What Is Negative SEO And How Do You Protect Your Site?

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SEO is getting more and more competitive.

Many people are struggling to rank in the SERPs and their organic search traffic is going down because of it.

As a result, they turn to negative SEO to try and damage their competitor’s websites. This causes their competitor’s rankings to decrease and even receive harsh Google penalties.

Don’t be fooled…

Negative SEO affects every website owner at some stage. If you aren’t prepared, it can cause enormous problems for you in the future.

Take action now to secure your website. Follow each step in this blog to protect your website against negative SEO tactics.

What Is Negative SEO?

Negative SEO is a black hat SEO techniques used to purposefully sabotage a competitor’s rankings in the search results. This usually leads to loss of traffic and revenue.

Google thinks the competitor is using dodgy SEO strategies to:

  1. Manipulate the algorithm
  2. Increase their own search rankings

So the website gets hit with a Google penalty.

This is why negative SEO attacks can be so brutal. They come out of nowhere and are hard to fend off.

The Origins Of Negative SEO

Since the launch of Google’s revolutionary search algorithm in 1998, they have done their best to identify dodgy links from spammy websites.

Back then, the links that were identified as spammy were simply ignored. But this ended up causing more problems than it solved.

Many SEOs took advantage of the system and bought thousands of low-quality backlinks:

  • If Google decided the links had merit you would get the rankings benefit.
  • If the links were considered “spammy“, they were simply ignored.

The goal was to build as many backlinks as possible and see what stuck. There was no risk and a lot of upside in the very beginning!

Google decided they needed to reevaluate how they treated low-quality links in 2011.

So in April 2012, Google launched the Penguin algorithm update.

This one update destroyed the rankings of thousands of websites overnight.

google penguin penalty

It took strong action against websites with lots of low-quality links. You could no longer build tons of links without the risk of penalties.

But it also gave birth to a new kind of search weapon…

Now you could buy tons of spammy links for your competitor’s website and they would get hit with a Google Penguin penalty.

This formed the beginning of NEGATIVE SEO.

Common Examples Of Negative SEO

There are lots of negative SEO attacks that can be executed.

Each of them can attract different types of Google penalties. These are the most common negative SEO examples.

1. Link Farming

A single spammy link isn’t going to take down your search rankings.

That’s why link farming was invented.

Think of link farms like “a huge cartel of dodgy websites all linking out to your website.

With tons of bad links pointing to your site, there is a chance that you receive a penalty because Google thinks you are trying to manipulate their algorithm.

Link farming negative SEO attacks aren’t even that expensive.

negative seo services

You could damage a competitor’s rankings for a relatively low cost. That’s why link farming is one of the easiest and most common forms of negative SEO.

2. Duplicate Content

Google hates duplicate content.

If you copy and paste someone else’s content onto your website, you are very likely to receive a penalty. Google goes as far as to consider this stealing.

duplicate content

Duplicate content as negative SEO is when someone scrapes the content from your site and publishes it on another website – often multiple websites.

Google is pretty good at figuring this out and usually looks at who published first, only indexing the original content.

The problem occurs when Google can’t figure it out. In this case, they may remove each page with the duplicate content from their search results – including yours!

Whenever you publish a new page or piece of content, submit the URL to Google immediately.

3. Modifying Content

This negative SEO tactic is usually used to boost a hacker’s own SEO.

Do you have a high authority website?

You could be a target. The hacker will gain access to your site and change your content.

Yes, you will notice big changes to your website. That’s why lots of hackers make only small, unnoticeable changes. This can include:

  • Adding backlinks that point to their site
  • Causing redirects on some of your pages

They might even advertise their own website or business in certain pieces of content. There are lots of subtle modifications hackers make to your site if given a chance.

4. Fake Reviews

Creating some competition in your local area? Fake reviews are where jealous competitors will go first.

fake reviews

Fake reviews are a double-edged negative SEO sword. Positive AND negative fake reviews can both affect your SEO.

Here’s what I mean:

Google treats reviews similar to backlinks. If you get good reviews, your local rankings can improve. Lots of bad reviews can affect your local rankings negatively.

  • Lots of good reviews might mean that Google thinks you are buying reviews and decide to penalise your rankings.
  • Lots of bad reviews might trick Google and make them believe you run a bad business. This can also affect your rankings.

Be on the watch for fake reviews.

When you think you have one follow this guide to get it removed.

5. Fake Social Media Profiles

Spammers will sometimes create fake social media profiles using your business name or website. Pretty scary, isn’t it?

fake instagram account example

They will then post:

  • Low-quality content
  • Negative reviews

…to try and ruin your reputation online.

At worst, they may even try to contact your real social media followers to cause problems.

Monitor your brand and business for online mentions on social media. If you find a fake social media profile, report it immediately.

Most fake social media profiles are created on Twitter and Facebook.

6. Heavy Crawling

A less popular blackhat SEO trick is crashing someone’s website.

Angry competitors can forcefully crawl your site with thousands of bots at one time causing heavy server loads.

Most likely the hosting plan you purchased has a bandwidth limit (even if they say it’s unlimited). This determines the number of people that can be on your site at the same time without it going down.

Too many people?

The site could crash or at least slow down a lot.

This affects the user experience and Google isn’t going to like it.

Thankfully it’s easy enough to protect yourself from heavy crawling attacks by simply getting a DDoS protection service from a company like Cloudflare.

7. Hacking & Malware

Hacking and malware are probably the worst negative SEO attacks you can face.

Malware

If someone with bad intentions gets access to your website, there is an untold amount of damage they could do:

  • Add low quality and duplicate content to your site
  • Add new spammy outbound links
  • Edit your Robots.txt file to repel search engines
  • Completely change your site into something else
  • Plant malware on the site

The worst kind of hacking is when you don’t know you’ve been hacked. Hackers can do subtle but damaging things to the website that affects your SEO over time.

Ensure that you audit your website regularly and consider getting malware protection.

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10x Tips To Prevent Your Site From Negative SEO

Negative SEO affects every major website at one stage or another. You need to be aware of potential attacks and know how to prevent them.

The following 10 tips will equip you with the knowledge and tools to keep your website safe from Negative SEO.

1. Setup Google Search Console Tools Email Alerts

Google Search Console is a powerful SEO tool that can help you protect your website from negative SEO.

It can automatically notify you by email if:

  • Your website has malware
  • Your site pages aren’t indexed
  • You are experiencing server problems
  • You receive a penalty from Google

You should set up these alerts because they protect your website and it’s free to do.

Login into your Google Search Console account and click User Settings.

google search console user settings

Click Email Preferences and check the Enable notification by email box.

enable notifications by email

Done! Google will now email you if there are any relevant issues related to your website.

2. Keep Track Of Your Backlink Profile

This is the biggest way that most spammers will attack your website.

If you go to Fiverr and type in “backlinks” you will see how many spammy links you can order for just $5.

spammy backlink services fiverr

You must keep your finger on the pulse of your backlink profile so you don’t suddenly get a penalty because a spammer ordered a ton of dodgy backlinks for your website.

I have been attacked multiple times in this way.

But I have always been prepared for them by using Monitor Backlinks.

monitor backlinks

Monitor Backlinks constantly monitors your entire backlink profile. If you suddenly get a lot of spam links, you will receive an email alert.

They also have a bunch of tools to overcome negative SEO link attacks.

Here’s how to set it up:

  • Step 1: Use the Monitor Backlinks free trial
  • Step 2: Add your domain
  • Step 3: Connect your Google Analytics account

Monitor Backlinks will show your entire backlink profile.

Go to your list of backlinks and use the filters to identify:

  • Links that have a low PageRank & MozRank
  • Domains with too many external links
  • Backlinks from spammy website
  • Adult and gambling / casino domains

domains with pagerank zero

Tag each bad link with a “remove tag” in Monitor Backlinks.

Contact each website with a spam link pointing to your site and ask them to remove the link. Here’s an example of an email you can send:

correct link removal request

After contacting each website owner, give them a couple of weeks to reply and send some follow-up emails to the ones that don’t.

If you still don’t get a reply, it’s time to use disavow tool in Google Search Console.

To do so, just create a disavow links report in Monitor Backlinks and include every link with the “remove tag“.

create disavow report

Now upload that list into Google Search Console and Google will stop those links from affecting your search engine rankings.

Need some more help with removing bad backlinks? Follow my how to remove bad backlinks guide.

3. Identify & Protect Your Best Backlinks

Often spammers will try and remove your best backlinks.

If successful, this can:

They’ll pose as you and then contact the websites that provide the links asking to remove them. This can be tough to overcome, but Monitor Backlinks can help you again.

Login to Monitor Backlinks and go to your list of links. Now you want to sort them by domain authority.

domain authority sorting

Add a “premium links” tag to your top backlinks and create an alert to be automatically notified if any of them are removed.

Got an alert?

Contact the owner and ask why the link was removed. This is the best way to win it back.

Remember:

When communicating with website owners, always use your site email:

yourname@yourdomain.com.

Don’t use a generic email address like a Gmail account.

This proves that you work for the website you claim to work for, making it much more difficult for spammers to impersonate you if they try to remove your best backlinks.

4. Secure Your Site From Malware

I am amazed at how many website owners don’t secure their websites against malware.

Malware is short for “Malicious Software”.

It refers to harmful software used by hackers to access and damage websites. High-quality malware can sit on a website for months without being detected.

Once malware is uploaded to your site it can be difficult to remove. The best thing to do is prevent it in the first place.

Lots of hosting providers offer malware scanning and protection services. Check with your hosting company to see what malware security they have.

malware security

Have a WordPress website?

These are the top WordPress anti-malware and security plugins to check out:

  1. Sucuri
  2. iThemes Security Pro
  3. JetPack

sucuri website security

Take action now to protect your website against malware before it becomes an issue.

5. Protect Your Site From Hackers

Most website owners don’t pay enough attention to security.

But let me be clear – Website security is essential.

It’s a hard day when you wake up to realise that someone hacked your website months ago and has been wreaking havoc ever since.

At this point, it may already be too late to do anything about it.

Here are some simple things you can do now to protect your website:

  • Create a 12+ character long password that uses letters, numbers and symbols
  • Ensure that your website backs up automatically and regularly
  • Keep everything up to dates such as plugins and apps
  • Ensure you have HTTPS security
  • Install a google authenticator plugin and create a 2-step verification

google authenticator plugin

Website hacking happens more than you think. Protect your website as best you can so that you are not an easy target.

6. Check Your Site For Duplicate Content

Lots of spammers use the duplicate content negative SEO strategy to damage your reputation with Google.

They copy your website content and then paste it to multiple websites online. Google could then penalise you for having duplicate content on your site.

Here’s an example of what happened to Ahrefs:

scraped content ranking

As you can Google has actually indexed and ranked the scraped content. This is why you need to pay close attention to duplicate content.

To check for duplicate content I recommend Copyscape.

copyscape screenshot

It’s easy to use and does a thorough job of identifying duplicate content online. It’s also free to use.

Go to Copyscape.com and add one of your website pages to the search bar. Click Go.

search on copyscape

Copyscape will:

  1. Check your content against their database
  2. Tell you if there is duplicate content online or not

copyscape duplicate content results

Did someone publish your content somewhere without permission?

There are a couple of things you can do to resolve the problem.

Firstly contact the website owner and notify them about the duplicate content. Be polite but firm and ask them to take it down, explaining why it’s an issue.

While spammers may ignore your email, many website owners will take it down and the problem is solved there.

Make sure you send a follow-up email if you don’t get a reply. Sometimes website owners just won’t see your first email.

Didn’t work?

It’s time to step it up a notch. You can file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint against the website that stole your content.

This is done through the Google DCMA request page.

Go here, log in to your Google account and click Create a Request.

reporting content violations

Now just follow the prompts and provide the proof that Google requires.

google dcma request page

Be aware – This can be a difficult and long process. It should only be done if the stolen content is outranking you or is affecting your potential to rank.

If Google decides that the other website did steal your content, they will:

  1. Remove that URL from the search results
  2. Penalise their domain for digital copyright infringement

7. Monitor Carefully Your Social Media Mentions

Do you have a large following on social media?

Many scammers will create fake social media accounts to damage your online reputation.

The best way to overcome this is to monitor your social mentions online.

This means you will know if someone has created a fake social media account using your:

  • Website name
  • Brand name

You can then take the appropriate action to remove it quickly before they cause any problems.

To monitor your brand name and mentions on social media, use a tool like Mention.net.

mention tool

They have a completely free account that includes monitoring 1 brand across 3 social media accounts. You can even use Mentions.net for news websites and forums.

As soon as someone mentions you, you’ll get a notification from Mention.net.

Did someone create a fake social media account using your brand name or website?

This is against most major social media networks’ terms & conditions. Just use the appropriate support channels and ask them to remove the fake account/page.

8. Make Sure You Aren’t Using Strategies That Could Hurt Your Site

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot.

Good SEO that generates real results takes time and effort.

Lots of people try to get an advantage by using blackhat negative SEO strategies to try and boost rankings in the search results. While you might get some initial results, your website rankings will drop in the long run.

At the very worst, you might even end up with a Google penalty.

Google Penalty Illustration

Take it from me:

The Google penalty recovery process is long and it can end up costing a lot of time and money. It’s just not worth the risk.

If you feel like you have been hit with a Google penalty contact my team at Search Logistics.

We have a dedicated Google penalty recovery service and a good track record of helping clients get back in the green with Google.

google penalty recovery search logistics

9. Use Only Updated, Proven, Safe SEO Strategies

Here’s the truth:

SEO doesn’t have to be complicated. There is no magic SEO strategy that will manipulate Google into instantly placing your website at the top of the SERPs.

The most important part of SEO is consistency.

You need to consistently do the right things and build trust with Google. Over time your website will gain authority and you will start ranking higher.

Not sure what SEO strategy to follow?

The 3 Step SEO Strategy

This is my proven SEO process for consistently ranking websites:

  1. Do an SEO audit and fix any technical SEO errors
  2. Implement good on-page SEO
  3. Create amazing content your audience loves
  4. Build high authority backlinks

Then rinse and repeat. Not that complicated right?

Dedicate yourself to this SEO process and be consistent. This is how you can generate good SEO results.

10. Don’t Make Enemies Online

People love to argue online.

There are tons of keyboard warriors out there.

These people browse forums and social media sites looking to start a fight. They will say controversial things just to antagonise you.

Don’t get drawn into these situations.

It’s just not worth it.

You never really know who is at the other end of the computer and what skills they have.

I’ve had friends with good intentions make comments online to counter false information posted by another person.

Within hours of entering the debate, they have had negative SEO attacks, including hackers trying to access their website and social media accounts.

Again… It’s just not worth it.

Stay in your lane and keep your head down. Making enemies online is likely to cause more trouble than it’s worth.

What Does Google Say About Negative SEO

Google acknowledges that negative SEO is a threat to website owners.

They have taken significant actions over the year to prevent negative SEO from being a problem. They also say that a negative SEO attack isn’t effective.

Here’s what John Mueller had to say:

john mueller tweet

While Google is getting better at identifying negative SEO tactics, they are far from perfect.

And they are certainly better at identifying some types of negative SEO over others. But as of today, you can’t rely on Google completely.

You need to take matters into your own hands and protect your website from a potential SEO attack. The key is being prepared.

Wrapping It Up

Negative SEO affects every website owner at some point.

Take the necessary actions now to protect yourself so it doesn’t affect you in the future.

Are you experiencing negative SEO issues?

Negative SEO attacks can be complicated to solve. When in doubt hire an SEO professional to help you deal with it properly. It can save you a lot of headaches and money down the road.

I recommend contacting my own team at Search Logistics to solve your negative SEO issues. We have SEO experts that have specific skills to handle negative SEO attacks.

Remember:

Don’t wait to protect your website. Take action now and secure your website against negative SEO in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

No, in most cases, negative SEO isn't illegal but is considered very unethical and something Google does not tolerate. You need to take the necessary actions to protect yourself. Negative SEO may become illegal to the extent of someone hacking your website. It can be considered the same as a "cyber-attack" which is illegal but it’s difficult to prosecute.
Your SEO is negative if you are using blackhat SEO techniques that are strictly against Google's guidelines. Using proven SEO strategies that are considered best practices will ensure that your SEO is not negative.

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