Negative SEO – the concept that has been making its round all over the internet, has taken many companies by storm who have been working on getting their rankings up with great efforts but it’s just not converting. Negative SEO is a term that comprises of all those activities that companies do to bring their competitor’s rankings down. These activities might include intentionally building unnatural, spammy linking back to the site, hacking the website and at times content scraping. Before we go in depth into how your competitors can make your web life difficult, let us look into a brief history…
How did Negative SEO start?
In 2012 when Google came out with its Penguin update, the focus of Search Engine shifted to link building and this is when some companies started exploiting the single that Google cared about to bring their competitors in a bad light. So, is Negative SEO something that is conceived with paranoia, can a competitor really have that big an effect on your company? Well Google is not denying the fact that it happens. According to John Mueller, Google’s webmaster trends analyst, they work very hard on their algorithms to prevent it from happening or correcting it before it’s too late.
Most common Negative SEO tactics are link based, but there are other many unscrupulous techniques that black hatters leverage to demote a competing website rank including but not limited to: hacking, content scraping, creating fake reviews, and fake removal requests for good quality links.
Is Negative SEO Effective?
Simply put … Yes Negative SEO could work. It’s very clear that you could damage your own site by engaging into shady SEO techniques. So by implementing the same tactics you could similar ruin your competitor’s site too, isn’t it? After all, how come will Google know who built all those garbage and spammy links, or scraped content across hundreds of domains? Honestly, if the Negative SEO attack is sophisticated enough, Google can’t help in any way.
Now, let’s look at the different types of negative SEO, and evaluate the way to combat from each. In this article, I’ll do my best to shed some light on these questions and guide you to help you understand what negative SEO is and how you can protect your business from becoming a victim. If you are serious about building your brand and reputation online, this guide is something you should not ignore. So let’s start:
1. Spam Links
You must know that backlinks are the backbone of SEO and are one of the most important aspects that rank your website higher on SERPs. But it is very essential for the backlinks to be credible and relevant to your website’s content. Otherwise these backlinks would be marked as spam via Google and it will bring your website’s ranking down to its knees. This is what most negative SEO marketers do.
They manipulate the anchor text’s ratio and make it look like you’re doing it, which lowers your website’s ranking. To ensure that this never happens to you, always keep an eye out for spam links. Use the Disavow Tool and let Google know that these backlinks are spam and you don’t want them linking to your website.
2. Duplicate Content/ Content Scraping
That’s right. Duplicating content doesn’t only hurt who is using it without permission but it can also be used as an effective negative SEO tactic to falsify original content. How can this be done? Simple! Duplicate the content and index it before the original gets indexed (which can take a whole week).
In this way, your content is considered duplicated, which can penalize your website in the worst case or de-rank your content; never to be found by the potential audience. Make sure to use Copyscape or other related mechanism to actually find out the duplicated content and inform the Google using its Copyright Infringement Report.
3. Fake Reviews
One of the easiest ways to demolish competitor’s rankings is to post fake reviews (which is very easy) to its Google My Business snippet. It is mostly used for black-hat local SEO purposes, which results in lower conversion rates and a bad reputation.
To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, keep an eye out for your snippet and report the reviews by flagging them and completing the report form via Google Maps.
4. Site Crashes
Many desperate competitors would want to lower derank your website from Google’s SERP as soon as they can. And to do this, they would try something more serious i.e. crashing your site or slowing it up so search engines can’t access your site.
This is performed by putting a heavy load on your website, which is done by making search engine bots forcefully crawl your site’s content. So if your website seems to get slow or crash every now and then, without any logical explanation. Ask your webmaster or hosting provider to know its cause and resolve it as soon as possible.
5. Hacking of Website
Most of the above negative SEO techniques I’ve discussed are off-page tactics. This means that those strategies can be performed without any hard work and doesn’t require gaining control of your website; partially or even completely. However, if your competitor has determined to keep your website out of SERPs then it may hire a hacker who is skilled in performing negative on-page SEO.
To put it simply, those hackers will change things around your website (which is undetected most of the time) that results in getting your website deranked. For example, changing your robots.txt and simply adding disallow tag on your site’s page will make it purely impossible for bots to crawl and rank your website. This case study proves my point where an unethical practice was performed by a SEO agency.
Another thing a hacker might do is change or alter your content which you won’t notice because it is hidden beneath HTML coding. This affects your website’s ranking too. Hackers can also modify redirects which may lead to malware websites, which when Google detects can lead to your website getting deranked, instantly. This is because Google doesn’t promote malware websites or tolerates having websites linking to such sites either. Finally, a hacker might completely hack your website, which can lead your website’s ranking to go down because Google considers it a malware site. Google may also show a “this website may be hacked” message which completely ruins your reputation.
6. Fake Social Profile
This can be the favorite and easiest move of your competitors to ruin your reputation online. All they have to do is open a fake account from your name and post bad images or content to create a bad identity of yours in front of the world. It is not just the posts; they can even make fake reviews and comments to pretending to be a user or customer and bring you down. Now if this happens; you find competitors posting fake comments, instead of calling them out, answer their queries nicely and then, if needed, delete the comments.
While it can get very difficult to get the fake pages down, what you can do is notify the world that a xyz page is the original brand page or you can even mention that the users should be aware of fake pages floating the social media impersonating and conversing with the users. Apart from investing into verified profiles and a robust internet security system, here are a few things that you can do to prevent any loss in traffic because somebody is pretending to be you.
7. Removing good backlinks
The worst that your competitor can do to you is asking the highest DA website in which your article was published, to put it down or remove the backlink because of some reason. But it does happen; the website can remove the link when asked by someone pretending to be you.
The only way to keep a tab on it is by checking your backlink report and getting back to the website if you see any of it missing. While this can be just one way out, there isn’t much that you can do other than building a strong relationship with websites you are sending your articles to, to prevent your competitors from butting in.
8. Increasing Crawl Rate
This is one desperate move that your competitors can take to pull you down. Basically, this can be achieved by compellingly crawling the website making it cause a heavy server load. This move leads to slowing slow down of your site and can even crash it all in all.
Now you definitely lose on your crawl budget there if Google is unable to access your site because of the high crawl rate. What follows that if when it happens for few times in continuation, your website gets de-ranked.
9. Links from Foreign Forums
In your Google Search Console report, you might sometime find links pointing towards your website from a foreign nation. Now these links are created by the competitors on very low DA and even hoax websites to bring the websites rankings down.
While the chances of this happening is much lower, but once in a while one can find their website in some directory or some Casino or Gambling websites online. You can get them removed by asking the webmaster of the forum or website.
While these are just nine ways in which your competitor can bring your ranking down, there can be many others. To prevent yourself, there are some things and methods that you should follow from the day one. Here they are:
Set Google Search Console Alert
Google Search Console alert will notify you every time your page gets non indexed, a penalty, and is attacked by malware, among other things.
Use sites like Open Site Explorer or Ahrefs to keep a track of the backlinks you are getting. There some tools that will notify you over email everytime you get or lose a backlink, install them.
Use strong malware and anti virus software for your websites and keep more than one authentication process to log into your website.
See what people are talking about you
There are tools that notify you every time someone mentions you anywhere on social media, install them and keep a tab on what is being said and by whom.
While these are just the four ways, there are a number of methods that you can use to defend yourself from your competitors’ cheap tactics.
Negative SEO is real, and it can ruin your website’s ranking if you don’t take necessary precautions. To be honest, it’s always better to tackle something when you’re prepared for it. Being unprepared, it might be almost impossible for you to get your site’s ranking higher on SERPs, which nobody wants to face or deal with anyway.
Have other suggestions? Why don’t you comment them below? I’d love to read them.
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