[This article was originally published in May 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.]
Have you ever heard about negative SEO attack? Negative SEO is the worst nightmare for your site.
I’m not an SEO expert but I like to learn more about SEO and share with you my experience which I experimented with for months. SEO is stuff that is really hard to understand and it’ll be so overwhelming as a new blogger. If you are just learning about SEO, I have a basic SEO guide for you and more SEO tips on my blog.
I discovered black hat SEO prior to learning SEO in depth.
What is black hat SEO?
Black hat SEO is a shortcut (practice) that goes against search engine rulebooks to improve your rankings in search engines.
In other words, if you practice black hat SEO, that means you attempt to cheat the systems and gain more visibility through bad practices. Black hat techniques can hurt your long-term SEO more than you think.
If you ever heard of white SEO, this technique follows the search engine rulebook to boost rankings. However, some people choose to use black-hat SEO over white-hat SEO, simply because they want to improve their search visibility faster.
Google tries to reduce the effectiveness of black hat SEO and it makes the use of black hat SEO decrease in popularity. However, at the same time, using negative SEO tactics to attack other sites is increasing.
You may be confused about, what is the difference between black hat SEO and negative SEO.
Well both of them are definitely bad for your site. Black hat SEO is tactics that YOU perform, while negative SEO is tactics that SOMEONE performs to harm your rankings and organic traffic (let’s say that your competitor wants to ruin your site!).
Shortly, a negative SEO happens when your competitors actively try to get you penalized by doing SEO for your website (making it look like you’re doing black hat SEO).
John Mueller, a Google Search Advocate, explains how to deal with negative SEO tactics, such as competitors generating spammy backlinks to your domain. Mueller advises ignoring the issue. That’s all there is to it; ignore it.
Here’s his full reply:
No. We just ignore links like that. At most, it keeps them busy doing useless things, rather than improving their business. That’s good for you, too bad for them :-).— John Mueller (official) · #StaplerLife (@JohnMu) October 13, 2019
Mueller’s response is clear and to the point. A competitor that is capable of building links that Google will identify is unlikely to waste their time with negative SEO attacks. Therefore, website owners and SEOs should ignore said attacks since Google won’t count the links against a site’s rankings.
Negative SEO attacks you need to avoid
When it comes to defining negative SEO, there are so many different tactics employed by black hat scammers. As I understand, the first thing you’re going to notice is that you’re starting to get a bunch of spammy new sites linking to you (without you asking them to do so), or a sudden drop in rankings – can also be an indicator.
However, if you understand the basics of white hat SEO, then you should be able to figure out how people can use these strategies to attack others.
One of the most common negative SEO attacks is a bunch of low-quality, spammy links that lead to your website. To prevent spammy links, you need to know when someone is creating links or redirects to your website or got a bunch of links from spammy websites. These websites are usually part of a link farm created solely for the purpose of selling backlinks. The intent behind this is to get you penalized by Google.
From the Google search crawler’s perspective, it looks like your website is trying to develop a link-building campaign by doing it very poorly. The spammers make the links seem poor and unnatural, so your website will get flagged for penalties and drop your rankings.
A negative SEO is a severe threat to your website and can decimate years of search efforts within a few days. That could be your worst nightmare if this happens.
Solution: Perform Link Audit Regularly and Disavow Files
It’s best to catch negative backlinks before it spreads and destroys your website. Without proper audit or monitoring, it might take weeks before you realize the drop in traffic and rankings was caused by suspicious backlinks harming your SEO. The longer these spammers have to build their campaigns, the more damage they can do to your pages.
You must keep an eye out for this type of attack. I use a Semrush backlink audit to analyze my backlink profile. It allows you to review the backlinks pointing to your site so you can see if they have a low authority and are likely to be spammy sites. You can also use MonitorBacklinks.com. It’s one of the best and easiest tools that can send you email alerts when your website gains or loses important backlinks.
Instead of having to manually check your backlinks every week, Monitor Backlinks send everything you need to know to your inbox. You just need to create an account, add your domain, and connect it to your Google Analytics account. By default, your settings are set to send you email notifications when your website receives new backlinks.
If you do find those spammy backlinks, submit a disavow file listing the attacking domains. It means you tell Google to ignore those links that come from bad domains, so they won’t affect your rankings. This is not gonna solve the problem because you’re gonna do it over and over (not a one-time fix).
Mueller previously stated that you shouldn’t rush to use the disavow tool if you’re concerned about negative SEO. Google ignores obviously spammy links, so there’s no need to disavow them. That tool is more for recovering from manual action penalties.
Check out Matt Cutts’s answer to negative SEO:
However, there’s nothing wrong with using the disavow tool if it makes you feel more comfortable. Google has released the Disavow Tool to help webmasters deal with this problem, but the tool should be used with caution and only as a last resort.
Prevention is key when it comes to someone trying to point bad links to your site, so you need to keep an eye on your backlink profile and disavow spammy links as they keep appearing continuously.
Hacked and Malware Attacks
This is something that I am afraid of the most.
When you think about someone breaking into your website, what images come to mind?
That person will gain full access to your website to change your on-page SEO or worse – shut it down. Your competitors may gain access to your website via a security breach or a disgruntled employee.
Once they are in – everything that you do in terms of SEO – they will undo everything to make it look like you were using black hat tactics. If their goal is to implement negative SEO, then you wouldn’t even notice if their target is your old blog posts (posts that are rarely accessed). That’s good to update your old blog posts to keep them fresh.
Solution: Admin Monitoring
Have a regular schedule to audit the performance of your website. I do it weekly. When having this on your blogging schedule, it’s possible to keep track of noticeable changes on your site.
You can use Wordfence plugin and regularly get an email alert when someone (or yourself) tries to log in to your website. This is a must-have plugin to secure your WordPress websites, block intrusion attempts, detect malicious activity, and provide security for your lovely site.
I’ve been using the plugin (free version) since the launch of my blog and learn how many attempts there are daily to log into my site. Even the free version has tons of functions. I strongly recommend it for not only the newbie blogger but also the experienced one as well. Other than installing a security plugin, it’s best to use a strong password with numbers and special characters.
Fake Negative Reviews
While hacking your website requires some level of technical expertise, there are negative SEO attacks that just anyone can anyone do. These tactics don’t just target your website; they also go after other pages on the web.
One of those attacks is posting a fake negative review about your website or service on different websites or social media. If you’re a business owner, you may notice a flood of bad reviews from Google or other accounts. This attack is not only used to discredit your business but also can have a direct impact on your local SEO and sales.
Because of these low ratings, I have seen some businesses lose their sales whenever they lose a star in online reviews. What makes it worse is when paired with a drop in organic traffic because of lower SEO.
Solution: Check the Reviews and Flag Fake Reviews
The first step is you need to know whether negative SEO is to blame for your sudden drop in ratings by checking the reviews. Business owners should be able to check what other reviews they leave.
If you see a series of one or two-word reviews, like “bad” or “hate”, that is likely a sign of a negative SEO attack. These reviews also typically have one star and don’t leave reviews for other companies (I used to buy a lot of products from online stores so I’ve seen many fake reviews).
Another solution is that you can flag fake reviews. Well, it’s not that business owners should remove bad reviews – instead, they need to respond to valid negative reviews politely. However, there’s no point in being polite to fake reviewers. When you flag fake reviews, Google can identify spammers and stop them from damaging you or other brands.
Duplicate Content Across the Web
I’m sure it takes hours or even days to write quality SEO content for your site. After that, you have to promote your content many times so the world knows your blog does exist. What if you find out content scrapers take your content and publish it as their own? Who will be the one getting punished by Google?
Negative SEO attacks take advantage of Google which hates bad links and causes you to get penalized through the Penguin updates and Panda updates. It’s possible that your website will be punished instead of spammers.
This type of negative SEO attack can be so disheartening for content creators who see their work immediately discredited and used against them.
Solution: Google’s Copyright Infringement Report
The first thing you need to do when discovering duplicate content is to reach out to the webmaster. Informing them about the stolen content could prevent that website from getting penalized for duplicate content.
If you find that content was stolen maliciously, and the webmaster refuses to believe your content is the original, then turn to Google’s Online Copyright Infringement form. You can report scraped content to make sure Google acknowledges you as the true publisher.
Asking Sites To Remove Links on Your Behalf
Sometimes competitors can send emails to websites that link to you asking them to take down said links – they can pose as you. You can detect this only if you notice your backlink profile shrinking and a lot of websites removing links to you.
Solution: Inform the Websites to ignore those emails
It is a good idea to reach out to websites where you have built relationships and ask them to ignore any emails coming from email addresses other than yours.
Negative SEO attacks are a serious threat and will continue to happen as more people use black-hat tactics to attack others instead of using white-hat SEO to promote themselves. While there is no absolute way to protect your website from negative SEO attacks, you can monitor and regularly audit your website so you will be able to immediately stop an attack when it begins.
By using the right tools, you can quickly prevent the damage caused by negative SEO attacks without seeing a major drop in traffic, sales, and audience engagement.
What other methods are you using to prevent negative SEO? Have you experienced such attacks?