Safeguard your Organisation from Adverse Search Engine Optimization

Some people will do anything to beat
their competitors – even if it means cheating and peeking at people’s shoes
under the desk. That was in your school days,but competitive streak can still
result in conflicts in the SEO world too.

Digital marketing also suffers no
shortage of creative villains who are willing to bring down competitors that
have worked hard enough to make their site visible in search engines and
resultant been rewarded with crazy conversions and sales.

As a suite of tactics, the use of negative SEO has been around since the industry began. However, the dark arts of SEO used today have become even more sophisticated as the marketers who hire them are often well-informed. Luckily, Google too has become more advanced and is able to deal ruthlessly with those that try these kinds of underhand methods.

With there being so much talk lately regarding negative SEO, you might want to keep yourself in the know to ensure you understand what you need to do in case of an attack on your site. This knowledge can be life-saving especially if you’re dealing with a site that brings you the most income to your basket.

This article will shed some light on various aspects of negative SEO including its description, how to know when you’ve been hit by an attack, and most importantly what to do to recover your site.

What is Negative SEO?

Negative SEO involves all types of
activities carried out by someone with the intention of lowering your site
rankings in search engines. This can happen in numerous ways,although the
common types of negative SEO attacks are link-based. This means interfering
with your link building process to make it look unnatural in the eyes of Google
and ultimately earning you an unfair penalty.

you may ask, how does negative SEO work?

Well, we already know that Google
penalizes a site if it engages in certain malpractices including what it terms
as one of the gravest – manipulative link building. This may result in
unnatural links penalty at the hands of Google Penguin algorithm.

In an interesting twist, Google does
not admit that negative SEO is easily executable arguing that there’s a very
slim chance of getting any such attack affecting your rankings on its search
engine results.Sure, it requires a significant amount of time, resources and
ability to execute a successful attack against another website. However,
brushing it aside as something webmasters shouldn’t worry about a lot is not
Google’s best advice to date. Negative SEO attacks occur quite rarely but still
do and learning what you can do to overcome them should be encouraged, even by
search engines.

Considering that anyone can link to
anyone without reason, Google doesn’t penalize you for obtaining links from
sites you don’t have contacts with. In essence, the bigger your website gets,
the more random links it obtains and the less value Google puts on them.

However, should Google notice a
pattern in your link building, whether initiated by you or coming from a source
they believe to be you, you’re likely to suffer a penalty and ultimately a significant
drop in your rankings.

Signs You’ve Been Hit by Negative SEO

If you’ve spotted a change in your
SEO performance recently, then the following warning signs could signify you’ve
fallen victim to negative SEO tactics.

  • Change in on-site appearance

This is easily the clearest warning
that someone is interfering with your website and possibly its SEO. Try to
identify whether there’s a shift in its overall design, content placement, and
change of navigation bar settings. The reason behind this is often a goal by
your competition (usually a hacker) to change your on-site content. As a
result, Google may think that you have published something totally unrelated to
what you’re currently ranking for and therefore decreases your site ranking
through a penalty. Another reason that could cause the changes in on-site
appearance is when one of your team members has made changes without alerting

  • Unable to sign in to your web hosting account

Another warning sign to look out for
is when you can’t log into your CMS or web hosting user account. Experts of
negative SEO may hack either or both of these places to give them significant
control of your site before they can perform a successful negative SEO
campaign. So, if you notice that you can’t log on to these crucial accounts, an
attack could be in the offing.

  • Spammy links in your back link profile

Backlinks emanating froman
irrelevant site is another signal of a negative SEO attack. If you have spotted
a bunch of new and low-quality links to your profile (such as porn and gambling
links), there is a huge possibility that you’ve been hit by an SEO attack.

  • Zero indexed pages in Google

Do you know how many ranking pages
your website has on search results? If unsure, take some minutes to conduct
thorough research of your website by using the search command “”
on Google.This will give you a comprehensive list of all pages that are
currently indexed by Google.

If your site has, say 100 pages, but
Google has indexed only a couple of them, then it may be a sign of a potential
negative SEO attack.

Negative SEO Tactics

  • Illegal Content Duplication

Web scrapping has over the last few
years become more advanced than ever. Now, all one needs to do to get a
complete copy of your content is to point a scraper to your site. After your
content has been copied, it’s then uploaded on another site rather illegally.
Obviously, this can have a systematic effect on your site.

First, your traffic will likely
reduce as search engines will some of the targeted incoming traffic to the new
website containing your content. The impact of this will tend to be higher if
the duplicating website employs other tactics like keyword stuffing which often
brings in significant results albeit in the short term.

The second and most damaging effect
of illegal content duplication shows up when Google recognizes duplicated
content during crawling and indexing. Normally, Google’s system will only index
one copy of the reproduced content which means if the copying website gets theirs
indexed before yours, your site is likely to be penalized for duplicated

Forceful crawling is another
negative tactic that bases its concept on the fact that web hosting will always
place limitations on a site’s computing power allocation. What these attacks do
is to introduce an illegal crawling service that’s masked in order to use up
all the bandwidth allocated to your site. As a result, your site slows down and
your site loading speed suffers.What’s more, it stifles other critical services
like Google’s indexing crawlers to leave most parts of your site crawled.

The bandwidth used up by such
illegal crawling makes your site unresponsive and gives it slow loading speeds
which discourage your customers from accessing your services. Your host might
even conclude that your site is abusing the fair usage policy especially if you
are on the shared hosting platform. This will trigger a take-down of your

Link farms serve to increase traffic
by linking several web pages to another page (in this case your site) in order
to drive up oncoming traffic from these other pages. The blackhat version of
this service will do more harm than good and is devastatingly efficient due to
its numerous deployment options.

For example, the attacker may decide
to create a network of low-quality link farms;these sites normally generate
low-quality traffic that’s not even related to your site’s services. They can
also include your optimized anchor text without your permission. The links are
then used to spam your site with irrelevant keywords such as ‘porn’ thus
driving down your relevant keywords ranking. If Google detects that these
spammy links are artificially increasing your site’s traffic, your site could
be penalized thus affecting your overall ranking.

  • Fake social media profiles

Social media accounts are notorious
for spreading links quickly. This plus the freedom to create accounts as one
wishes has led to the rise of social media backed blackhat campaigns targeting
specific websites. The trick lies in creating fake social media profiles and
using them to spread malicious links. In the end, these profiles completely
diverts your site’s inbound traffic to other sites or stink bombs your site
with misguiding links and completely fabricated content including non-existing
promotions. Google Algorithm automatically penalizes websites that use such means to
obtain traffic or inflate their ranking.

Such fake social media profiles can
also be used to ruin your brand’s online reputation by posting inappropriate
content to your potential audience.

Gone are the days when one could
comfortably say that their site is safe and secure. Even while using security
tools, there’s still a chance that your website or your host has a day-zero
vulnerability that’s yet to be discovered. This plus the ever-increasing number
of illegal scripts out there offer hackers the perfect opportunity to take
control of your site. They can then make changes to your code without your
consent or knowledge including affecting your site’s traffic

Remember those red screen warnings
that show up when you try to access an unsecured site? Well, that’s what search
engines do to sites that have been identified as having been hacked and thus
not secure. This barge of humiliation can kill your site’s following in just a
few hours as no one will be willing to proceed to a site giving such a scary

  • Removing your best backlinks without your consent

Negative SEO tactics rely on social
engineering to effectively play around with target sites. A blackhat technique
that’s been doing rounds for a while now involves impersonating you, and then
contacting the websites that provide quality backlinks to your site and
requesting them to remove them. While this might not get you penalized by
Google, it will have a similar effect; your site will lose traffic hence its
ranking and consequently your earnings from the site.

  • Linking with toxic domains

Toxic domains are those that have
already been penalized due to past history of engaging in malpractices like
manipulative SEO. By taking advantage of an indexing service, one of your
competitors may link a toxic domain to your site without your knowledge. As a
result, the redirected domain will point to your site and consequently extend
its penalty to your domain.

to Protect Your Website from Negative SEO

If your site has just recently been
hit with a negative SEO attack, then this is possibly the section you’ve been
looking forward to as you try recovering it after the hit. While the process is
never the easiest depending on the extent and nature of negative SEO directed
to your site, recovery is completely doable.

We cover some of the most effective
recovery methods you can employ for your site’s negative SEO management.

  • Use Google Webmaster Tools email alerts

When it comes to negative SEO,
prompt actions can mean everything if you’re to salvage your site from complete
ruin. As such, getting information regarding any changes happening to it in
real-time should be a priority for you.

A simple yet effective way to gather
this crucial information is by using Google’s Webmaster Tools which, if set
properly, can provide you with the following alerts:

  • Server connectivity issues
  • Site penalty
  • Attack on your website
  • Lack of page indexation

As you can see, most of these issues
can serve as signs of a negative SEO and therefore when managed early enough
can enable you fight off a potential attack.

So, how do you get automatic
notifications on activities and changes happening on your website? Assuming
you’ve already connected it to a Google Webmaster Tools account, you only need
to log on to the account and hit on “Webmaster Tools Preferences.” You can then
choose to receive “All issues” and enable email notifications then click

  • Secure your site from hackers and malware

When it comes to internet marketing,
security is extremely crucial and should never be overlooked. Remember, a
single lethal malware attack is enough to claim all of your site’s data in a

However, securing your site can
easily be done in a few easy but effective steps.

If you run a WordPress site, the
first thing you need to do is to install the Google Authentication Plugin which
allows you to create a 2-step verification for passwords.This means every
person trying to log on to your site has to receive a unique code generated by
Google to get access the site.

Google recommends that you create a
strong password that combines numbers and special characters and make a habit
of creating backups regularly. For sites that allow users to upload files,
there’s a need for an antivirus to stop malware attacks.

Find a detailed guide on site
security and the tools you can use to secure it here.

  • Keep track of your backlinks

If you need to keep spammers off your
website, keep checking for any changes in your backlink profile. Most of the
tricksters will perform a negative SEO attack by directing low-quality links to
your site. As a result, you need to be aware when someone is creating redirects
to you.

You can observe your incoming link
using Webmaster Tools or a variety of link audit tools that can help you
identify harmful links. One of these tools is which sends you email alerts when your website records any
changes in its backlinks makeup. The tool is important because you do not need
to check the backlink profile each morning – it keeps you updated. You can you
other seo tools
like Ahrefs to monitor your back-links Profile

With, you just
need to create an account which will ask for a domain and connect it with
Google Analytics. Though the tool may take some time to compile your data,
you’ll get a list of all backlinks pointing to your website when you click the Backlinks
tab on its dashboard.

If you spot hundreds or thousands of
links, you need to look for sites not indexed by Google, flagged backlinks with
a warning sign, sites with a spam score above 3, and those having over 100
external links on the page. The tool is set to send you email notifications
whenever your site records new backlinks.

Links from one of the following is
almost always frowned upon by Google and other search engines:

  • Link farms
  • Irrelevant websites like betting sites
  • Private Blog Networks (PBN)
  • Websites with high spam scores (>3)

The important thing to remember is
that Google uses backlinks for reputation – they determine how trustworthy your
site is. Google’s goal is to offer high-quality links and relevant answers to
questions by users. As such, you need to avoid associating with the bad guys on
the internet as that puts your website at risk of a Google penalty.

  • Removing the low-quality links

Google recommends that you send a
request to them to have any bad links removed from your site’s link profile. On
the other hand, you can try sending polite emails to owners of the sites
sending these links to and ask them to remove or perhaps adda “nofollow”
attribute to them. For higher success using this method, ensure that your email
states who you are, your position, the page in which you found the links, a
deadline for removal, and contact info.

If the parties ask you to pay to
remove the link or show any kind of refusal, go ahead to make a disavow request
to Google.

If the deadline you set on the links
to be removed by particular site is not met, the next step to follow is to
create a disavow file. With this method, you’re telling Google that you do not
want to associate your website with some of the links pointing to your site.

Google gives webmasters the power to
disavow links but warns that its tool needs to be used appropriately. You need
to only disavow links that are negatively affecting your website. One or two
links from websites of a different industry should not worry you, even if they
look strange. For instance, a link with anchor text of a gambling site is
probably designed to hurt you unlike one with the text “read this.”

A simple breakdown of how to use a
disavow tool entails coming up with a list of all oncoming links that you think
are doing your site more bad than good. You can arrange them in a spread sheet,
outlining whether you need to disavow specific URLs or entire domains.

Thereafter, paste these domains/URLs
in a notepad and perhaps add additional comments for your reference in the
future. When you’re sure everything is correctly recorded, you can now go ahead
to upload your disavow file in your Webmaster Account.

You should be able to see the
effects in a couple days or weeks after Google has removed the bad links from
your site. For more information the disavow process, click here.

  • Protect your best backlinks

As mentioned earlier, spammers could
choose to target your best backlinks. A simple way they do it is by faking your
profile and contacting owners of websites from where oncoming links originate
asking them to remove your backlink.

You can do two things to prevent

  • Always use an email address associated with your domain
    name when talking to webmasters and not the common ones like Gmail or
    Yahoo. This is proof that you are the one talking and not someone else
    impersonating you. Emails from domains look like [email protected].
  • Use tools like Ahref that help you monitor your site’s
    backlinks so you can keep track of your best links. Should you notice any
    odd activities happening around your links, be sure to contact webmasters
    owning sites where your quality links are and notify them of these latest
    developments so they can ignore communications from unauthorized parties.
  • Use Copyscape for content duplication attacks

In case you experienced reduced
organic search visibility or a drop in SERPs, it could be a case of content
duplication negative SEO. Here, competitors copy and paste your content,
word-for-word and publish it on another site. This confuses Google as both
sites are talking about the same thing. In some cases, Google may decide to
punish both sites by making them share the ranking power. Even worse,
duplicated content reduces authority and may lead to your site being removed
entirely from Google index.

To recover from content duplication
negative SEO attack, you can use Copyscape to know who has duplicated your
content. An easy way to do this is by putting the URL of your page on the
Copyscape search box to find out other URLs with the same content. If needed,
you may have to create new and unique content or report the new site to its web
host or DCMA for a copyright infringement.

Once done with the overhaul, you
need to report the site to Google so that it’s aware of their negative SEO and
punish them rather than you. This kind of negative SEO is impossible to prevent
since your website content stays public.

  • Take a keen look on your social media mentions

It’s not uncommon for spammers and
other bad guys to create fake accounts of your brand or website name. In most
cases, they will try to steal your audience and conduct smear campaigns geared
towards soiling your reputation.

Try to remove these profiles by
reporting them as spam before they take your followers. If you also need to
know other people using your brand name, use tools such as This tool notifies you when someone mentions your name on
social media or website for you to decide whether to take action.

To begin this process, create an
account on and hit the “create alert” option. Name the alert and be
specific on the keywords you need to be monitored.

This tool allows you to use multiple
languages. You also have the option to specify the sources you need to follow.
The good thing is you don’t have to deal with alerts for every mention, because
you can add the domains you would like this tool to ignore. Lastly, click the
“create my alert” button to confirm the keywords and alerts for your company
name in social media, blogs, news,and forums.

  • Monitor your site’s up time

Is your website taking too long to
load yet you haven’t added anything to it just recently? Try to ensure that
it’s not because someone is sending thousands of request to your server.
Consider acting with urgency to prevent spammers from succeeding in putting
down your server.

There are numerous tools to help you
in monitoring your website loading time, one being
This tool gives you alerts when your website goes down or if under attack. You
need to create your account and activate email alerts to get notifications
regarding any activities that could be interfering with up time.

If you notice persistent down times
and can’t understand what could be causing it, contact your hosting provider;
they might be in a better position to explain causal factors and how they can

  • Be cautious about your own SEO strategies

As noted earlier, negative SEO could
occur due to your own doing. You need to keep an eye on your techniques to
avoid being a victim of a Google penalty. Below are some of the things you need
to avoid:

  • Do not link to penalized websites
  • Do not use too many low-quality links; focus on quality
    over quantity
  • Avoid using your site around money keywords and anchor
    texts alone. Make sure that at least 60% of your anchor texts has your
    website name (brand anchor texts).
  • Never sell links on your website without the “nofollow”
  • Avoid buying links for SEO and if you have to, steer
    clear from “private” blog networks sellers.

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