Could it be true? Not only do you have to worry about SEO to increase your site rank, there's something called negative SEO which can decrease your rank?
Unfortunately, negative SEO is real. Worse yet, it's something a savvy competitor could be doing to your website right now.
Interest in negative SEO is on the rise, and even Forbes is weighing in. If you're wondering what it is, what signs to look for, and what to do about it, I'm here to tell you.
What Is Negative SEO?
Negative SEO is the practice of using unethical techniques to hurt a website's ranking in search engines. Typically, this is an attempt to negatively impact a competitor's website rank. Bad reputation = lower ranking, and negative SEO tactics reduce website reputation through bad links.
Concerns about negative SEO tactics increased with Google's Penguin algorithm, which demotes websites thought to be using backlink schemes. Although early definitions of negative SEO were specific to purposeful attempts at website sabotage, it is wise to watch out for a range of things that can hurt your website rank:
- Spammy link-building to your website. Unethical competitors may try this in an attempt to lower your site's rank by linking hundreds of low-quality sites to yours.
- Links pointing to your site with "sketchy" keyword anchors that have nothing to do with your site content. Usually these are words associated with spam such as "viagra," "payday loan," "cheap christian louboutin," etc.
- Duplication of your website content and mass distribution of it across the web.
- Removal of your top authoritative links to lower your site reputation. To do this, a nefarious rival would pose as your company and attempt to get the high authority site to remove backlinks to your website.
- Slowing your website's speed by overloading your web server. This type of attack would be a DoS (denial of service) attack or a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack.
- Smearing your company's online reputation via fake social media accounts created for this purpose.
Negative SEO Monitoring and Defense
So, all this sounds pretty scary, huh? It does indeed, but the good news is that fooling Google isn't easy for the SEO bad guys. According to Google's Matt Cutts, most small businesses won't likely encounter this problem, and those in more competitive industries have the Disavow Links Tool available to tell Google which links should be ignored. Let's talk more about that tool and other ways you can monitor and protect your website.
Monitoring Links to Your Site with Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools is a must-have for anyone concerned about SEO. Webmaster Tools has many features to help monitor your website visibility on Google, including reports for who links to your site and the anchor text associated with those links. To check your site links:
- Log in to Webmaster Tools
- Click on Links to Your Site
- Review Links reports as part of a comprehensive backlinks audit to check for inaccurate anchor text and/or an influx of questionable links
Moz has a great guide here with detailed instructions on how conduct a full audit of your backlinks. If you are a WordPress user, you may also be clued in to spammy links by WordPress admin email notifications about pingbacks.
Monitoring Links with HubSpot
If you use HubSpot marketing software, you have a great tool to monitor inbound links to your site. HubSpot's Page Performance dashboard includes a pathway to inbound link monitoring that allows you to:
- Sort links by domain authority
- See first linked date and latest activity
- See details on exact URL linked and any SEO value passed
- See inbound links for any competitor websites you are tracking
Removing Spammy Links with Google's Disavow Links Tool
If you discover spammy links or anchor text in your backlink/inbound link audit, you can tell Google to ignore them with the Disavow Links Tool. Google has detailed instructions on using this tool and what you need to do in addition to using the tool. The Disavow tool is something you should use carefully, so you don't harm your website rank instead of helping it. Google's Matt Cutts explains how and when to use the Disavow Tool in this video.
Monitoring Duplicate Content
If you use Moz, you have a number of SEO tools in your arsenal. It allows you to monitor content duplication throughout your own website. When it comes to negative SEO, you want to look out for any duplicate copies of your content floating around on the Internet. One of the tools we like for checking duplicate content is Copyscape.
Monitoring Social Mentions
As I mentioned earlier, negative SEO tactics include setting up fake social media accounts to bad-mouth your company online, so it's important to monitor how people are talking about you. Many social media platforms have native tools to perform searches related to your brand. You can also set up Google alerts to monitor online mentions of your brand more generally, and get email notifications customized to your preferences.
Our favorite tool to monitor social mentions of your company on Twitter is the one included in HubSpot. HubSpot's social media tools provide a range of advanced capability, including the ability to monitor mentions of your URL, your company name, your Twitter handle, or any combination of words you choose.
So what's the takeaway? Depending on your business, it's unlikely that you'll be subjected to negative SEO, but there's no reason to risk your site rankings when it's so easy to monitor these harmful tactics.