Are you wondering How to Protect your website from negative SEO tactics and how to know if your site was hit by negative SEO attack?
This post details website security and how to avoid SEO hacks.
Search engine optimization has always been a field that had a lot of unfair competitors.
The search engines are not perfect, so people always look for ways to game the system instead of providing useful content that would rank high naturally.
This makes it very difficult for completely whitehat sites to operate. This is why nearly every webmaster has, at one point or another, dabbled in less acceptable techniques:
- purchasing backlinks,
- artificially increasing PageRank – by using redirects from older domains with established PR, for example,
- editing post timestamps,
- keyword stuffing,
- and other stuff that is generally considered blackhat.
The reality is that these techniques work, and since everyone is using them, the playing field is more or less even.
Here’s what this post will cover:
With other blackhat options gone, more people opt for negative SEO tactics
Or at least, it used to be. 2013 has been the year of change for Google. They’ve removed a lot of spam from their search results. Including a lot of websites that were filled with garbage content and were only on the front page thanks to blackhat techniques.
The Penguin updates made Google’s algorithm smarter, penalizing different sites:
- with little content and many ads,
- bad internal linking and unnatural backlinks – site-wide links,
- links coming from unrelated posts
- links that use the usual SEO anchor text patterns are pretty much done for.
Unfortunately for honest website owners, the latter is what kept blackhat SEOs from using the darkest negative SEO tactics.
Thus, learning how to protect your website from negative SEO attacks means putting yourself into attackers’ shoes.
Negative SEO tactics consist of buying the worst quality links possible for your competitor’s website, while also acquiring high quality links for your own site. In the hopes that Google will notice that and penalize the competing website, removing it from the first page (or more often, the index) and letting you climb higher.
Needless to say, it’s the most unethical thing you can do. It’s the online world’s equivalent of planting drugs/rats in your competitor’s store and calling the police and the health inspection.
Understanding how to protect your website from negative SEO tactics is the key
It wasn’t as widespread before since it took a whole lot of invested time and money to make it work (though it was rather easy to do back in 2012).
But now with Google paying much more attention to the quality and quantity of incoming links. It became very easy to perform.
Many webmasters have already fallen victim to it, and it looks like things will only get worse this year.
It’s not just conjecture, either.
Google has admitted that people lack the understanding how to protect your website from negative SEO tactics. Thus, they’re offering some advice on the matter on their website. As well as the Disavow Links Tool in Google Webmaster Tools. Which is pretty much the only effective weapon webmasters have against negative SEO campaigns.
Google is also taking more steps towards removing or minimizing the effects of negative SEO tactics. But I doubt they will work. Since backlinks are still the main ranking factor in Google, and bad links will always get your site penalized, no matter who acquired them.
How to manage and fight negative SEO attack
Sadly, Google has pretty much decided to shift most of the responsibility for negative SEO tactics onto the webmasters by releasing the Disavow Links Tool, which lets you manually “disable” the links you don’t want affecting your website.
Therefore it’s YOUR responsibility to learn how to protect your website and take care of your website’s security.
Basically, you instruct Google’s ranking algorithm to ignore these links when deciding your site’s ranking.
It’s actually pretty smart.
Webmasters would use the tool to instruct the algorithm to drop the bad links, while keeping the high quality links intact. No one in their right mind would want to disavow good links!
But in practice. It’s an uphill battle that you’re likely to never win. Blackhat tools can create a million bad links to your site in less than a day.
While you have to sift through and manually remove them, every month/week/day.
If your competitor is determined enough, the DLT will be just a minor inconvenience for him.
Still, most webmasters who don’t have competition with deep pockets can manage the occasional negative SEO campaign rather effectively.
It takes a bit of time (even though it can be automated), but it’s not that hard to do. So, here’s what you can do to prevent and counteract any negative SEO attacks you might receive against your website:
1. Monitor your backlinks
First of all, you should monitor your backlinks.
We offer a set of great tools for this purpose, and there are plenty of other services out there for the purpose, including GWT.
You should keep track of your existing links and check all the new links that appear in Google.
It might seem like a daunting task at first. But it’s rather easy to set up and view all the new links via email reports. You’ll notice right away when something is wrong.
You should watch for any unusual activity:
- too many links appearing at the same time – in the same day,
- links from pages that are clearly spam based on their URL,
- multiple links coming from country specific TLD’s – especially those that are not in your language,
- free blogs – Blogspot, WordPress, Typepad, LiveJournal, and so on,
- long domain names with multiple dashes.
All of these are indicatives of bad quality links and should be checked out right away.
2. Use Google’s Disavow Links Tool
If you’ve discovered any bad links. The next step is to use Google’s Disavow Links Tool to make them harmless.
You’ll need to have your Google Webmaster Tools account ready and able for this. So if you don’t have your domains registered with them, you should do that right away.
Once you’ve submitted the bad links to Google. They will start being ignored by the search algorithm pretty quickly, so your website and pages will be safe.
3. Submit a spam report to Google (and Bing)
Of course, you don’t want your unscrupulous competitors to rank anywhere near the first page.
Even if they have a good website. It’s just plain wrong to perform negative SEO tactics on anyone. In the real world, it would be illegal.
If you can pinpoint who bought those negative links to your website. You can report their website as spam to Google and Bing.
This will take some time, but if possible, do it. It will help everyone.
Needless to say, you should only report websites with:
- poorly written,
- or plagiarized content
- and websites that are obvious spam.
4. Monitor your content
Understanding how to protect your website and ensuring website’s security sadly doesn’t stop at backlinks. Another commonly used blackhat tactic is to take your website’s content and republish it on other blogs.
It’s done using automated tools most of the time, which allows the attacker to create dozens of copies of your articles as soon as they’re published.
Duplicate content by itself will get you penalized (the attacker’s sites, too, but he doesn’t care about them – they’re usually throwaway domains), and there are a lot of cases when the plagiarized content is actually indexed first and ranked higher than your original post.
There’s really nothing worse than creating a long article filled with great information only to have it stolen right away and used to penalize your website, to boot.
This is why you should monitor your content on Google.
You can use an automated tool like Copyscape, but the easiest way to do it (which can be automated with a simple script) is to copy a couple of snippets from your article and paste them in quotes (to get only exact matches) in Google Search. This will reveal any duplicate content right away.
On the website side, you can disable the RSS feed or at least make it show a snippet of text instead of the whole article, disable copy/paste using a plugin like WP CopyProtect and even block known bots outright (just be careful not to block Googlebot or any other search bots).
5. Monitor your reputation
Reputation smearing is not strictly related to SEO, but is yet another tactic to discredit competition.
It’s mostly used against larger companies and brands, and you’re probably safe if you only have simple websites, but if you have a high enough volume, you should definitely start monitoring your online reputation in addition to your backlinks and content.
With the explosive growth of review websites, blackhats found yet another venue for their tricks:
- Writing fake negative reviews and scam reports about your company/website/service/product.
- Some of them specialize on writing negative reviews/reports and removing them after you paid a fee.
You should keep track of websites like Ripoffreport.com, as well as monitor Google for your product/service reviews.
If you find anything out of the ordinary, like 1 star reviews or rip-off reports when you are 100% sure your customers would not write that, you can post a comment on the site in question explaining the situation, and contact the website owner in order to have the report/review removed completely. In most cases, they will comply because it is basically libel and it’s illegal.
Negative SEO tactics are real, which is why you should always be vigilant
They can’t touch you if:
- Take care of your website’s security,
- Fully understand how to protect your website.
Negative SEO tactics are a fact of doing business online.
The more successful you are, the more likely it is that you’ll fall prey to unscrupulous blackhat webmasters who will try to knock your site off the front page in order to make it easier for them to rank.
That’s why you should always be vigilant:
- monitor your links,
- check your content,
- track your reputation
- and take action as soon as you notice anything wrong.
Speed is the key.
If you are fast enough, you’re likely to go through it unscathed and let your competition know that they can’t touch you.