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Negative SEO: How Can You Avoid Being a Victim? September 18, 2012

The concept of negative SEO is far from being a new phenomenon. The concept of actively trying to sabotage your competitors website rankings, as opposed to improving your own site(s), has been around since people first started optimizing sites for visibility and performance in terms of ranking.

The reason negative SEO has suddenly become a hot topic is due to Google’s numerous updates surrounding link building and attempting to define what “unnatural links” are. Many faces from Google have claimed that negative SEO doesn’t work, but just in case… we’ll offer some case studies, how to recognize if you have been targeted by a negative SEO attack, and ways of protecting your site from future attacks.

How Does Negative SEO Work?

Negative SEO is considered a “black hat” SEO technique to attack a website using unethical (and sometimes illegal) means, and thereby having it penalized in SERPS, banned, de-indexed, or otherwise screwed by the search engines in terms of visibility or website performance in general.

There are a number of ways one can use negative SEO to sabotage a website. The following are not condoned by The Link Builders (we believe in karma and professionalism!) but they are helpful for you to be aware of so you can prevent your site from being the next negative SEO victim.

1. Malware/Hacks/Injections – Pretty self-explanatory. A competitor finds a security hole in your website and they exploit it, which in turn can negatively impact the rankings of your website.

2. Denial of Service Attacks – This method uses several different computers to simultaneously flood the target website with requests so that the volume of traffic takes over the website’s bandwidth and essentially blocks service. If the site is unavailable when Google tries to crawl it then it may negatively affect that website in terms of ranking.

3. Google Bowling – This makes Google thinks the site is too spammy by adding links from “bad neighborhoods”, link farms, etc. and finding pages on the site with dynamic URLs that feature the same (duplicate) content and build links liberally around the web pointing to the dynamic URL structures in an effort to draw attention to the duplicate content.

4. Black Social Bookmarking/Black Social Media Accounts – Using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to create bogus accounts and use them to link back to the website using spammy (i.e. “viagra”, “gambling”, “free warez”, etc.) anchors. This can also be achieved by creating or purchasing an abnormally large amount of likes/tweets pushing an unnatural amount of links or attention to the target website.

5. Falsely Duplicated Content/Website – Create an entirely new website with the same content as your competitor. The trick is to get your website crawled before your competitors so Google thinks the other site is duplicate, not yours. For sites that update frequently, this can be difficult to defend yourself against.

Negative SEO Case Studies

 

There are a few public examples of negative SEO that occurred in the past year supporting the argument that negative SEO works. Below are the summaries from some of these studies:

Dan Thies

• Beginning: Dan Thies publically congratulates Matt Cutts on “squishing all them blog networks”.

• Middle: Dan’s site was bombed with massive scrapebox blasts with the same anchor texts (“seo”, “seo service”, “seo book”, and “Dan Thies”) which in turn led to Google sending him notices of violating Google’s guidelines in the form of unnatural linking.

• End: Dan’s site tanked in the SERP rankings as a result of the unnatural links.

JustGoodCars.com

• Beginning: Client asking an SEO company to downgrade their competitors site (JustGoodCars.com) on Google.co.uk that had a PR5, was top 3 for multiple variations of the same keyword. The site had decent content but could have been designed/structured less aggressively in terms of internal linking.

• Middle: The SEO company started blasting the site with thousands of links, then bought Facebook likes, Tweets, paid blogroll links – the works. This was followed by hiring an outsourced SEO to create more spammy links, and forum profile links.

Additionally, they created a fake email account asking sites with good links pointed to JustGoodCars.com to remove them due to the site having a lot of links from “bad neighborhoods”.

• End: After months of throwing every negative SEO tactic they could dream of at JustGoodCars.com, the site was no longer ranking for ANY of its major keywords that it was previously ranking for.

Signs Your Site Has Been Victimized

Asking if you have anyone who would want to cause you harm or want revenge on you or your company is the first and most basic question when discussing negative SEO. If you’re a small to medium-sized business the answer will almost always be yes. There are always other small and medium-sized businesses waiting to take your prime SERP positions.

Keep an eye out for the following:

• If your backlink profile has increased dramatically (1000+ links in one day) where all the new links have the same anchor text or anchors that are completely unrelated to your site.

• Content from your site is now in other places on the web. Create searches from random sentences contained on your website using “quotation” queries. If the exact sentence can be found on article websites or random blogs then chances are you’re being targeted by competitor or a bot that’s scraping your site.

• Manufactured Tweets and/or Facebook Likes or “social signals” directed at your site in abnormal volumes.

• Fake, spammy, or “manufactured” reviews of your site, product, or company.

What can you do to prevent being hacked?

The simple answer is to be constantly diversifying your website, related properties such as social sites, and staying on top of the latest Google algorithm changes. You should also update your CMS when new updates are pushed. Make sure you have no duplicate content on your website, and set up Google Alerts to stay on top of monitoring your company, brand, and target keyword sets. Last, make sure there are no security breaches on your site such as old or outdated plugins lurking.

Nick Cuttonaro

Nicholas Cuttonaro is an Internet Marketing professional specializing in search engine optimization, lead generation, and online reputation management.

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