Once upon a time, you could engage in all sorts of questionable SEO techniques and shoot to the top of the search rankings without so much as a slap on the wrist. Try those techniques today, in the era of strict Google penalties, and your site will tank. Unfortunately, there’s a dark side to that coin: If someone else applies those techniques in your name, your site can tank from those efforts as well. Welcome to the evil world of negative SEO.
The Nature of the Beast
What sorts of tactics can your enemies use against your site? They vary in complexity and success, but most of them (thankfully) require so much time and effort that only a really powerful, rabid competitor is likely to employ them directly. Sadly, however, there are third-party agents out there who are all too willing to do it for the right price. Typical negative SEO tactics may include:
- Spamming the Web with your site content by copying and re-posting it everywhere
- Stripping credible, favorable backlinks out of your site content, supposedly at your request
- Creating irrelevant, poorly-written content riddled with thousands of fake backlinks to your site
- Setting up phony social media profiles in your company’s name aimed at destroying your online reputation instead of enhancing it
Recognizing Negative SEO
If you’re feeling a bit queasy at this point, don’t worry — you’re not helpless against the onslaught of negative SEO. But to understand its effect on your site, you must first be on the alert for any signs that these tactics are being used against you. First and foremost, that means monitoring your inbound links for spam. You can do this through Google’s Webmaster Tools, Bing Webmaster’s Link Explorer, Open site Explorer, and various other online tools. Enabling notifications from these sources can help you respond more quickly to a questionable change in your site’s status or reputation.
Watching your Backlinks
Backlink monitoring also helps with another critical task, that of defending your strong, legitimate backlinks against the bad guys. Negative SEO agents may pretend to be you, using a bogus or non-official email address to request that those backlinks be taken down. Monitor your backlinks, and you’ll be able to tell right away when this happens.
Prevention is an even stronger approach. In your own communications with your webmaster, always use an official email address issued by your site’s domain, rather than an easy-to-impersonate email address from a free service. This will help cut down on cases of mistaken identity. At the same time, use that official email address to request removals of any spammy backlinks your monitoring system turns up. Google Webmaster even has a Disavow Tool to make this process easier.
What should you do about duplicate content? The easiest way to check for it is by using an online plagiarism checker such as Copyscape. You’ll be able to see exactly which domains have co-opted your content. From there it shouldn’t be hard to identify the owners of those sites and you can ask them to cease and desist.
Attending to Your Social (Media) Life
Mentions are to social media as backlinks are to article and site content — an easy way to generate negative SEO through fakery. You can watch for these phony accounts and their damaging activity by scanning for online mentions of your company or website, thanks to solutions such as Nexgate and CyberAlert Buzz. If you spot an unofficial social media account up to no good, contact the social media network in question immediately and get it shut down.
Monitor your social media mentions for signs of hijacking.
While you’re exploring these strategies, don’t forget about the power of positive SEO to overwhelm negative SEO. How do you leverage this power? By continuing to do all the things you should be doing anyway to optimize your SEO, that’s how — only even more so. Redouble your efforts to produce relevant, high-quality content, make use of similarly high-quality linking techniques, and manage your social media channels with the proper care and attention.
Vigilant monitoring and positive action can prevent or reverse the effects of negative SEO — but only if you can put the time, energy and expertise into making it happen. That’s why so many companies rely on our dedicated team as their all-in-one website management resource. If you’d like to harness that SEO know-how for your business, contact us to request a quote.