December 11, 2018 Last updated November 6th, 2019 1,782 Reads share

How to Recover From a Negative SEO Attack

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The impact of search engine optimization (SEO) in the field of digital marketing has seen a vast number of effects online. There is the positive outcome of white hat SEO, where following the rules of search engines gets rewarded by a favorable rank among the SERPs. On the other hand, there are negative consequences of practicing black hat SEO tactics that make use of stealth and deceit to trick the algorithm. In the middle is the gray hat SEO that preys on the ranking strength of black hat SEO, while remaining within the lines, like white hat SEO.

And then comes negative SEO.

While strategists and webpage makers are busy avoiding penalties caused by black hat SEO and trying to remain within white and gray SEO lines, another wave of dubious practices comes to challenge search engine results and rankings.

Negative SEO

Negative SEO is defined as devious acts committed (usually by direct competitors) to take down your campaigns and SEO link building strategies, in an effort to ultimately get your site to rank lower. They basically use banned SEO techniques to frame your website into a search engine penalty. Companies employing negative SEO mechanisms may conduct their own on-site and off-site SEO techniques to get into the ranks, but they also employ dirty tricks to make the search engine algorithm think that your site is not worth any user’s time and attention. In essence, they rank their way up by pulling others down.

Getting to know the culprit

The strict algorithms, subsequent penalties, and constant updates on search engine systems make the battleground for SEO a complex arena. This seemingly tight competition between websites of similar niches is enough to push other companies to resort to negative SEO attacks against their rivals. However, before you pin your site’s low rankings to negative SEO, take a closer look at what exactly comprises this stealth move.

Negative SEO can take on many forms, but the off-page ones are usually common. Likewise, negative SEO can be performed indirectly by your competitors, through third-party entities that are willing to do the job for a fee.  So, it may be hard for you to trace back who among your various competitors have done the deed, but your site will definitely feel its negative effects.  Very often, a sudden drop in website traffic and a penalty warning are tell-tale signs that your site is indeed under attack.

Here are some examples of explicit negative SEO attacks that can harm your website’s ranking:

  • Abundant and purposive bad links. Bad links per se are not purely negative SEO in nature. In fact, you might even be guilty of creating them due to a previous faulty SEO strategy or a tactic gone wrong. But, when numerous bad links, such as those anchored on malicious keywords (think casino, Viagra, and the like), are constantly thrown towards your site, negative SEO is often behind the act. Even 301 redirects can also be used by negative SEO enthusiasts. For example, they can sneakily create links that redirect a heavily penalized page to your website so that the juice from the penalty will be passed on to your website’s credibility.
  • On-page spamming. Another way someone can use negative SEO to attack your page is by filling it with spammy and unnatural links. They typically use the comments section of your page or blog and fill it up with links to foreign forums or those that lead to bogus sites with low-quality content.
  • Duplicates and plagiarism. Blatantly plagiarizing your site’s content is another form of negative SEO attack. They do this by creating many copies of your content and distributing them online, making the search engine think that yours is not the original one in the first place.
  • Removing good links. Your hard-earned backlinks from authority sites can also be a target of negative SEO. These malicious troublemakers can go as far as contacting webmaster administrators and pretend to be you, asking the link to your page to be removed.
  • Fake and negative ratings. Reviews and customer feedback are crucial to a business, which is why the search engine also gives credit to those sites that receive positive ratings from users. To counter this and pull you down, negative SEO attackers create fake social media profiles that downright bash and give bad ratings to your company. They can even mimic your site setup and actually pretend to be you, just to give you a bad rep.

Recovering from an attack

These are just a few ways on how far some people are determined to go to pull your site from the ranks, and eventually get ahead of you. While your site ranking may be damaged by these acts, it is important to note that there are still ways to get back in the game. So, if you find your website to be the target of negative SEO attacks, here’s how you can recover from them:

  • Take immediate action. Ranking among SERPs takes a while to achieve. Adding negative SEO attacks to the pile makes it even harder. Once your site gets hit by these rank-demoting moves, you need to act fast. Search engines algorithms, like that of Google, are quick to detect which sites have suspicious activity. As a consequence, your site’s ranking will suffer. 

It is important then to identify and make a list of which backlinks need to be removed. You can manually try to remove these backlinks by getting help and reaching out to web admins. Once you have a list of bad links you want to be removed, notify the webmaster (and/or hosting domain) and request for them to remove these links directed at your site.

If, on the other hand, your backlinks to authority sites have been stealthily removed, send an official email (either from your domain web address or from your legal department) to the site. Explain the circumstances of the attack and request for the good link to be reinstated. If all else fails, cautiously resort to Google’s disavow tool.

  • Be constantly vigilant. Now that you have been a victim of negative SEO attacks, you need to take on defensive mode. Turn on Google Webmaster e-mail notifications so you do not miss out on any penalty or suspicious activity reminder. Monitor your backlinks and conduct a site audit regularly to weed out malicious and spammy comments. Scan your social media mentions and deal with falsified ratings and erroneous claims on your site, head on. Make sure also that you respond to these fake social media accounts and disprove their feedback.
  • Fortify with tools. The online marketplace is now chock full of site-building and media monitoring tools to help you keep your web pages well-maintained. For example, plagiarism-related attacks can be prevented by using tools that help scan the web for duplicated content. This can be a big help in finding out if your content is being illegally distributed to influence your search engine rankings. Free versions may be available, but most sites level up their security with paid subscriptions that offer a more thorough protection. Ultimately, it will not hurt to invest in tools that can help you ward off unwanted SEO tactics, so you can concentrate on your ranking goals. Given that your competitors have found a way to make your site vulnerable to negative SEO attacks, it now becomes logical to enlist these tools for added protection.

Taking Negative SEO Seriously

SEO is a growing trend that will continuously affect the way businesses strategize to gain customers online. As such, employing various SEO-related techniques will be a valuable tool that can make or break any digital marketing campaign. While most companies take the higher road and abide by the rules, there are still those that employ backdoor tricks to be on top.

Negative SEO attacks are a concrete example that not everyone plays a fair game. It is a concern that should not be taken lightly, as it is also a factor that contributes to your site’s rankings. From plagiarized content, spammy comments, numerous bad links, and fake social media activity, more and more sneaky ways are being devised by unscrupulous companies that are determined to keep others down the SERPs.

Once your website has encountered this kind of digital attack, know that recovering is always a viable option. Take responsibility for your website and proactively reach out to authorities to fix the problem.

Be responsive to social media feedback and disprove any false review that can further damage your reputation.  But do not stop there. Keep your radar on and monitor suspicious activity as well as general site performance to get ahead of any potential threat. Regular site maintenance helps identify and solve problems before they even escalate into a penalty. Finally, toughen up your website. Use readily available tools in the market that can secure your pages and content. By keeping your guard up and strengthening your security measures, you can protect your website from any future SEO-related attack, so you can finally get back on track.

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Rana Tarakji

Rana Tarakji

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