How to detect and combat negative SEO

How to detect and combat negative SEO

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is one of the cornerstones of digital marketing. Using tools like Ahrefs, Majestic and SEM Rush you can see how well your website is doing for traffic and search engine rankings. If a site ranks highly on search engines for certain keywords, this will have a positive effect on the traffic and business. Positive SEO tactics are intended to improve a website’s search engine rankings. But with so much emphasis on achieving this, what would you do if the unthinkable were to happen: you started to notice that your website is falling in the rankings?

What is Negative SEO?

Negative SEO is an underhanded tactic some companies use to sabotage their competitors. It’s exactly the opposite of positive SEO in the way that it is used to deteriorate a competing website’s search engine ranking – in some cases it can also result in Google penalties, which have can a massive impact on a business.

How can I tell if I have been affected by negative SEO?

You may ask: how do I know whether I’ve been a target of negative SEO tactics? Here are some example scenarios of what happens after an effective attack has been incorporated against you:

1. A sharp decrease in search traffic

The basic principle of negative SEO is to have a devastating effect on the websites traffic. The levels will go up and down throughout the year depending on a number of factors, but when the drop is so sudden and unexpected it could be to do with negative SEO.

2. A penalty notice
Often when Google take action against your site, they will send you a manual penalty notification to let you know you have been punished. If what they are telling you in the content of this email is nothing to do with yourself, it could be someone else’s doing.

3. Keyword rankings dropping
You can track keyword rankings with SEO webtools, so when you notice a massive drop in some of your most popular keywords, this could be down to negative SEO.

What are the different types of negative SEO tactics and how can I stop them?

There are several negative SEO tactics that can be used, the most common of which are: building spam links, fake link removal requests, content scraping and hacking of your site. Here are how they are enacted and what you can do to combat them:

1. Building spam links

This actually used to be an unscrupulous positive SEO tactic before Google adopted its smarter algorithm. What happens is someone will build links to your site from a lot of dodgy ones, which Google will then pick up and punish you for as it thinks you are trying to cheat the system.

These links can be disavowed (removed). You can also message Google directly to reject them. Google understand these practices occur and will ignore the links, so you won’t get penalised.

2. Fake link removal requests

Sometimes people can send emails posing as yourself asking to get the links you have built on various sites removed. This can be devastating to your business as link building is a fantastic way to bring traffic to your site. Luckily, you will be able to see which links have been removed on certain web tools.

To curtail this you must send a message to the site that removed your link and ask them why they did. They may give another reason, but if they say because you told them to then you will have your reason.

3. Content scraping
This is when somebody copies your content word-for-word onto their site, which is classed as duplicate content. Most of the time is noticed by Google and the content is ignored. However, while it is uncommon, sometimes this content is taken as the original and yours drops off the search engine.

To fix this you can either message the site that has stolen your content and ask them to remove it (unlikely, but worth a shot) or file a copyright order (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) through Google.

4. Hacking

The most extreme of negative SEO tactics, while the others are simply morally wrong, hacking is actually illegal. Filling your site with malware or linking your site to others that do will often earn you a search engine tag stating ‘this website may be hacked’ – which will cause your traffic to all but stop.

You can consult this blog post to go through the step of what to do to protect your website from hackers.

If you feel you may have been a victim of negative SEO, our expert SEO team is on hand to offer advice.