You’ve researched keywords, crafted high-level content, carefully curated backlinks, analyzed every single page of your website — and you’re enjoying the view from the top of the SERPs.
But suddenly, it all comes crashing down.
Bad reviews start popping up, your keywords are no longer ranking, your custom content is showing up on random sites, and your traffic takes a nosedive.
While there are other, less nefarious reasons why this could happen, you might be the victim of a negative SEO attack.
So what is negative SEO, and how do you stop an SEO attack before it destroys your website’s — and business’s — reputation? We’ll explain everything you need to know about negative SEO and how to protect your website from attacks.
What is Negative SEO?
In short, negative SEO is the practice of using unethical or black-hat SEO tactics to harm a competitor’s website’s search engine rankings. What does that mean, exactly?
Think of SEO as a race to the top of the SERPs. Normal, ethical SEO involves looking for fairways to outrun your competitors — taking advantage of keyword gaps in their content, offering services that they don’t, and earning backlinks from highly trusted websites. It’s the equivalent of following a strict training schedule and investing in high-quality running shoes.
Negative SEO, on the other hand, is like tying your opponent’s shoelaces together or shoving them off the track in the final sprint. These black-hat SEO strategies can include backlink spamming, content scraping, fake negative reviews, and even DDoS attacks.
Negative SEO attacks are highly unethical, and they can destroy a business’s online presence and credibility. So let’s take a look at the different types of negative SEO and how to identify and prevent them.
Types of Negative SEO Attacks
There are five common types of negative SEO, and attackers may use multiple strategies to take down a competitor’s site. Here’s what you should be on the lookout for.
A variety of high-quality backlinks can enhance your search engine rankings by proving your credibility and usefulness, but backlinks from spammy or irrelevant sites will do the opposite.
Negative SEO takes advantage of this by flooding your website with low-quality backlinks from sites full of malware, obscure or irrelevant sites, the comments sections of outdated blogs and forums, and even sites with adult content. Link farms can quickly generate thousands of these toxic links, tanking your website’s reputation in the search engine algorithms.
Unique, original content is a key SEO best practice, and attackers can harm a website by scraping its content and posting exact copies across the internet — or even creating duplicates of the entire website itself.
When there are multiple versions of identical content available, search engines choose which one to rank, and even though your version is the original, it may be outranked by copies on other sites. In addition, a malicious clone of your website or content can open up your unsuspecting intended visitors to malware, data theft, and more, destroying your business’s reputation.
If a hacker gains access to your website, they have all kinds of options to wreak havoc. But if they are trying to harm your SEO efforts, they’ll likely choose an option that will be more likely to fly under the radar: keyword stuffing.
Black-hat SEO attackers can overload your website with unnaturally used, repetitive keywords to make it look like you’re trying to manipulate the search results. While keyword stuffing was a common SEO tactic back in the day, modern search engine algorithms penalize websites that use this method.
A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack is when an attacker floods your website with more traffic than it can handle, causing it to crash or become extremely slow. Not only does this result in a poor user experience, it can also lead search engines to determine that your site is unreliable.
Reliability, loading speed, and user experience are all key aspects of SEO , so this type of negative SEO attack can have a major impact on both customer and search engine perceptions of your website.
Negative Reviews and Ratings
The whole goal of search engine algorithms is to deliver the best possible results, so reviews and ratings affect on how they measure a website’s quality. Search engines will crawl third-party review sites when determining whether to rank a website, and a large number of poor reviews can significantly impact your site’s rankings.
This is especially detrimental to small and local businesses with low brand recognition that rely on positive reviews to generate new sales. Not only does it affect their online visibility, it also damages their reputation and makes them appear untrustworthy.
How to Detect a Negative SEO Attack?
Now that you’re familiar with the most common types of negative SEO, let’s cover how you can protect yourself from attacks and spot them before they cause irreversible harm.
1. Monitor Your Backlink Profile
Using an SEO tool that offers comprehensive backlink tracking and regularly monitoring your backlinks is the first line of defense against negative SEO attacks. Watch out for any unusual increases in backlinks, especially when they’re from low-quality or spammy sources. A lot of SEO platforms can send you an alert when your backlink profile changes, so be sure to toggle that setting on if your platform offers it.
2. Track Keyword Rankings
If you suddenly stop ranking for multiple keywords, it could be a sign that you’re being attacked. Use your SEO platform’s keyword tracking tools to monitor your rankings and keep an eye out for any unexplained drops.
3. Check for Duplicate Content
You can use tools like Copyscape to conduct regular web audits and check for any unauthorized copies of your content or webpages. If you do find copied content, you can contact the website’s host and request that it be taken down, and you should also file a report with Google.
4. Review Google Search Console
The Google Search Console is an invaluable tool when it comes to preventing negative SEO attacks. It can alert you to security breaches, suspicious backlinks, violations of Google’s guidelines, 404 errors, and more.
5. Disavow Harmful Backlinks
If you do uncover malicious or harmful backlinks, you should disavow them using the Google Search Console. However, be aware that this doesn’t actually remove the links — it just tells Google to ignore them when determining website rankings.
Regular monitoring can go a long way toward repelling negative SEO attacks. By setting up alerts and keeping an eye out for anything that looks suspicious or out of the ordinary, you can better protect your website and maintain your hard-earned search engine rankings. And if you’ve been a victim of a negative SEO attack and need help getting your rank and credibility back, our SEO agency is here to help.
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