Is negative SEO real? Should you be worried about it? Is there an easy way for me to stay safe?
Negative SEO is a set of activities aimed at lowering a competitor’s rankings in search results. These activities typically target off-page elements (building unnatural links or scraping a site’s content), but in some cases they may also involve hacking and modifying content.
There are a handful of common techniques used that you need to look out for:
A ‘spammy’ link or two won’t hurt your visibility, but a group of links or an association with connected sites will.
Most unnatural links use similar anchor text. These anchors may be unrelated to the site under attack; or they might include a niche keyword to make the site’s link profile look like the owner is manipulating it for their own gain.
Spotting an attempt to hamper link performance early on is possible. To do that, you need to regularly monitor link profile growth. An unusual spike is reason enough to look closely at the links you’ve acquired so far.
Once you’ve identified the links, you can create a disavow file to let Google know that you don’t want your site to be associated with the link(s) in question.
Scraping and copying content is another way a competitor can ruin your rankings. When Google finds duplicate content, it usually picks one version to feature.
If you find that another site is mirroring your content, then your first step should be to ask the site’s webmaster to remove it. If that doesn’t get you anywhere, you can report the site using Google’s copyright infringement report.
There have been cases where webmasters attempt to slow down a competitor’s site by crawling it and causing heavy server load. If Googlebot can’t access your site for a sustained period, its performance will suffer and any changes you make to rectify the situation may go unnoticed.
If you notice that your site has become slow or unavailable, contact your hosting provider or webmaster, they should be able to tell you where the load is coming from.
You would think you’d notice if someone changed your site’s content, but this tactic can be subtle and difficult to spot. An attacker often hides content under “display:none” in the HTML, so you won’t see it unless you pay close attention to the code.
Another scenario is someone modifying your pages to redirect to theirs. This isn’t a particularly severe threat for smaller businesses, but if your site has high authority and link popularity, it could provide an attacker with a sneaky way to increase their own PageRank, or to simply redirect visitors to their site when they try to access yours.
Even if a hacker has no intention to cause negative SEO, the attack can still hurt your efforts. Security should be high on your list of priorities for obvious reasons.
Google wants to protect its users: if they suspect a site has been hacked, they’ll add a “this site may be hacked” warning to your listings. Would you click on a result like that? If a user does, it’s unlikely they’ll proceed.
Are you concerned that your site may be suffering the effects of negative SEO? Connect with us, we can help you with that.
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