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What is Negative SEO?

Wondering what negative SEO is and how you can protect your website? Find out what negative SEO is, and how to recover if you get attacked by competition.

Photo of Brodey Sheppard
Brodey Sheppard

You’ve just built a new website and optimised it perfectly; however, you still may be at the risk of negative SEO attacks.

While some negative SEO attacks can be mild and seemingly innocuous, others can be far more direct and harm your website gravely. While Google itself tries its best to reduce these attacks, it is often out of its hands.

What Is Negative Seo

As a website owner, it is imperative to understand what negative SEO is, its types, and how you can protect your website from such attacks. In this guide, you will learn about all this and more. You will find out about the tools you can use to protect a website against these attacks.

So, sit back, and let us walk you through the different types of negative SEO and how to protect your site from them. Take a look.

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What Is Negative SEO?

If you know what SEO is and how it helps your website ranking, it may be easier to understand negative SEO. Negative SEO is the opposite of SEO — so, it has an adverse effect on the ranking of your website. Many websites use tactics (that we will discuss later) that can harm the flow of organic traffic to your website.

These tactics are employed by other websites that have malicious intentions to harm yours. It can be in the form of negative reviews, duplicate content, bad links, and content scraping that can cause a sudden drop in the keyword rankings of your website.

The first step to stopping this kind of negative SEO is to keep an eye out or keep track of your website ranking. If you notice unnatural links or a sudden drop in your search engine rankings, it is imperative to find the right tools to locate a negative SEO attack. Only then can you begin taking the right steps to defend your website against such nefarious techniques.

Negative SEO is sometimes known as black hat SEO primarily due to its malevolent nature and implications. In fact, a lot of website owners assume that negative SEO occurs when a competitor’s website is trying to outrank their own. However, this isn’t always the case.

Often, negative SEO attacks occur if a website is not protected or too weak, or another website has negative SEO tactics at its disposal.

Let us now explore some of the types of negative SEO and their effects.

What Is Negative Seo Hostpapa

Types Of Negative SEO

1. Spammy Links And Link Farms

One of the most common forms of negative SEO attack is creating spammy backlinks of low quality. While a single spammy link cannot create enough of a ripple effect to affect a website, a group of sites, also known as link farms, which are interconnected low-quality websites, can do a lot of harm.

These link farms generally use the same keywords and anchor text and are filled with low-quality links and content.

The negative SEO spammers will often do whatever is in their power to create low-quality links and content that will make your website links seem poor. This, in turn, causes your website ranking to drop as it often gets flagged for penalties.

How To Fix It

There are several things that can be done to fix this issue. Of course, the first thing you need to do is keep an eye out for bad links and a sudden drop in your website ranking. Once you notice something unnatural, there are a number of ways you can combat it.

How To Protect Website From Bad Backlinks

a) Disavow File And Link Monitoring

As mentioned previously, one of the first steps to take is to monitor your website for spammy links. The longer you take to notice such unnatural links, the more time spammers have to wreak havoc on your beautiful website.

Make sure that you check for any links pointing to duplicate content. You can do this by using tools like SEOSpyGlass, and Competitor Backlink Checker. Once you spot these signs, use the disavow tool to submit a file that lists all the attacking domains.

Submit this disavow file to Google Search Console, which will then instruct Google to ignore any links that are coming through from bad or low-quality domains. This ensures that the rankings of your website are not affected.

b) Open Link Profiler

You can also use a tool called Open Link Profiler from SEOprofiler that will enable you to view almost 200,000 backlinks to your profile. Now, you can create a disavow file and defend your website from malicious backlinks.

c) Premium Tools

In some cases, website owners need to invest in certain premium backlink tools that can help you dig deeper and investigate any backlink profile you need to. It is one of the most effective techniques to counter black hat SEO targeting your site.

Some of these premium backlink tools include:

  • Ahrefs — An excellent tool for keyword research and monitoring backlinks.
  • Majestic — Contains a gigantic database of links
  • Moz (Open Site Explorer) — A complete SEO tool
  • SEMrush — A data and analytics tool

2. Scraped Content

The next form of negative SEO attack is to use scraped content, where content scrapers steal content from your website and repost it on their own websites.

What Is Content Scraping

Now, keep in mind that Google is pretty good at recognising copied and scraped content. However, there is always a high chance that your website (with the original content) can get penalised for using copied content instead of penalising the scraper website.

There are two main reasons why a scraper might want to steal content off your website and use it on their own pages.

The first reason is that their own website contains low-quality content that they don’t wish to use. By stealing content from your website, the other website may be able to rank higher on Google’s search engines without putting in much effort.

The second reason behind this is to scrape the content off your website before Google gets a chance to crawl it. This will lead to Google eventually penalising your website for copied content — which is what the scraper wanted in the first place.

How To Fix It: Submit A Copyright Infringement Report To Google

As soon as you notice suspicious links or duplicate content on your website, the first thing you must do is to submit a Copyright Infringement Report to Google. Highlight the stolen content and make sure that Google understands the fact that you are the true publisher of the content.

It is essential that you prove that you have not stolen the content from some other website; otherwise, there is a high chance that you may get penalised for publishing scraped content. Also, you will have to provide sufficient proof of the copyrighted content so that Google can be sure that it is your original work that has been stolen.

3. Fake Reviews

Don’t be under the impression that a negative SEO campaign can only be done on your original website. Rather, a negative SEO attack can be targeted on other websites as well.

You may come across a bunch of negative and fake reviews about your company or website on several third-party apps. These reviews have been written with malicious intent as a form of black hat SEO.

While it is possible that many of your potential customers will not access these fake reviews on third-party websites, you have to be careful about the search results on social media and Google.

Another significant thing to remember is that any negative reviews or a dip in your local SEO can directly impact your business and sales. In fact, there have been numerous instances of fake reviews impacting the health and sales of a business, so it is essential to keep an eye out for these things.

The Risks Of Negative Seo On Your Website

How To Check For Fake And Negative Reviews

It is crucial to constantly monitor and observe the rankings and SEO of your website. If you see a random drop in the rankings, which you cannot explain, look out for any fake reviews pointing to your website on the Google search engine and social media websites.

You should also look out for one-star and two-star reviews of your business. Check for words like “bad” and “hate”, as these are the most common words malicious spammers use.

Another thing to look out for is these fake reviews or low ratings occurring very close to each other — within a few hours or days of each other. You may notice that these reviewers may not have a long history of leaving reviews for other companies.

These signs should tell you that the reviews you see are fake and should be removed.

Now, keep in mind that in reality, your business may receive a mixture of both positive and negative reviews. This is entirely normal and nothing for you to get worked up or frustrated over. Most reviewers will leave a series of both negative and positive (genuine) reviews on websites.

However, if you notice a series of one-word bad reviews, then you can almost be sure that they are fake — and take action against them.

How To Fix It: Flag Any Fake Review You Find

Fortunately, most review sites give the opportunity to business owners to flag fake reviews they come across. This can help you (and Google) identify spammers and people with malicious intent and stop it from recurring.

That being said, in case you come across genuine negative reviews, it is best to respond to them honestly and without being rude. The way you respond to these reviews also plays a role in shaping the reputation of your company in the customer’s eyes.

4. Malware Attacks And Website Hacking

When it comes to hacking websites, most people think that the signs would be very obvious. You might receive alerts and warning emails that your website is being hacked or is compromised and then can take the appropriate action against it.

Frequency Of Random Attacks

However, professional and experienced hackers know how to make a negative SEO attack on your website that is so subtle that it is almost unnoticeable. The consequences of these subtle negative SEO attacks can be brutal for your website.

One of the ways in which hackers do this is by targeting old blogs and posts on your website and making slight changes in them to lower their rank. They can do this in a number of ways, such as -

  • Add low-quality content to your latest pages or old blogs
  • Add disturbing content to your pages
  • Hide content changes in your HTML which may often go unnoticed
  • Remove or replace images and links from your website and pages
  • Add backlinks to your website that redirect to unethical pages

This kind of negative SEO attack is even more common for websites that have been up and running for a long time. It is primarily due to the fact that the sheer volume of blogs and links on the website would make it difficult for the business owner to recognise this attack.

Similarly, if you have a website that you have not accessed for a while, it may be at risk of a negative SEO attack. A professional or experienced hacker will be able to make subtle changes to these pages that can negatively impact the ranking and health of your website without you noticing — before it is too late.

How To Fix It: Website Monitoring And Regular Audits

It goes without saying, but it is essential to conduct regular audits and performance checks for your website. Without doing this, you will be completely unaware of the health of your website, how it is performing, its good and bad reviews, rankings, and other important aspects.

An excellent tool you can use for conducting these website audits is the SEO Audit Tool by Alexa. This tool not only expertly detects any kind of technical issue with your page but also offers the best solutions to fix them.

It helps you keep an eye on the ranking of your website and other technical details to help the website stay on track.

How To Detect A Black Hat Tactic Pointing To Your Site

It is vital to protect your website against negative black hat tactics as much as possible. Of course, you don’t need to be an expert investigator to find the warning signs that tell you that something is off. Here are a few techniques that you can use to detect unnatural activity on your website -

  • If your website has keyword rankings for unethical or irrelevant keywords
  • If your website has a backlink profile or several backlinks to pages that are not related to your page
  • If there is a sudden burst of traffic to pages that you have not used or accessed in a while

How To Fix It

Before you can think about fixing these issues, it is important to detect them at their earliest stage. Once you have done this, you can use many of the techniques mentioned above to defend and protect the website against spammers and attackers. It is essential to observe negative links and comments on your page before the damage is too severe.

Example Of Website Randomware

5. Heavy Crawling

While most of the negative SEO tactics mentioned above may take some time and a certain amount of skill to perform, many competitors or spammers might be desperate to do harm to your business. These people may try to crash your website by forcefully crawling the pages using automated tools. This heavy server load will slow down the site at first and eventually cause it to crash.

Heavy crawling may be one of the last and most desperate means of attacking a website. It does not require too much skill, and almost anyone will be able to do it.

How To Spot The Warning Signs

Now, keep in mind that there might be a ton of other reasons why your site may be getting slower or even crashing. That said, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Always keep an eye out for slow-moving pages or sudden crashes. Once you notice these, it is best to contact the webmaster to try and figure out the root cause of the issue. These issues may arise from a sudden influx of organic traffic or regular maintenance and upkeep of the page. However, only the webmaster or your hosting company will be able to verify this.

The other reason may be a negative SEO attack on your website. In this case, you will have to reroute the traffic using a DDoS protection service. Alternatively, you can also apply additional firewalls to protect your website.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Common Are Negative SEO Attacks?

A negative SEO attack can happen to any company at any time. It can be due to competitor rivalry, random spammers trying to push your website out of its rankings, or professional hackers trying to get something out of your website. These negative SEO tactics can also be done by previous employees who are trying to get back at you.

While such attacks are not extremely common in the professional world, they happen all too often to go unnoticed. Remember that it can occur to a new company or an old one, so it is best to perform routine checks, perform comprehensive SEO analysis, and monitor your website for these attacks. You must learn to protect and defend your site as well.

2. Are All Backlinks Harmful To Your Page?

Some website owners may get overly cautious and react at every backlink they see. However, all backlinks don’t actually harm your website — only the ones placed there with irrelevant anchor text by spammers can harm the page. So, keep looking for other warning signs before taking a step.

What Are Bad Backlinks Ahref Graphic

3. What Is A Disavowed Link?

A disavowed link is a link that a certain publisher or website owner tells Google not to consider towards their website rankings. These disavowed links generally are seen when a site is under a negative SEO attack, and the owner wants to defend it.

4. Does Negative SEO Work?

There has been a lot of debate about this. While many people tend to agree that negative SEO is hugely harmful and works to harm a website, others may debate that its adverse effects are far lesser now than it was before.

One of the reasons for this change is the fact that Google has begun to devalue link spam rather than demoting the entire website. While demoting adjusts the SEO ranking of your website, devaluing ensures that the spammy links are removed without it affecting the website ranking.

5. Do You Need Off-Page SEO?

Off-Page SEO is as important as on-page SEO. It can significantly enhance the chances of your website ranking high on Google’s search engine. It involves link building, brand mentions, positive reviews, guest blogging, seed sites, interviews and press releases, social media and digital marketing, creating infographics, and more.

All these tools are an essential part of growing a healthy business page and good digital marketing. While on-page SEO can certainly help your website reach high ranks on Google, these simple but effective techniques are an excellent way to reach the top ranks.

Many of these off-page SEO techniques can be implemented by you or other employees. However, certain tasks are best left to the professionals who will be able to guide you better on these aspects.

On Page Vs Off Page Seo Factors Graphic

Understand Negative SEO For Your Website

No matter how much work and effort you put into building a website, protecting it against negative SEO attacks is crucial.

You should take the help of professional services that can help defend your website against negative SEO. Such tailor-made services may also provide the right tools to build a website that attracts customers from all over the world.

We recommend using premium tools to investigate and find any negative SEO attacks on your website. It is imperative to act fast before the damage done is too great. You can also speak to a professional agency to find out more about negative SEO tactics and how to adequately protect your website against such attacks.

And with that, we have finally reached the end of our comprehensive guide. We hope this helps you better understand all about negative SEO. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us by leaving a comment below.

That’s all for today; stay safe against all kinds of attacks, especially the ones against your website!


Photo of Brodey Sheppard

Brodey Sheppard

Brodey is the CEO of sitecentre™ and a data-analyst in the SEO, Paid advertising space who uses machine learning and AI to advance sitecentre™ as an industry-leading digital marketing agency across Australia.

Find them on their website: sitecentre™, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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