by: Lindsay Denton, Copywriter
The goal of search engine optimization is to get your website a higher ranking on search engine results. The most common way to do that is by working on your online presence and improving your website. But there is something else you can do - instead of elevating yourself, you can bring others down. When these negative SEO techniques are used against you, it's crucial to be able to recognize them. This can help you combat their harmful effects on your ranking.
What is negative SEO, and how does it work?
Typically when we're talking about SEO, we discuss all the things you can do to optimize your own website. From making your website mobile-friendly to using the right keywords, SEO practices are effective and inexpensive, making them a great way to market small businesses. But it does take some time to see results.
Those who don't have the patience to wait sometimes turn to less reputable ways of using SEO - black hat SEO and negative SEO. Black hat SEO refers to tactics that quickly boost your website's ranking in artificial and inorganic ways, while negative SEO is a set of techniques aimed at lowering your competitors' rankings rather than raising your own. In that sense, negative SEO is an attack on another website. That means that, even if you do everything right, you could still suffer the consequences. This is why it's essential to know about common negative SEO practices - you'll be better able to recognize them and defend yourself against them if they're ever aimed at you.
What are some common negative SEO techniques?
If you notice that your ranking is stagnating or dropping, you should first look at whether there's something wrong with your website. Negative SEO is not the most likely suspect. But when you've written everything else off, these are the specific tactics you should be on the lookout for.
Backlinks are vital for SEO - they can significantly improve your domain authority and up your rankings. That is precisely why some people abuse them by creating link farms: a website or series of websites used to quickly and drastically increase the number of backlinks leading back to their main domain. Of course, search engines don't like this type of artificial inflation of backlinks and often punish websites that use such black hat SEO techniques. And that's precisely why a negative SEO attack might use a link farm. They'll create hundreds and thousands of backlinks with undesirable anchors to make it look like you're doing something wrong.
Reviews are usually a sign of increased engagement, so encouraging them is always a good idea. A few negative reviews here and there won't hurt you, especially if you know how to handle them well. But reviews are also an opportunity for competitors to ruin your reputation. A sudden influx of negative reviews can, therefore, be a sign of an attack. Usually, these reviews will be obviously fake - similarly worded, entirely hostile, and sometimes even unrelated to your business. But they will lower your rankings nonetheless.
An easy way to interfere with your SEO efforts is for competitors to copy your content and post it on other websites. Not only will this create more pages for you to compete against but it can also incur a serious penalty as Google does not like duplicate content. Search engine bots are typically capable of discovering the original among all the copies. But that's not always the case so scraping remains an issue.
One of the metrics Google uses to measure user satisfaction is how long they stay on the website that appeared in the search results and whether they browse other pages on it. If users click on a link, then immediately leave, Google takes this as a sign that they didn't find what they were looking for; the page was, therefore, not a good match for the search. Competitors use this to their advantage, sending bots to visit your website and leave quickly. This increases your abandonment rates and decreases your rankings.
To index your pages, search engines must first be able to access them. So they send bots to crawl the website and discover new content. Occasionally, these bots are unable to access a website due to server overload. When this happens once or twice due to increased traffic, it's not really a problem. But competitors can make sure it happens all the time by sending their bots to crawl your website. That way, search engine bots can't reach your website and, after a while, simply assume it's not there anymore.
Content Modification And De-indexing
Typically, negative SEO attacks happen off-page; most competitors won't actually hack your website. But some will stoop to that level too, which is why it's crucial to have suitable security protocols for your employees. If a competitor manages to access your website, they can cause severe problems by changing up your content or disallowing crawling so that Google de-indexes your pages entirely. It can take months to recover from such attacks, so it's best to prevent them altogether by frequently changing passwords and using security plugins.
How To Determine Whether You Are The Target of Negative SEO Techniques
There are many things that can cause a drop in rankings, and some negative SEO tactics are pretty subtle. So it can be challenging to determine when you are the target of an attack. That's why it's important to have an SEO specialist who knows what they're doing. When hiring someone for the position, you'll want to ask them about their previous experience and the strategies they employ. One of the things to discuss with an expert should be how they'd handle a drop in rankings. A good answer will include constant monitoring and frequent audits; because most attacks on your website cannot be prevented, they need to be spotted as soon as possible. That way, you can combat them before they cause real harm. And that is why it is important to keep a close eye on the website.
How To Protect Yourself from Common Negative SEO Techniques
You can't affect what others do so you can't stop competitors from using negative SEO techniques against you. The best you can do is to protect yourself as well as you can. For starters, you'll want to invest in securing your website - install security software, update your passwords regularly, and manage spam reviews. After that, it's all about monitoring. Noticing an attack early on will help you avoid the worst of the consequences.