The Internet has become really overcrowded, congested, and highly competitive over the past few years. Nowadays, when you search for a specific topic or product online, you’re going to get a whole lot of search results in an instant. Not just hundreds but over thousands of them—maybe even hundreds of thousands!
With that being said, nobody would click through each one of those sites. Most people would only click on the first few results that are listed and then adjust or modify their search if they don’t see what they’re looking for.
This is where search engine optimization (SEO) comes to play. SEO is a collection of techniques and methods to fully optimize a website with the sole purpose of getting it to the top of the search result rankings for specific terms or keywords. But then again, where one thing serves to positively impact the rankings, there are those who will find ways and invest a ridiculous amount of time to utilize SEO for the opposite outcome.
While top search engines, like Google, have learned to identify a lot of these issues, a lot of questionable and shady companies still feel like they would rather try to tear other websites down instead of just focusing on their own growth.
It is important to note that when you get hit by these types of negative “SEO attacks,” it can sometimes be difficult to bounce back—but certainly not impossible. Before we dig deeper, let’s first start with the basics so that you can accurately recognize what these tactics are, how you can prevent them from happening, and what to do if you ever encounter these issues.
Understanding How SEO Works
Search engine optimization is a collection of useful methods that cater to both user experience and Google’s algorithm. The ranking factors that work into Google algorithm have different weights and value, and the algorithm continually shifts.
If you present relevant information on your site for your readers and online visitors, design a user-friendly experience, and fulfil all the distinguished algorithm factors, then your website has a great chance of climbing up on the search results list for your brand’s targeted keywords. This kind of SEO is usually called “white hat SEO”, but you can just think of it as the ethical and established method to boost your site’s audience and traffic.
Nevertheless, depending on the industry you’re into, the competition for rankings can be quite intense.
To be able to get to the top or gain the upper hand in this highly competitive field, some companies have tried to manipulate the system by using dirty SEO tactics. These corrupt SEO practices usually referred to as “black hat SEO”, are not tolerated by Google so they penalize these online companies when caught. However, there are always those who are willing to take the risk just so they could drag other companies down.
Learn About Negative SEO
Google has grown faster in intercepting webmasters who use unethical SEO methods and has executed firmer punishments for the offenders (banning of websites, lowering the ranks, and many more). Still, some companies who are too desperate to increase their search rankings have found ways to hack into the websites of their competitors and perform some damaging procedures on those sites.
Some don’t even have to go that far. Now, there are loads of tactics that they can perform to make it appear as if your website is just acting up and doing some questionable things on its own, whether it’s scouring and posting your content, creating problems with your local profile, or building thousands of links from dubious sites.
The ultimate goal of negative SEO is to reduce the rankings of rival websites. They believe that this will consequently raise their own rankings once the competition is out of the way.
How To Know If Your Website Has Been Attacked
More often than not, negative SEO attacks come in the form of fake reviews, spammy links, or an outright website hack.
There are obvious signs that your website has been hit by negative SEO. Look into the analytics of your website; if you start noticing sharp decreases or increases in bounce rate and website traffic, these are usually red flags and it may suggest that something is going on. Moreover, try to detect any coding and formatting issues during the routine maintenance of your website as it may be an indication that your site has been hacked.
There are various ways that this can be attempted. The most frequent example of negative SEO that gets addressed is link-based negative SEO, but there are several other approaches that corrupt people can apply to try to decrease your rankings. Here are some of the most common type of links that you will usually see when someone is trying to hit you with negative links:
- Links from foreign forums
- Huge number of links from total nonsense blog entries
- Loads of keyword-anchored links from various sources
- An influx of bad links from websites such as payday loan sites, gambling sites, porn sites, and a whole lot more.
- A large number of links from sites with TLDs of .cz, .ru, .pl, .cn, .ro, .biz, .bg, .com.br, .com.ar, and .info. Not all of these links are going to be harmful, but if you are suddenly noticing an influx of links from these kinds of sites, it could be a sign of an attack.
Things You Can Do If Your Website Has Been Hit By Negative SEO
If you believe that your website has been hit with negative SEO, there are some actions you can execute in order to avert further damages that could sometimes be irreversible.
It is crucial that you take prompt efforts to fix these problems and inform Google of the negative SEO attack. Take note that when you are upfront and direct with Google about these issues, it implies that you’re actively addressing the matter and they will not likely put your website at a disadvantage for those unethical SEO procedures.
Listed below are some measures you can take to prevent an attack from occurring and how to block a negative SEO attack:
I. The Speed of Your Website
If you ever notice an abrupt slowdown in your website’s load speed, it may be possible that your site has gotten attack either by a hacker, a virus or with negative SEO.
One strategy of negative SEO includes crawling a website. This “forceful” crawling places a strain on the web server, thus, prompting the website to slow down and even crash. The speed of your website is an important ranking factor for search results. If you don’t contact your webmaster or web hosting provider immediately, you will definitely get a number of frustrated online visitors and this will eventually lower your search result rankings.
II. Always Keep an Eye on Your Links
Conducting routine inspections on your website’s links is a great way to identify potentially suspicious negative SEO activity. Frequent monitoring of your link profile can also help you intercept a possible attack and prevent it from occurring and spiralling out of control.
So, what should you particularly look for?
- Upon looking into your website analytics, an ideal, typical graph will reveal a progressive increase in linking and backlinks domains.
- If the graph for your website presents sudden drops or spikes; better be aware. Pay particular attention if you see any sharp spikes or drops when you have not been working on link building. These things are huge red flags.
- You should constantly check the content on your website, as well as the links within the content. For instance, if your website gets hacked, a couple of your contents may hold additional spammy links and foreign links that get redirected to either an inappropriate site or to another competitor’s website. If you’ve noticed a sudden rush of spammy links on your website, promptly alert Google and have them disavow those links.
III. Watch Out for Copy-Cat Content
If you constantly deliver great, quality, and original content, be very aware of content scraping.
Content marketing has grown to be a major player involving SEO during the past few years. Useful, interesting, relevant, and original content has also become an essential ranking factor in Google algorithms. With content being one of the leading factors in raising search ranking, some companies will do whatever it takes to pack up the content on their website—which may even include stealing content from another website and declaring it as their very own.
In negative SEO, the attackers will duplicate content (verbatim) from another website, post it on their own site, declare it as their own and mix it up with a link farm attack. Be aware that duplicate content can hugely influence the rankings of your website. If your content is not indexed before the duplicate content, your content will then be marked by Google as the copied. The result? Your website will be the one that will be penalized with lowered search result rankings. We wouldn’t want that now, do we?
IV. Monitor Your Search Engine Rankings
A sudden drop in your website’s search rankings can be a sign of incorrect SERP rankings induced by an unethical SEO attack.
If this happens, please make sure that your website’s robot.txt. is properly set up. Also, if you want to obtain a complete, comprehensive view of the status of your website and how it’s currently doing, you can always utilize several of Google’s analytics tools. Use everything you can to ensure that your website is safe and well-maintained.
V. Keep Track of Your Website’s Click Through Rate
The Click through rate is a useful indicator of whether you’re drawing in the right or wrong kind of online visitors, and if all your content is what your audiences are looking for. If you’re bringing in wrong audiences they will likely find your webpage content to be uninteresting, irrelevant and/or useless which would result in a low CTR.
However, if you have done sufficient audience research and you are constantly generating the same type of content, your click-through rate will be high. So if you notice an abrupt decrease in your website’s CTR, then something is definitely not right. On the other hand, a high bounce rate (which is usually hand-in-hand with a low CTR) may mean that a negative SEO attack has transpired on your website. In which cases, the bounce rate results can be a sign of false SERPs generated by malicious bots.
VI. Keep Watch on Google My Business
Another favourite method of negative SEO attackers includes overwhelming a company’s online business listing with false, negative reviews.
Unless your company has had some sort of hiccup or disagreement, an overabundance of negative reviews is highly questionable. If you don’t do anything to address these fake reviews, they will consume your company’s character and reputation which can lead to decreased sales and profits. No need to worry though, with Google My Business, it’s very easy to report these fake, malicious, negative reviews. All you need to do is locate your business listing, find review summary, click ‘flag fake reviews’ and simply fill out the report form. Pretty easy, right?
VII. Increase and Tighten Your Security
Even if negative SEO attacks are not the same as cyber-attacks, both of them can negatively influence your website’s search rankings. When Google catches a site that has likely been hacked by a cyber-attack, the website is then flagged with a line, suggesting that the website has been compromised. Normally, this warning is sufficient enough to scare potential website traffic away.
To defend your website against any cyber-attacks, be sure that your web security is up-to-date and working smoothly. Some recommendations for a more thoroughly protected website include migrating the site from HTTP to HTTPS, establishing security patches on your website software, and making sure that your CMS or content management system is outfitted with user encryption protection.
After reading all these and you’ve noticed that your website has likely been a victim of a negative SEO attack, you do not have to panic. You do, however, have to promptly respond to fix the issues before it turns into a bigger problem with potentially unchangeable outcomes.
Lastly, remember that not all negative SEO attacks are easily detectable. It is necessary to regularly monitor the content and performance of your website in order to prevent any potential negative SEO attacks or to block an attack to stop it from escalating.