What is Negative SEO and How Can You Safeguard Against Attacks?

Negative SEO involves using black hat SEO not to improve your own rankings, but to destroy the rankings of another site. It’s usually the result of an unhappy competitor, but that’s not always the case. Most people have no problem playing by the rules and supporting one another, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fall victim to an attack.

Learn what you can do to protect yourself, and what you should do if you ever find yourself up against a negative SEO attack on your website.

Google Search Console is Your Best Friend

If you haven’t already, sign into the Google Search Console and set up your website for monitoring. Make sure to set up email alerts, so you are notified if and when Google notices something wrong with your website. The Google Search Console will let you know if:

  • Servers are having connectivity issues
  • Pages are unable to be indexed
  • Malware has been detected on your website
  • Your site has received a manual penalty from Google

Using this alongside Google Analytics can help getting a better look at the big picture of your website activity.

Pay Attention to Site Speed

Your site speed is a major ranking factor. You can use a number of tools like PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom to check how quickly your pages are loading. Keep in mind that 47% of users expect a page to load in two seconds or less, and 40% will abandon sites that take longer than three seconds to load.

If your site is slowing down and you’re not sure why, you should turn to crawling software like Screaming Frog to see if you can find anything that looks suspicious. If you can’t find anything that could be causing the problem, your site may be a victim of forceful crawling. This causes a heavy server load, meaning your site will slow down, and possibly even crash.

If you suspect your site is being attacked with forced crawling, contact either your webmaster or hosting company for help determining where the load is coming from. Only then will you be able to take steps to stop it.

Check Your Backlinks Often

One of the easiest, and therefore most common, negative SEO attacks comes in the form of building a spammy backlink profile. It’s incredibly easy to hire people to build links to a website at a cheap price – and these links are anything but the quality Google wants – and they certainly don’t come naturally.

You can use tools like Ahrefs, Majestic SEO, and Open Site Explorer to manually check your backlinks. But if you’re busy and can afford to automate it, turn to Monitor Backlinks. You’ll get an email when there’s a new backlink on your website, so if you start seeing backlinks you’re not actively seeking, you know you need to take action.

If this happens, create a list of backlinks you want to remove. Try to get the links removed by reaching out to the webmaster, either through the website’s contact form, an email address listed on the website, or by finding contact information with the domain’s WHOIS information. If you can’t get them removed, you can disavow them which tells Google to ignore them.

Keep an Eye on Google My Business

Negative reviews for your business aren’t the end of the world, but if you’re suddenly hit with a slew of them, it could harm your rankings. And honestly, unless you’ve made a huge mistake that’s caught the public’s attention, you shouldn’t be dealing with too many of them at once. If you see a lot of negative reviews and don’t have a PR crisis on your hands, it is an indication you’re falling victim to a negative review attack.

Act fast to flag the reviews as fake. Search for your business in Google Maps, find your business in the search results. Click “Review Summary” and then choose “# Reviews” on the left panel. Flag the reviews that are fake and fill out the report form. Use social listening tools to keep an eye on all reviews – not just the ones on Google My Business.

Watch for Scraped Content

Use Copyscape to watch for copies of your website content on other websites. If you’re worried about accidentally duplicating your own content, you can add each piece of content to a private library that all your new content will be checked against when ran through the system.

Monitor Keyword Clickthrough Rates

Bartosz Goralewicz noticed something odd with one of his client’s sites, and you can learn from his experience. He noticed the site was getting thousands of hits to land on a page, and then bounce immediately. Over time, it started to affect the client’s rankings, since user experience is a major ranking signal and the immediate bounce made it look like users weren’t finding what they were looking for. Goralewicz determined someone had programmed a bot to target certain keywords, land on a page on a competitor’s site, and then bounce, thus creating a false bounce rate.

This is a sneaky attack you won’t likely catch unless you’re paying attention to your click through rates. In your Google Search Console, click “Search Traffic” then “Search Analytics” and look at your click through rate across your keywords. If you see a large spike that you can’t explain, get in touch with Google and start disavowing the bad links.

Make Sure You Have Ample Site Security

Go beyond the basics of securing your WordPress installation. If you don’t want to pay your host to offer additional security, and aren’t interested in switching to managed WordPress hosting, it’s a good idea to invest in a security plugin like WordFence. It works by scanning your files for malware. Upgrading to the premium version will also check to make sure your website isn’t being used in spam attacks, and can block unwanted sign in attempts, block individual IPs, and even traffic from certain countries.

Rare But on the Rise

Though negative SEO attacks are rare, there have been more of them now than in the past. If you find your site tanking because someone has unleashed a fury on you, don’t panic. The search engine bots can tell you’re not the one behind the crazy activity, and as a result, aren’t likely to penalize you. As soon as you notice the issue, you can alert Google to let them know while you repair the issue. If it’s an issue of backlinks, simply create a list of the bad ones and disavow them. If it’s scraped content, send DMCA takedowns. If it’s a swarm of fake reviews, report them. You can and will recover.