In this post, we cover the basics of negative search engine optimization (SEO) and look at what you can do to fight negative SEO link spam. This being a hot topic in the industry, I encourage readers to comment at the end of the article.
First, let’s take a moment to define negative SEO. Negative SEO is the act of performing some type of action that damages competitors’ organic search rankings.
There are many ways negative SEO can be done. Someone could hack a website and riddle the code with HTML hyperlinks or inject malware. Even making multiple duplicate copies of a website or stealing a website’s content could result in decreased rankings for that site, which could be seen as a method of negative SEO. Anything that hurts a websites rankings, which is done intentionally, could fall into this category.
For the purposes of this article, we are simply referring to someone (usually a competitor or black hat SEO company) building low quality links which point at the website they are trying to get penalized.
The first step in discovering if you are the target of negative SEO from links is reviewing your backlink profile. In most cases, it is a good idea to do this once a week or once a month, depending on how concerned you are and how cutthroat and competitive your industry is.
You can view the links to your site report in Google Webmaster Tools to get a decent high-level view of the links Google is seeing and utilizing as authority indicators when reviewing your site.
There are also other excellent tools out there, such as Majestic SEO, Opensite Explorer and Ahrefs, that can often surface additional inbound links not listed in the Google Webmaster Tools report. We do know that you can get a manual action for links not listed in Webmaster Tools, so it’s a good idea to get as much information as possible.
When you review these links, keep an eye out for the following:
Outside of just looking at the links, it is also a good idea to occasionally check to see if you have a manual action.
If you see any drops in rankings or organic traffic and have not received a manual action, it may be the result of a Google algorithm update. Moz has put together a fairly comprehensive history of Google algorithm updates, so check to see if your rankings loss corresponds with one.
Alternatively, you can use Barracuda Digital’s Panguin Tool — it pulls in your Google Analytics data and then does an overlay which shows when Google algorithm updates occurred. You can use this to see if an update hurt your site.
This is the million-dollar question. What do you do if you end up being a target of negative SEO?
Reach Out To The Website & Ask Them To Take The Links Down
The best thing that you can do is actually reach out to each of these sites and ask them to take the links down. Make sure you keep a record of your attempts to contact webmasters. This can be a time-consuming process, but Google wants to see that you are making the effort to keep your backlink profile clean.
This is especially important if a manual action has been taken against your site and you need to submit a reconsideration request.
There are many tools online that can help you do this more effectively. I have used rmoov with good success.
Disavow The Links
For any links that you can’t get removed, disavow the links using the Google Disavow Tool and the Bing Disavow Tool. By doing this, you are asking Google and Bing not to take the links into account when assessing your site.
According to Google:
If you’ve done as much work as you can to remove spammy or low-quality links from the web, and are unable to make further progress on getting the links taken down, you can disavow the remaining links. In other words, you can ask Google not to take certain links into account when assessing your site.
You can learn more about blocking links with Google and Bing here.
Ask The Website How The Links Were Created
If this is an ongoing issue, and bad links keep popping up, it is not a bad idea to ask the website containing the bad links how they were created. If you are given a response, this can give you more information on the situation, which you can report to Google or use to create a cease and desist against the perpetrator.
Tell The Search Engines About It
Google and Bing do not currently offer a way to report negative SEO specifically. However, negative SEO does fall into the category of webspam, and both search engines allow users to report this.
Google also has a form that allows you to report paid links. Now, not all links that are done for negative SEO are paid, but you could technically use this form to report low-quality websites that are buying links and thus performing negative SEO against you.
Google is always looking for ways to deal with spam more effectively, and this includes negative SEO techniques. While they don’t have it figured out completely yet, we know that they are aware of the issue and actively seeking ways to deal with it.
Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question.
Right now, your best bet for dealing with negative SEO from links is to disavow them in both Bing and Google and do your best to get them taken down. Also, make sure to call out whoever is building the links, if possible.
Certainly, there is a lot to be said about the current state of the Google algorithm, the reliance on links and how this can be manipulated. However, for the purposes of this article, I would just leave with the following points:
I am sure there will be much more information coming down the pipe on this topic. I’d love to hear your perspective in the comments.
Stock image used with permission of Shutterstock.com