEO, erroneously removing beneficial ones can have the opposite effect. It’s important to distinguish between spammy links and valuable links that support your ranking.

Signs and Symptoms of Negative SEO

Nipping it in the bud before it blooms is arguably the best defense you can have in preventing negative SEO from harming your site. Recognizing the occurrence of a negative SEO attack can be critical for the health of your website. As the owner of a website, here are the signs:

When your website experiences a sudden drop in search engine rankings, it’s often a sign of negative SEO at play or other issues that warrant your immediate attention. This involves malicious actions taken by others to harm your website’s organic search performance.

Usually, a sudden drop in rankings is attributed to a number of reasons. For one, Google might penalize your site if your site has violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, such as cloaking techniques or user-generated spam. Link spamming is also a tripwire you should be wary about because spammy backlinks birthed from negative SEO attacks can also cause a drop.

Checking a sudden drop in performance using Ahrefs Site Explorer function | Negative SEO | One Search Pro Marketing

Ahrefs showing a drastic drop in traffic using its Site Explorer function. Image source: Ahrefs.com

If you have encountered such situations, do not be alarmed, there is still a chance to rectify them. Foremost, fire up your Google Search Console and review any messages regarding manual penalties. Another remedy process also includes a backlink audit where you examine your link profile for unusual activity and disavow spammy or low-quality links.

When monitoring your website’s backlink profile, be vigilant about negative SEO backlinks. The common flags that website owners should be aware of are the sudden influx of backlinks and the quality of backlinks.

Tools like Semrush easily let you check the quality of your backlinks:

Checking toxicity score using Semrush | Negative SEO | One Search Pro Marketing

The score you want to be looking at for quality checking is the Toxicity Score (TS) and ideally, you want to stay below 45. Image source: Semrush.com

It’s really unusual for a large number of new backlinks to appear over a short period of time. If that’s the case, it should be a cause of concern, especially if they’re from irrelevant or unrelated sites. 

The credibility of your link domains is also important in assessing quality. A surge of low-quality and spammy links is a sign of an attack to undermine your SEO efforts.

Case Studies of Negative SEO

Honestly, the best way to illustrate what we’ve all said is through some real-life examples. 

Here, we’ve singled out Kinsta and Jellyfish – let’s take a look at the negative SEO attacks these businesses have faced, how they recovered from such attacks, and the long-term effects they experienced.

When you’re hit by negative SEO, the road to recovery involves identifying bad backlinks and employing tools such as Ahrefs to systematically remove or disavow them. Kinsta.com faced such a challenge and detailed its recovery process.

Kinsta attributed the scenario has one of the most unusual ones they’ve encountered. Given their expertise in churning out top-quality content, it was surprising how there was such a huge dip in their average ranking on SERP. Moving swiftly to combat the issue Kinsta troubleshot the phenomenon by auditing their keyword rankings and broken links.

An illustration of how to detect broken links using Screamingfrog from Kinsta.com. Image source: Kinsta.com

Essentially, you’d want to use the relevant SEO tools to audit your backlink profile. Next, compile a list of malicious backlinks that are harmful to your site. Finally, utilize Google’s Disavow Tool to disassociate from these harmful links.

Jellyfish have also been hit by a negative SEO attack which made dents to their SEO visibility. Image source: cognitiveseo.com

The implications can extend beyond the initial cleanup. For instance, the Jellyfish case saw a decline in search rankings due to an attack, which coincided with the Penguin 3.0 update designed to penalize low-quality backlinks.

Although they navigated through the penalty recovery, the attack left a lasting need for vigilance in monitoring their backlink profile.

Wrapping Up

Looks like we’ve made it to the end! By now, you probably have an idea of how negative SEO operates and their capabilities in messing with your SERP rankings. These tactics range from creating toxic backlinks to your site to scraping and duplicating content, with the intent to damage your website’s credibility and search position.

Remember, the best defense is a proactive approach. By remaining vigilant and informed about the strategies of negative SEO, your online presence will not only recover from any potential damage but also stand strong against these unethical practices.

Need help with negative SEO or facing issues with such an attack? One Search Pro is ready to assist you – contact us today!

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