You need to protect your website from negative SEO.
Before you can protect it, though, you have to understand the various negative SEO tactics.
Here is what to watch out for.
In this article, we’ll go over negative SEO and the numerous techniques that black hatters use to jeopardize your good rank.
What Is Negative SEO?
Let’s start by answering the obvious question: what is negative SEO?
It’s the practice of using black hat SEO tactics on a competitor’s website.
Those last four words are very important. People who practice negative SEO don’t do so to boost their own rankings. Instead they try to demote sites that rank above theirs.
If you’ve got a website that ranks on Page 1 of the search results, it could be a candidate for negative SEO. That’s why you’ve got to watch for the signs.
Matt Cutts’s answer to negative SEO
How To Spot Negative SEO Tactics In Linking
Links From Websites With a Penalty
One of the signs that your website might be subject to negative SEO is that it has backlinks from a site with a penalty.
Google often penalizes sites that violate its guidelines. Sometimes, black-hatters who’ve seen their sites get penalized just use them for negative SEO. That way, they still have some value.
If you find some bad backlinks, use the Disavow Tool to effectively tell Google that you don’t want those links to “count” for page rank.
It’s always best to try to get the links removed, though.
Links from PBNs
Another way to tell if your site is the target of negative SEO is that it receives an unusual number of backlinks from a private blog network (PBN).
What is a PBN? It’s a blog network that exists solely for the purpose of creating backlinks for websites. It’s really just a link farm.
You can tell if a backlink pointing to your site comes from a PBN because the article that contains the backlink is usually poorly written. In fact, it might be “spun.”
A spun article is content that’s rewritten by software instead of by a human being. As a result, the final product often looks like it was produced by someone who barely speaks English.
In fact, negative SEO gurus want to use spun content with a link to your site because that’s even more of a red flag that you’re the one who’s doing the cheating.
If you see backlinks from PBNs, use the Disavow Tool to tell Google you don’t want to have anything to do with them.
Over-optimized Keyword in the Anchor Text
Google doesn’t like it when every backlink pointing to your site uses an anchor text that just so happens to be the keyword you’re trying to rank for.
Blackhat SEOs know that, so they’ll intentionally point backlinks to your site with anchor text that’s filled with your keywords.
If you spot backlinks with over-optimized anchor text, it’s a good idea to make use of that Disavow Tool.
Remember, though: nothing beats getting rid of the links completely. If you can do so, reach out to the webmasters to have the links removed.
Links From Profiles and Forums
It’s not a bad idea to have some links from profiles and forums. However, if you have too many, you could lose rank.
Back in the day, SEOs (of the white hat and black hat variety) loved profiles and forums. That’s because they offered free link juice.
Nowadays, though, they’re considered more of a black hat tactic.
Also, lots of those sites now use nofollow linking policies. So even if you go that route, you might not get the SEO benefits that you expected.
If you see that you’re getting backlinks from URLs like forum.joomla.org, forums.cnet.org, and forums.mysql.com, then your site is probably the target of negative SEO.
Also, if you notice backlinks from sites like Digg, Flickr, Technorati, Bumpzee, and LinkaGoGo, you should disavow them.
Global Links From Large Websites
One warning sign to Google that a website is using black hat SEO is that it has lots of backlinks from foreign sites. That’s especially true if those links come from large websites.
Check your backlink profile for inexplicable links from large foreign sites. If you find them, take corrective action.
Another way that some sneaky competitor might be trying to take away your rank is by publishing off-topic links to your site.
If Google sees that a link to one of your pages is part of an article that has nothing to do with the contents of that page, that will be a red flag. Bad boys in digital marketing are fully aware of that.
Keep an eye on your backlink profile for non-contextual backlinks.
Widgets With Keyword-Rich Links
Black hat SEOs love links on the home page. That’s why they used to create widgets and put keyword-rich links in them.
Widgets are usually “sticky.” That is, they appear on every page, including the home page.
In this day and age, though, widgets stuffed with outbound links are clearly an attempt to manipulate the search results. Google is well aware of the practice.
That’s why your enemies will sometimes create widgets with keyword-rich links to your site. They’re hoping you’ll get penalized.
Links From a Hacked Website
Yet another favorite tactic of the black hat brigade is that they’ll hack a website and publish a blog post with a link to one of their sites. Google will often notify the webmasters of the hacked sites when that happens.
Sometimes, though, websites run on “autopilot.” The webmasters have moved on to better things but left their websites up so that they’re susceptible to hacking.
Bad guys flock to those sites like flies to garbage.
If you notice that you have backlinks from a site that also has links pointing to movie sites or weight loss solutions, you’d better get those cleaned up.
Links With Red-Flag Keywords
There are some keywords that are frequently used by unethical marketers. They include words like “payday loan,” “viagra,” and “cialis.”
If you’ve got backlinks with some of those words in the anchor text, you’re on the receiving end of a negative SEO attack.
How To Spot Technical Negative SEO Tactics
Sometimes, black hat practitioners will go straight to your site and infect it with malware. When that happens, you can expect your rank to suffer.
Of course, the best way to combat that is to do everything you can to ensure that it never happens. This is where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Make sure your WordPress site is secure. Don’t give hackers any opportunities to ruin your reputation.
Hacked Google Search Console
Another way that you might find yourself on the receiving end of negative SEO is when your competitor hacks into your Google Search Console account and removes your website.
Do yourself a favor: don’t use obvious passwords and change them regularly. Limit the possibility that somebody can get into your account.
Sometimes, the black hat folks get really sneaky.
Even if they manage to get access to your Google Search Console account, they won’t delete your website. That would be too obvious.
What they will do, though, is change the country associated with your site. They can do that with the International Targeting option under Search Traffic.
On the International Targeting page, they can just click on the Country tab and set your website to target users in another country.
That’s really evil because you might not even know that it happened.
Be sure to check that page regularly. If you find that your target country has changed, update your password.
Incorrect URL Parameters
Another not-so-noticeable way of messing with your rank is by updating your URL parameters in the Google Search Console.
You might use those parameters for SEO-specific detail. For example, a “country” parameter might be used to serve region-specific pages.
If black hat marketers gains access to your Search Console attack, they might update your URL parameters intentionally to completely mess up the site. That certainly won’t help with SEO.
Deleted Disavow File
How else can the bad guys mess with your Google Search Console account? They can delete your disavow file.
As we’ve seen, you should use your disavow file to distance your site from shady backlinks.
You can be sure that if unscrupulous competitors gain access to your Search Console account, they’ll go in there and remove your disavow file. When that happens, all of those bad links will likely jeopardize your rank.
Remember to check your disavow file regularly to make sure it’s still there.
Redirected Bad Domain
The black hatters don’t just use penalized sites for backlinks. Sometimes, they’ll redirect them to a competitor site.
What happens then? Some of the penalties associated with the bad domain are forwarded to the competitor’s site.
Check your analytics to see if people are getting to your site via a redirected penalized domain. You don’t want to get punished for somebody else’s mistakes.
Bad Rel Canonical
Another way that black hatters use their penalized sites: they point rel canonical links to a competitor’s site.
The rel canonical tag is designed to reduce duplicate content in Google’s search index. Webmasters who include the tag on their page are basically pointing to another page and saying “this other page is the original source of information.”
Google picks up on the relationship between the two pages. That’s a good thing if you’re trying to eliminate duplicate content. But it’s a bad thing if you’re on the receiving end of a rel canonical tag from a penalized site.
Why? Because your site will be associated with the penalty.
It goes without saying that if you’re into SEO, then you want your site to get indexed. Unfortunately, some of your competitors don’t want your site to get indexed.
To that end, they might hack into your site and mess with your robots.txt file. Take a look in that file for something like this:
That’s telling all robots (including the Googlebot) that they’re not allowed to crawl your site. That means the pages on your site won’t be indexed.
Be sure to check your robots.txt file every now and then for signs of tampering.
Meta Noindex Tag
Another way that black hatters can mess with your rank is by hacking into your site and adding a meta noindex tag to all your pages.
It looks like this:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”>
If you see that, the page won’t be indexed.
Again, that is contrary to your SEO efforts. Remove the tag and harden your site so hackers can’t get into it.
Sometimes, unethical competitors will create fake search traffic that looks for something negative about your company.
For example: if your company is XYZ, the fake traffic will search for “XYZ class action lawsuit.” That might trigger an autocomplete for “XYZ class action lawsuit” when people just type in “XYZ” in the search bar.
Also, sometimes the black hatters will create and optimize a web page for that very search term. They’ll fill it with fake news about how your company is currently the target of a class action lawsuit.
Another well-known tactic that reputation managers have to deal with regularly is when a competitor creates a web page with a title that includes your company name followed by “scam.”
Again, that could trigger an autocomplete that leads people to think that your business as a scam. It’s a nasty piece of work.
Reach out to webmasters who are hosting pages with false statements about your business and insist that they remove the fake news. Get your lawyer involved if necessary.
Another trick that a black hatter might pull on you is to hack into your site and fill it up with spammy pages. Those pages will be filled with garbled or duplicate content.
When that happens, Google will red-flag your site for sure. Make sure you stay on top of your content and be on the lookout for spam.
Finally, sometimes unethical competitors will try to sabotage your rank by duplicating your content and spamming it all over cyberspace. That tactic could earn you a duplicate content penalty.
Watch out for duplicate content from your own site. Whenever possible, reach out to webmasters and ask them to take it down.
Wrapping Up How To Spot Negative SEO
Don’t allow yourself to be the victim of negative SEO. Make sure that you harden your own website and keep your Google Search Console credentials secure. Also, constantly monitor your site and your analytics for evidence of negative SEO. If you think you are being targeted, feel free to reach out to us.