Dealing with the scourge of negative SEO

You might think that you’re doing everything possible to give your site great search engine result rankings, but what if you check online one morning and your rankings have dropped significantly? Is it just the latest search engine algorithm update, poor SEO practices on your part or something more… sinister?

Look at your rankings again. Are there suddenly loads of spammy links to your site, using such keywords as ‘poker online’ and ‘Viagra’?

If so, you may have become a victim of negative SEO.

Yes, others can actively harm your rankings

In much the same way as site rankings can be boosted by good SEO practices like the production of high quality content and links, so the opposite is possible if one builds low quality links or produces spammy content. This makes it irresistible for certain individuals to attempt to drag down their rivals’ rankings with such techniques.

Yes, even if you have impeccable SEO practices yourself, your online business can still be harmed or even outright ruined by the deliberate practices of someone else.

Examples of negative SEO

Negative SEO can take many different forms. Hackers may uncover security vulnerabilities in your site, for example, allowing them to make changes that damage your rankings. They may even steal your content before Google has indexed it, copying your site’s content and making it look like you’re the one duplicating it.

Other favoured practices of these online no-do-gooders range from the addition of fake reviews to a business listing – again, making it look like you were responsible – to making Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) removal requests that lead to the disappearance of your most valuable backlinks.

There are various means of responding to these threats, such as setting up Google alerts to monitor brand mentions so that you can take prompt action in response to any unusual changes. It also pays to keep an eye on backlinks so that you can quickly contact webmasters in the event of a valuable link’s removal.

Then, there are those agonising spammy links…

This may be the biggest negative SEO menace of all: the building of spammy links, potentially in the hundreds or thousands, to your website. Since the Google Penguin update, this is what negative SEO has effectively become. It can be done across an immense number of domains to wreak havoc on your link profile, impacting on both your organic traffic and search visibility.

When looking for evidence of this kind of negative SEO, don’t be bothered about just one link in a spammy site’s footer, as this won’t be sufficient to do damage. Instead, look for signs of a larger-scale campaign, such as a sudden spike in poor quality links over just a few weeks.

Thankfully, there are various tools that you can use to catch and analyse spammy links, such as Google Webmaster Tools, Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO, with the bad links that you do come across able to be disavowed with Google’s Disavow Tool in Webmaster Tools.