Negative SEO attacks are black hat SEO techniques used by competitors to undermine website ranking in the SERP.
It comprises a mixture of hacking, spammy links, toxic backlink creation, duplicating content on a website, leaving fake or negative reviews, and unceremoniously contacting site owners and requesting links to be removed.
All in all, it’s an effort to tank a competitor's site rankings in search engines.
Below, we take a look at common negative SEO techniques and methods that you can use to monitor your site and ensure you are not falling victim to negative SEO attacks.
Just have a look at what some people in the industry are experiencing.
Main Methods Used In Negative SEO Attacks
Whilst you might be thinking, ‘ok, this seems a little far-fetched’, it genuinely happens! Parents' basements worldwide are filled with tech geniuses just waiting for a paycheck to cause some mayhem to a web page.
If you go on a site like Fiverr and look for people who will do negative SEO attacks, it's shocking. People do things such as DDoS attacks, which overload a website and crash it.
Adding redirects that completely remove traffic from certain sites and malware that might put your users at risk.
Just look at this Reddit user who had an attempted site hack:
Building Bad Links
Building unnatural links to a website is a very dangerous negative SEO attack on organic traffic. It can completely wipe a site out and ruin the backlink profile.
Negative off-page SEO can result in seeing a penalty from Google. You may find a message in your Google search console that indicates your site has received a knock for a manual action penalty. Yikes! This is bad news!
What happens is a competitor will purchase links, spammy links or even links pointing to your site from XXX sources, gambling, and other irrelevant sites. It confuses topic identification in the crawl, muddling the relevance of your website and making your site look like non-authoritative junk.
For example, if you have a sports website, an attacker could send a number of steroid, fat burner type links which could change the classification of this site.
Low-quality links coming from link farms, PBNs and software programs all contribute to a terrible backlink profile if excessive spam links are created. Google does not know whether this is you or a competitor sabotaging you, which is why it’s a very real threat! (some PBNs are great, but only if done right. Spoiler alert: 99% aren't).
Luckily you can save yourself and disavow links. And, you can take some solace in the fact that Google has been actively implementing ways to identify such tactics, so you have the search engine on your side here.
Duplicate Content And/Or Website Creation
This is one of the types of negative SEO that might be difficult to pick up on immediately. The principal method of SEO attack is content duplication and/or website duplication. These copies are then flooded over the internet.
The intent is to create an entire website or pages that make multiples of the same answer to a search query. This can result in the pages being unindexed as Google's search engine flags this content as duplicate and not unique.
If you are interested in finding more details, why not check out what Google has to say aboutduplicate content?
Fake Negative Reviews About A Website
A real low-ball negative SEO attack that can hurt organic traffic is posting fake or negative reviews about a website.
Google has stated that negative reviews affect the search engine results and can lead to negative traffic flow on your site and hurt your brand image. We all know how important public perception is when it comes to traffic!
Writing fake reviews is illegal. If you are able to identify people practising this negative SEO attack, you have the upper hand and can instigate action against the person or company.
Another interesting tactic is a competitor might artificially create tons of good reviews instead. Google has explicitly mentioned that they are fighting against glowing good reviews written by people with no first-hand experience using a product or service.
It swings both ways so pay attention to the good and the bad; just have a look at the question asked by a user on Quora below:
Fake Removal Requests
This is a devious SEO attack that is rather clever; requesting a link to be removed on behalf of the competitor. Now, people generally check first with the person contacting them and the company rather than listening to just any old person mailing them.
For that reason, this is likely a tactic that you do not have to watch out for too often, but it's a bit like fishing; cast a net of a lot of emails and hopefully, a couple respond.
Keeping track of your backlink profile is the best way to prevent this. Monitor and investigate any suspicious changes that you did not instigate using a tool such as Ahrefs broken backlink checker.
How To Avoid Common Negative SEO Tactics
If you need more proof that a negative SEO attack is something to look out for, just have a look at this screenshot from a site that offers these services... shocking.
How to prevent a site hack
A hack can come in many shapes and sizes. Whilst you might not get outright blocked on your site and still have access, the hacker could do something like mess with the robots.txt file, which could cause a lot of damage when it comes to page indexing.
Use a tool such as the Detailed Chrome extension to see your website's .txt file and XML files.
Changes could be subtle, so set up alert features onGoogle search console that flag any suspicious activity.
Prevention is the best cure, so in this case, constant checking of your sitemap and robots.txt file is a great way to pick up on any changes.
Use Google search with the search function: 'site: URL'. This is a common way to pick up a site hack. There are also tools such asIs It Hacked? to help identify security breaches on your website.
If you have found that your site is under a negative SEO attack (aka, a hack), then report this to The Federal Trade Commission or a similar governing body in your local area.
Combating unnatural links/low-quality links spamming your site
Start by conducting regular checks of your backlink profile using an SEO tool such as Ahrefs. If you notice a sudden rise in referring domains and links combined with a dip in website traffic and a drop in search engine rankings, you will need to investigate.
Also, keep an eye out for any drops in your website authority, as this is a high-level indicator that something dodgy might be happening.
Get rid of the spammy backlinks pointing to your website using thedisavow tool which deletes any toxic new links that have appeared.
The one downside here is that this needs to be done manually, so the time and energy to fix this could be substantial if the attack was significant.
Combatting duplicate content and websites
This is one of the easier negative SEO attacks to combat, as a simple plagiarism report can help you to spot this.
Take a page of your original content and run it through a tool such as Copyscape, Grammarly, Duplichecker, and others to check plagiarism (possibly use more than one to be safe). If you notice any hits, then it's time to take action.
A course of action would be to start with a request to the site owner to take the website down. If nothing happens as a result of the request, then contact the hosting company of the website to request it be taken down.
Finally, report your issue to search engines and take legal action against the wrongdoers.
How to locate and deal with fake reviews or negative reviews
Keep track of all of the places where your company regularly makes posts. Account for any public blog networks, social media accounts, job posting sites, and sites such as Hellopeter. These are the most likely places for such reviews to appear.
Search engines will penalise your site if there are substantial amounts of negative info, so be on the lookout! With that said, this is difficult to pull off and would require lots of work from the attacker.
The easiest way to remove such reviews is to inform the website administration and ask that they be removed.
Identifying and fixing fake backlink removal requests
Going back to your trusty SEO tools is your best way of monitoring valuable backlinks. Keep an eye out for any lost backlinks.
Using the Ahrefs site explorer, type in your domain, and click on 'broken links' under 'outgoing links.'
Having a good relationship with the site owner of the referring domain is the best-case scenario to get the link re-established. You can also reach out and explain the situation to the webmaster in hopes they will help.
The one caveat is that there is no way of knowing if the webmaster willingly or unwittingly removed your link in the first place.
Our advice here is: if you don't ask, you will never know, so appeal to the human side of the webmaster when contacting them.
Is negative SEO illegal?
No, whilst there is no legal penalty for this malicious attack, it is viewed as a highly unethical SEO practice. If you are caught doing this, your reputation is going to plummet; that's a guarantee.
How do I know if my SEO is negative?
If you are doing anything that can be viewed as directly malicious towards another site, it's a negative SEO attack. Building spammy links pointing to your website is negative SEO towards yourself.
A simple way to look at it is this: If you are doing anything that will negatively manipulate search engine rankings of a competitor's rankings, you are involved in one or more types of negative SEO.
Is negative SEO effective?
Whilst it can be effective and can most certainly harm multiple sites, Google is smart enough to pick up on this. Not all the time, though; that's why constant checking of your website health and backlink profile is essential.
It's a lot less effective after the Google Penguin update, and the Google penalty can be avoided by simply using disavow tool.
Be warned if you want to start tanking a competitor's site's rankings, as it can backfire where you actually end up helping them! Our advice would be to focus on building the SEO stability and strength of your own site instead of attempting to perform negative SEO on other sites.
Does negative SEO work in 2022?
Google's disavow tool is the best defence against spammy links pointing to sites, and with more people becoming aware of devious negative SEO attack tactics, it's a dying tactic.
With that said, there are some real dangers that come in the form of hacking and fighting negative SEO is still a challenge, even with good old Google trying to stop it. The best defence is active monitoring of your site and link profile growth.
Maybe add a wee conclusion? If this is for Link City, perhaps something along the lines of ‘don’t try and harm your competitors, use us to dominate them instead’ type of thing? Just a thought.