Negative SEO is something that is sending shivers down the spine of small business owners and bloggers since the Penguin update was rolled out. It seems fairly easy to tank a site in the SERPs.
You can also see this discussion.
If you don’t believe me let me ask you a few questions:
1. What do you think will land your site in a penalty or result in an unnatural link warning? Obviously, links from low quality sites, comment spam, article directory spam, guest blog spam, mass links etc. Now that you agree with me, let me ask something else.
2. What if I try all of that on your site? Will your site rank higher or disappear to some dark corner of the World Wide Web from where we have no hope of retrieving it back? You site will tank, no doubt.
And that my dear friends is negative SEO. It is very real and as ugly as it looks and sounds like. Google cannot find out who builds the links to a site and what I mentioned above is perfectly legal.
One can build thousands of spam links to a site and destroy a perfectly legitimate business that became popular with content and natural links. Moreover your competitors can take advantage of this trick to shove your site down the bottomless pit of SERPs.
It is a sick mentality but it has been done and it can be done.
So in short whether our site would rank or tank may depend on our competitor’s hands.
Is there a solution?
Google Disavow tool seems to be the only option but it’s not a great tool.
Google Disavow tool should be used, not after receiving a penalty but way before that. You need not fear about the links that are created to your site if you know about them when they’re being built.
Since Google cannot find out all the spam links by itself it employs others to do their job and not only do they not pay a cent for that, they give us countless hours of frustration.
In a negative SEO case study that came to light on Traffic Planet, someone managed to pull down a site from from the first page by building thousands of spam links to the site.
Though Matt Cutts tried to debunk the claim, it doesn’t feel that way. Why does Google catch some spam comments posted in 2008 now, only after somebody posted a case study on negative SEO.
However Google has bettered its stance since 2009 when it did not even consider bad links an issue at all and asked users “not to be alarmed” over bad links. Bad links were traditionally ignored by Google and not used as a factor in determining a site’s position.
There are lots of other ways too in which negative SEO can be implemented. Too many fake reviews of your business on Google places will cause it to be removed from the listing.
Competitors can e mail webmasters of authority sites that are linking to you claiming that their site will be penalized because of the links and in this volatile atmosphere there’ll be only few who won’t remove the link.
Google also gives the ability to anyone to report a site if it is still ranking with paid links or “spammy” link practices which can be used against you.
On page SEO vulnerabilities that can trigger a negative SEO attack
There are a few on page SEO issues that can be used against you. They all have simple solutions though. There may be some cross scripting errors and mysql injections which can harm your site. But chiefly two vulnerabilities can be used against your site.
Blog comment links to de indexed sites: Matt Cutts recently said that linking out to sites that are considered to be bad neighbourhood by Google can harm your site. It is very easy to exploit this. If you go to a competitor’s site which shows the comments immediately after solving a captcha or has auto approved comments then such linking can cause your post to drop in SERPs.
Pat Flynn’s post dropped from the first position to the 7th within hours of Charles posting a comment with a link to deindexed site. Even if the link is “no follow” it doesn’t stop Panda algorithm from lowering the rankings.
To combat such spam, you need to make sure that you approve comments from sites that are of good standing and install the Broken Links checker plugin that routinely checks and informs you of broken links.
Duplicate content issue: In this example Martin MacDonald led a negative SEO campaign against Matt Cutts blog. There were a few pages that did not have the “rel= canonical” tag. This gives a loop hole to duplicate the content of the page by some one external and cause the site’s rankings to tank.
You can target a specific keyword with this attack. But the solution is quite simple, just install the SEO by Yoast plugin and canonize all urls.
How to combat off page negative SEO?
Few months ago, Danny Sullivan interviewed Matt Cutts over Disavow tool and how much time would it take to recover from a penalty. I am quoting Matt Cutts here,
“It can definitely take some time, and potentially months. There’s a time delay for data to be baked into the index. Then there can also be the time delay after that for data to be refreshed in various algorithms.”
There are two things that we can understand from this
§ If you’re hit with a penalty it may take months to recover
§ If you’re vigilant about your site then you can remove bad links as soon as they’re made
In both ways it will take weeks for the bad links to show their effect and if you aren’t keen on watching your back then you will notice that only when your back is burned.
The greatest tool that you have is called prevention.
One thing that does this for me is Monitor Backlinks which sends me e mails whenever new links are created or links are lost. You can see how I use it for one of my client sites.
What you need to monitor?
The first thing to see are the number of bad links that you are getting. These include 402 errors, 302 temporary, moved kind of links etc.
An unnatural velocity in links: If your site is gaining links too fast then something may be wrong somewhere. You need to continuously monitor your back links and see if there’s any spike in the linking activity that is out of the norm.
Status of the links: Status of the links indicate whether the links are live or not. See if the links are from de indexed domains. If they are then, Google explicitly states that it doesn’t trust the links that are coming from those domains to your site.
Article directory links: Not many article directories care about the content that they receive even after all the updates. It is pretty easy to get a link from them and if you see lots of such links then it may be better for you to disavow them. In moderation they’re good.
Paid links: You can also use Monitor Backlinks to filter the site as per the page rank and see if there are any paid links coming to your site. They’re exactly bad if you know what you are doing.
Food for thought
While I have given lot of tips in this post, there are a few things that I too am worried about. First is that it is very very easy for a person with the right tools to run a negative SEO campaign against your site and build millions of links within a short time. How would you deal with all that spam when you don’t even have all your back links? Any tool would reveal only 10% of your back links.
Second thing is, if a group of spammers continually report your site as a “bad site” in the Disavow tool then how would you deal with that because there is no way you can see that.
The situation before us is not ideal and it seems that only being very careful with our online businesses can save our soul.