Did you know that your competitors could hurt your search engines rankings? By doing malicious things in order to decrease your search engine rankings?
Before we go into how to deal with negative SEO, let’s go over a few ways it can happen to your business.
- Malicious attacks on your site – this is when someone hacks into your site, modifies your robots.txt file and blocks Google, or injects spammy content and links into your web pages.
- Building bad links – this is when someone builds bad links to your website. For example, if your competitor paid thousands of adult and gambling sites to link back to you, eventually your rankings will go down.
- Spam reports – if people feel a search result from your site is irrelevant or you are abusing Google’s webmaster guidelines, they can report you to Google. If a handful of people report your site, Google will look to see if you are doing anything wrong such as unnatural link building.
If you are wondering if negative SEO has happened to your site, there are two simple ways to determine this:
- If you have a notice in Google Webmaster Tools for either malware notification or unnatural link building, there is a good chance negative SEO has taken place (assuming you didn’t do any unnatural SEO to your own site).
- If your analytics data is reporting a huge drop in search traffic, there is a good chance some negative SEO happened (assuming you didn’t do anything to break Google’s webmaster guidelines).
Once you’ve determined something has happened, here’s how you go about fixing it:
How to fix malicious attacks
I’ve actually had this one happen to my personal site, NeilPatel.com. It took me months to figure it out because I wasn’t checking my Google Webmaster Tools account frequently enough.
Although the attackers modified something on your site, the first thing you need to do is secure your server.
Reversing the changes they have made won’t solve anything unless you first close holes in your security. Otherwise, they will just log back in and make the malicious changes again.
You can hire affordable companies like Sitelock to remove any malware from your server and lock it down. Or you can switch your hosting provider to someone like WPengine as they have security experts on staff who will fight off malware.
If you want to try to avoid attacks, stay away from cheap hosting providers like GoDaddy as they don’t have strict security requirements. Also, make sure you update all of the software on your server because using old WordPress versions can increase the chances of an attack.
Once you fix your security holes, make sure you:
- Go through your robots.txt file to ensure you aren’t blocking Google.
- Double check your source code to ensure that you aren’t linking out to any spammy sites.
- Double check the content on your site to ensure that you aren’t using any spammy words related to the gambling, adult, or pharmaceutical industries.
How to remove spammy backlinks
Through services like Ahrefs and Open Site Explorer, you can see who links back to your site. All you have to do is enter your URL, and you’ll get back a list of results that looks something like this:
The links that are too rich in anchor text or are irrelevant will typically be the ones you want to remove.
To get rid of them, email the webmaster, requesting to remove the link(s). In many cases, you’ll find that people will ignore your email and keep the link up.
To increase your odds of getting a link removed, ask your law firm for permission to use their letterhead when emailing link removal requests. What I’ve found is that when the link removal request comes with a law firm’s logo, you are three times more likely to get the link removed as very few people like dealing with lawyers.
As for the links you can’t get removed, you’ll have to disavow them. Through Google Webmaster Tools, you can manually tell Google to not count specific links.
Now, I know what you are thinking. Why can’t I just disavow all of my bad links and skip sending emails to people asking them to remove the links? Well, Google wants you to first ask people to remove the links before using the disavow tool.
I’ve seen webmasters skip the emailing part and start disavowing all of their bad links. It’s rare that their sites climb back in the rankings when they do this.
So, make sure you email websites to remove the bad links before using the disavow tool.
The beautiful part about spam reports is that search engines typically ignore them if you aren’t doing any black or grey hat SEO. If your site naturally ranks and you haven’t tried manipulating your rankings, there is a good chance you’ll keep your positioning.
You have to worry only if you broke Google’s webmaster guidelines when optimizing your site. When they get too many spam complaints, typically they will do a deep dive into your site to see if you did anything wrong. For example, if you built unnatural links or you’re cloaking, there is a good chance you will get penalized.
If you are doing white hat SEO, you don’t have to worry much about spam reports. If you are using black hat SEO, you will have to reverse those changes in order to get back in Google’s good graces.
The good thing about spam reports is that they will rarely affect your rankings compared to the other two negative SEO tactics described above. If you are following the rules, you won’t have to worry about this one.
Negative SEO exists, and the best thing you can do to fight it is follow the rules and produce good content. Sites with exceptionally good content tend to have more authority links. Typically, if you have a lot of these authority links, they can outweigh any junk links going back to your site.
You can’t control people building bad links to your site, but you can control how authoritative your site is. Focus on building high quality links as this will maintain your rankings even if someone links to your site 100 times from different adult sites.
I’ve seen it myself…Although I don’t approve of this tactic, I know people who have linked to Forbes from adult sites in order to tank Forbes’ ranking. At the end of the day, nothing happened to Forbes. It maintained its ranking as its authority links outweigh junk links.
Google’s algorithm is smart, and it is only getting better. Their goal is to make things like negative SEO hard to accomplish. Hopefully, in the long run, you won’t have to worry much about it.
So, how else can you make sure your site continually ranks high?