14 Mar 2017
Negative SEO consist on potentially illegal techniques and lack of ethics based on black hat practices. They are directed to a website of the competition to be punished and penalized by the search engines.
Today we reproduce a very interesting article of Link-Assistant.Com about what can you do to be safe and take action to correct strange or negative links you detect in your site.
Generally, a single spammy link (even if it’s sitewide) wouldn’t be able to shatter a site’s rankings. That’s why negative SEO typically involves links from a group of sites, or link farms.
A link farm is a hub of interconnected websites. Originally, these sites used to link to each other to increase the link popularity of each site’s pages. You could purchase links from these websites to increase your own site’s PageRank. One example of a link farm is a PBN (private blog network) — a network of sites that are created solely for link building and typically owned by one individual. Most PBNs are made up from expired domains, which means that the sites usually have accumulated some backlinks and authority by the time they become part of a PBN.
How to stay safe: Preventing a negative SEO attack isn’t something in your power, but spotting the attempt early enough to revert it is totally doable. To do that, you need to regularly monitor link profile growth. SEO SpyGlass, for example, gives you progress graphs for both the number of links in your profile, and the number of referring domains (you’ll find them under the Summary dashboard).
Another negative SEO technique is falsifying duplicate content. It involves scraping your site’s content and copying it to other websites, often multiple times, sometimes even as part of the link farms discussed above.
You probably know that Google’s Panda update was designed, in part, to detect and fight content duplication. So when Google finds content that is duplicated across multiple sites, they will usually pick only one version to rank. You’d hope that Google is clever enough to identify the original source of the content, and in most cases they are… Unless the scraped copy gets indexed before the original.
That’s why scrapers often automatically copy new content and repost it right away. If Google finds the “stolen” version first, it may de-rank your site, and rank the scraper site instead.
How to stay safe: There are a few great tools designed to help you stay safe from scrapers. Copyscape is one of them. All you need to do is enter the URL of your content to find out if there are any duplicates of it online.
In local SEO, reviews mean a lot. An influx of negative ones isn’t just bad for your local rankings; it’s bad for business. But reviews are relatively easy to manipulate, and they may be the first thing a jealous competitor will try to do.
How to stay safe: Obviously, you need to keep an eye on your Google My Business listing and look through the new reviews your company gets. Fake reviews violate Google’s policy, according to which, one should never “post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or connection with the place you’re reviewing”.
When they don’t know better, a desperate competitor may try and crash your site altogether (here is a real-life example). Mainly, this is achieved by forcefully crawling the site and thus causing heavy server load. This may slow down the site or even crash it altogether. If search engines can’t access your site when it’s down, you’ll definitely lose some crawl budget there; if this happens for a few times in a row… You guessed it — you might get de-ranked.
How to stay safe: If you notice that your site is becoming slower, or, worse, crashes altogether, a wise thing to do is contact your hosting company or webmaster — they should be able to tell you where the load is coming from. If you know a thing or two about server logs though, here are some detailed instructions on finding the villain crawlers in the logs and blocking them with robots.txt and .htaccess.
Clicks are a controversial signal in the SEO spot; not everyone believes they are a ranking signal. But there are real-life experiments that clearly show that an unusually high click rate on a certain search result can boost its rankings; while a low CTR will get a site de-ranked.
Bartosz Goralewich actually saw this happen in a negative SEO attack on a client site. It looked like a CTR bot was programmed to search for their main keywords and branded terms and click and dwell on various results. Then they’d click on the client’s listing and quickly bounce back to the SERP. Eventually, the client’s site dropped in the SERP.
How to stay safe: Make sure to carefully monitor your main keywords’ CTR in Google Search Console, under Search Traffic > Search Analytics. There, you’ll find both the stats on your site’s overall CTR across all keywords, and the click rates for individual keywords.
Altering your content
You’d think you’d notice if someone changed your content around, but in reality, this tactic can be very subtle and difficult to spot. It involves adding spammy content (and links) to a website; the trick is, this content is often well hidden (e.g., under “display:none” in HTML), so you won’t see it unless you look in the code.
How to stay safe: Regular site audits with a tool like WebSite Auditor is the best way to continuously check your site against such threats. To run an audit, simply launch WebSite Auditor and create a project for your site. To re-run it for an existing project, use the Rebuild Project button. As long as you do this regularly, you should be able to spot subtle changes that could otherwise go unnoticed, such as the number of outgoing links on the site.
Getting the site de-indexed
A change in robots.txt is one simple alteration that could wreak havoc on your entire SEO strategy. A disallow rule is all it takes to tell Google to completely ignore your important pages or even the entire website.
There are multiple examples of this online, including this story. A client fired an SEO agency he wasn’t happy with, and their revenge was adding a “Disallow: /” rule to the client’s site.
How to stay safe: Regular ranking checks will help you be the first to know should your site get de-indexed. With Rank Tracker, you can schedule automatic checks to occur daily or weekly. If your site suddenly drops from search engines’ results, you’ll see a Dropped note in the Difference column.
If this happens for a big number of keywords, this usually implies a penalty or de-indexation. If you suspect the latter, check the crawl stats in your Google Search Console account and take a look at your robots.txt.
A possible negative SEO scenario is someone modifying your pages to redirect to theirs. This isn’t a threat for most small businesses, but if your site enjoys high authority and link popularity, it could be someone’s sneaky way to increase their own site’s PageRank, or to simply redirect visitors to their site when they try to access yours.
For the site under attack, such redirects aren’t just a temporary inconvenience. If Google finds out about the redirect before you do, they can penalize the site for “redirecting to a malicious website”.
How to stay safe: With WebSite Auditor, it should be pretty easy for you to see if any new redirects have been added to your site by looking at the Redirects section in your site audit. Make sure to run these site audits regularly so you can see if any changes be made on your site, you are the first to know about them, not Google.
Hacking your site… in general
Even if the attacker has no negative SEO in mind, a hacker attack per se can hurt your SEO. Google wants to protect its users and will take a dim view of any site which is hosting malware (or linking to sites which do); that’s why if they suspect a site has been hacked, they may de-rank your site, or at the very least add a “this site may be hacked” line to your search listings.
Would you click on a result like that?
How to stay safe: Negative SEO aside, not getting hacked should be high on your list of priorities for obvious reasons.
By: Masha Maksimava. Negative SEO: How competitors can ruin your rankings, and how to make sure they don’t. Published on March 7th, 2017. March 14th, 2017