How to Protect Your Website from Negative SEO Practices
January 3, 2024
What has been updated from the old blog post:
- Increased primary keyword density
- Included additional subheadings
- Refurbished the content to comprehensively explain the topic
- Added internal and external links
- Added structure to increase readability
Summary: The post discusses various types of negative SEO attacks, including backlink spamming, hacking, content scraping, smear campaigns, click fraud, and DDoS attacks. For each type of attack, it offers practical solutions like regular link audits, securing the website, using plagiarism checkers, monitoring brand mentions, employing click fraud detection tools, and maintaining site performance.
In the fight for online visibility, brands are willing to do all they can to outrank each other. After all, the advantages of ranking high are well worth the effort. While many businesses utilize SEO and paid advertising to increase their organic traffic and visibility, some unethical individuals opt to sabotage their competition using shady tactics.
This practice, also known as negative SEO, can harm a site’s ranking and visibility. If your competitors damage your site and reputation using negative SEO, it can undo months and years of work. That’s why protecting your website from negative SEO practices should be on your list.
Maintaining your search visibility and user trust is essential to grow your website. Here’s what you should know about negative SEO and how to protect your website.
What is Negative SEO?
Negative SEO is the unethical practice of intentionally harming a website’s ranking and visibility using malicious attacks. The idea behind this practice is to make the target website look like it is using SEO practices that violate search engine policies, therefore triggering penalties. This can include a lower rank in SERP results, poor performance or providing a bad user experience so users don’t click through the site.
This gave rise to black hat SEO, which worked for a while until Google’s Penguin Algorithm Update. Black-hat SEO was deemed unethical, and it became harder and harder to execute, often delivering poor results. That’s when negative SEO emerged. This practice is still unethical but not entirely illegal. That is why it is still in use.
Types of Negative SEO Attacks and How to Counter Them
For years, Google has advised webmasters to focus on improving their sites and user experience and ignore these damaging SEO threats and attacks since search engines are getting better at spotting and ignoring them. That said, many webmasters still believe this practice can harm their site’s rankings and reputation. So here are some negative SEO tactics you should know and how to protect your website from negative SEO practices.
Backlink spamming or link removal
Backlinking is one of the ways you can build credibility and trustworthiness. However, this is only if your backlinks are high quality and from authoritative sites. Negative SEO attackers can damage your reputation using backlinks in two ways: spamming and removing relevant backlinks.
Link spamming involves creating a large amount of spammy or low-quality backlinks pointing back to your site so you get penalised. An example of this malicious backlinking is creating keyword-rich, hidden, or low-quality links embedded in widgets and distributing them across various sites.
Sometimes, rather than spam your site with low-quality links, attackers will identify high-quality backlinks on your site and ask the referring site to remove the link, claiming they are acting on your behalf.
Solution: Perform regular link audits
Regularly monitoring your backlink profile can help protect your website from negative SEO practices since you can identify any low-quality backlinks pointing back to your site. Use backlink analytics tools such as Google Search Console to identify and disavow any suspicious backlinks causing unexpected spikes and links to irrelevant anchor texts. That said, ensure you double-check the links you want to disavow before proceeding, as mistakenly disavowing useful links can severely damage your SEO gains.
Similarly, these tools can help you stay updated on the status of your backlinks. If any essential backlinks are removed, you get alerted and can contact the webmasters to restore them so you don’t lose any search status.
Hackers can gain unauthorised access to your site and:
- Modify its content. For example, change the alt text on your images to be less effective.
- Inject malicious code
- Redirect your URLs so they are scrambled or disabled.
- Edit your robots.txt file to mess with crawling
- Deface the website
These actions negatively impact user experience and search engine rankings. Unfortunately, this type of attack is not always obvious and can have long-lasting effects.
Solution: Secure your site
To protect your website from negative SEO practices, you must regularly audit and bolster your site’s security to prevent attackers from breaching it and causing damage. For instance, you can reset your admin password to something more robust, utilise 2-factor authentication, have an automatic backup system, install security plugins and ensure your site is up-to-date. Google has a hacking help page with information on removing malicious links and requesting a review.
This involves copying original content from your website and publishing it verbatim elsewhere to create duplicate content issues. When search engines encounter duplicate content, they can only display one version because they don’t want to deliver identical results to users. This means they might display duplicate content rather than yours, stealing traffic from you.
Solution: Identify duplicate content
Having original, helpful content is pivotal for attracting users, building credibility and ranking highly. Take the originality away, and your ranking will likely plummet. To protect your website from this negative SEO practice, you can use plagiarism checkers such as Copyscape to scour the web for similar content. Once you have identified some, contact the webmasters, submit a DMCA notice and request they remove your content. If unsuccessful, report the issue to Google or take legal action. Similarly, you can use services like Copysentry to monitor your website and alert you if there are any hits for duplicate content.
This is spreading false or damaging information about you or your business. For example, they might:
- Write fake defamatory blogs
- Review bombing
- Create fake social media profiles for your brand
- Submitting false DMCA claims
- Spread malicious rumours about you online
These actions can harm your reputation and reduce your likelihood of driving traffic or ranking.
Solution: Respond appropriately
Dealing with smear campaigns can be tricky, primarily because of the anonymity the web offers. However, there are a few things you can do to protect your website from these negative SEO practices. First, respond appropriately to any formal complaints you get. For instance, if you receive a fake bad review, you can request its removal or use the reporting feature to get it flagged. This will allow you to get ahead of the narrative and do some damage control. Secondly, monitor your brand mentions on social media to identify fake accounts using your brand name and pretending to be you.
Click fraud can include using a specially programmed bot to click on your site and quickly bounce back to the SERP page. This increases the bounce rate of your site, which tells search engines that your website is not helpful, thus ranking it lower. Alternatively, an attacker can use bots to manipulate your PPC campaigns by generating false clicks on ads to exhaust your budget or negatively impact its performance.
Solution: Utilise click fraud detection tools
Click fraud detection tools can help identify and filter out fraudulent clicks and protect your website from these negative SEO practices. Closely monitor your ad campaign metrics, such as click-through rates, to look for unusual spikes. This could indicate click fraud. Deploy CAPTCHAs to make automatic clicking difficult, limit impressions for high-risk geo-locations and ensure your landing pages load fast to discourage bogus clicks.
This involves overloading your site’s servers to disrupt service and performance or crash your site, making it less accessible to users and search engine crawlers. The easiest way to tell if you are under a DDoS attack is if you have longer loading times.
Solution: Monitor your pages
If you notice your site is slower or keeps crashing, contact your webmaster or hosting company immediately. They can help identify where this extra load on your servers is coming from. They can also apply firewalls or reroute your traffic through a DDoS protection service. Similarly, you can schedule regular crawls to monitor your site’s loading metrics and deal with any speed issues.
Lastly, ensure you are not a victim of your own SEO tactics
Don’t let all of your SEO gains go to waste by inadvertently using techniques frowned upon by search engines. For example:
- Don’t link to penalised sites
- Don’t publish a lot of low-quality guest posts
- Don’t sell links to your site without the ‘nofollow’ attribute
- Don’t build loads of backlinks to your site using keyword-rich phrases. At least 60% of your anchor text backlinks should have your brand name or website URL.
Should I Be Concerned About Negative SEO?
Yes and No.
Search engines have gotten better at implementing measures to reduce the impact of negative SEO, so these attacks cannot affect your rankings. If your rankings suddenly drop, there could be other reasons behind it rather than negative SEO. For instance, you could hire an inexperienced SEO specialist who might utilise unethical methods to increase your traffic, such as paying for fake reviews or spamming your comment section. Similarly, you could hire a freelance writer who might plagiarise their content from other sites and claim it as their own. These actions pose a higher risk threat than getting a negative SEO attack from a competitor.
That said, negative SEO still poses a legitimate threat, especially if an attacker hacks your site, commits click fraud or performs a DDoS attack. These attacks can do more damage to your site and negatively affect your hard-earned SEO gains.
Where Do You Go From Here?
So, to round things off, remember that negative SEO is not illegal; it is just unethical, and while most attacks are ineffective, it doesn’t hurt to know what to expect. This way, you can protect your website from negative SEO practices. However, to get the best protection, you need expert SEO services. They can help you get legitimate SEO gains that will rank you highly in SERPs and boost your online visibility.
Do you want to know more about negative SEO and how to protect your site? Drop your comments or questions below and we will help you get started. Alternatively, you can request a call. Let’s discuss how to protect your site from negative SEO attacks while maintaining your visibility and ranking.