If you’ve been involved with digital marketing for any amount of time, chances are you’re well aware of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This series of practices spearheads online visibility, by optimizing content for search engines – as the name suggests. However, that’s the positive side of SEO. As with most practices of such scope, it can also harm a website, sometimes gravely so. That’s the negative side of SEO, and it does see use by sore competitors. So, let’s explore what exactly it is and, should you find yourself attacked, how to recover from negative SEO attacks.
First and foremost, we must make a brief but crucial distinction. “Negative SEO” does not refer to either
- poorly ■■■■■■■■ SEO that ends up harming your rankings, or
- black hat SEO tactics you employ, which can also hurt your rankings.
What it specifically refers to is deliberate, nefarious tactics by competitors that target your SEO using these concepts. Neil Patel defines it specifically as “the practice of using black hat and unethical techniques to sabotage a competitor’s rankings in search engines”.
For that matter, Google’s Matt Cutts also defines it as such. For more information on it, he also delves into the matter in some depth in the following video:
So, with this brief definition out of the way, let us discuss how you may identify such attacks. In this regard, it is crucial to distinguish between mistakes you might’ve made and malicious external attacks.
Initially, you will need powerful tools to monitor your ranking, backlinks, and other website metrics. Such tools, that also offer other SEO-centric features, include:
- Majestic SEO
Fortunately, these are but a few of the SEO tools available. You may thus scout the market for ones that best suit your other SEO needs, simply keeping in mind that you’ll value their monitoring capabilities in the context of negative SEO attacks.
Finally, you may also use such tools as Google Analytics for monitoring, and Google Search Console for counteractions.
That said, what exactly will you monitor? To answer that, we may touch on the different types of negative SEO attacks. The main forms these attacks take are the following:
- Bad links. This tactic has competitors link to your website from illegal, untrustworthy, or irrelevant websites – often link farms. This way, your Domain Authority DA) and Page Authority ¶ suffer, and you risk Google penalties.
- Link removals. Conversely, this tactic attacks your own backlinks. Using it, competitors may reach out to webmasters and request backlink removals, which lower your SEO score. This hinges on Google valuing backlink quality over quantity.
- Fake reviews. This tactic has competitors attack your credibility through fake reviews – typically using bots to do so.
- Content duplication. This two-sided tactic has competitors copy your content. This both benefits them short-term, as they use your content, and potentially incurs penalties for you, as Google penalizes duplications. In severe cases where they rank higher than you, it is not impossible that only you get penalized.
So, with these in mind, you will broadly need to monitor 3 distinct fronts:
- Your backlink profile. This includes inbound and outbound links, anchor texts, and so forth.
- Your brand’s online presence. This includes unbranded mentions, reviews, social media profiles, and so forth.
- Your website. Finally, this concerns your website’s overall security.
With all of the above in mind, then, let us delve into the main subject; how to recover from negative SEO attacks. For the sake of reading convenience, we will split this section into 5 parts you may consider in order.
#1 Be proactive about it
The very first step should include proactive measures. Here, you may consider such measures as the following:
- Set up Google Webmaster Tools email alert. You may find this option in “Webmaster Tools Preferences”. Setting up alerts will let you know if you receive manual penalties, or encounter other issues indicative of a negative SEO attack.
- Set up Google Alerts. Similarly, you can use Google Alerts to receive notifications whenever your website or brand gets a mention. This, too, will let you react early to potential attacks.
- Monitor your social media mentions. For social media mentions specifically, you may also use such tools as Mention, among others, to remain one step ahead.
These are, of course, just an initial step. However, prevention will often be preferable to a cure, so let us delve deeper.
#2 Scout the internet
Next, you may utilize the aforementioned tools to start scouting the internet. Here, consider 3 main types of external content to keep an eye on. We won’t delve into backlinks here because they’re crucial enough to deserve their own section.
- First, you must monitor your online mentions. Through this metric, you may identify unbranded mentions, which you can cross-check with your backlink tools to identify a dropped backlink. That aside, you may identify fake social media profiles and other attacks on your online reputation. Finally, simple mentions by real users could alert you to potential issues.
- Similarly, you may start monitoring your Google My Business (GMB) profile, Yelp profile, product pages, or any other platform where you might receive reviews. To do so, you may use such tools as TheReviewIndex, among other fake review detection tools.
- Duplicated content. Finally, you may scout the internet for duplicated content. To do so, you may use such renowned tools as Copyscape, and then take appropriate action. Here, you may initially contact webmasters before, say, filing DMCA claims, to avoid further aggressions if there was no immediately malicious intent.
#3 Monitor your backlink profile
Having mentioned backlinks, your backlink profile is arguably the first front to recover from negative SEO attacks. That’s because manipulating backlinks is among the easiest and most effective parts of your SEO that malicious actors can manipulate to deprive you of both referral and organic traffic.
Here, there are two distinct backlink types to keep an eye on.
The aforementioned link farm tactic manifests in these kinds of backlinks. Competitors will either build massive amounts of backlinks to your site, often with irrelevant anchor texts, or redirect to your website from other pages. As both of these constitute negative SEO attacks, you may first use the tools outlined above, or such tools as MonitorBacklinks, to identify such links. Then, after contacting webmasters on this issue, you may use Google’s Disavow tool to disavow them.
Second, malicious actors may try to remove your best backlinks by contacting web admins with seemingly plausible reasons to do so. Thus, you must first monitor your valuable backlinks closely; consider tagging them in your backlink management tool of choice. Should your tool also offer automated alerts, this will also help save you the effort of constantly checking manually. Then, should you identify dropped links, you may contact webmasters yourself and request their restoration.
Returning to your own website, a very hard type of attack to identify is content modifications. Should hackers gain access to your website, they can modify your content in subtle but impactful ways that require different approaches. The most common ones are:
- Keyword stuffing. This tactic has hackers stuff your pages with keywords to provoke Google ranking penalties. Drops in traffic may alert you to such occurrences, but the best means of identifying them is to keep an eye on your pages’ SEO score. Such WordPress plugins as Yoast should offer a clear overview of this factor for your convenience.
- Anchor text modifications. Similarly, attackers may modify link anchor texts. This subtle modification will also harm your SEO score, as anchor texts help Google contextualize backlinks. To address this, you may monitor your anchor texts through the backlink tools at your disposal.
- Link injections. Finally, this tactic sees malicious actors inject harmful links into your content. This may be done, for example, by SEO agencies you’ve parted with on bad terms. To identify such instances, carefully monitor all of your pages’ links. Should the issue be too widespread, you may consider rolling back to previous page versions before securing your website further.
#5 Secure your website
On the subject of website security, this is the final step to take to recover from a negative SEO attack. Even if the attack has only taken place outside of your website, securing it will act as a preventative measure against future, more sophisticated attacks.
Among other security measures, consider the following:
- Consider dedicated hosting with strong firewalls.
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN).
- Update your CMS.
- Use any security plugins you deem necessary, without hampering your website’s performance.
- Employ any malware protection solutions you have available.
- Enable 2-Factor Authentication (2FA).
These and other security measures aside, it is crucial to be prepared. Continue to make backups of your valuable pages, monitor your robots.txt, and keep an eye on your website’s security. Your hosting provider should also be swiftly made aware of any attacks and should remain available for any security concerns you might have.
In conclusion, there are many forms of negative SEO attacks you may find yourself under. Malicious actors may use link farms to sabotage your rankings, smear you on Google with fake reviews, outright hack you, and more. While not all forms are equally easy to identify and remedy, it is crucial that you respond swiftly and decisively. Hopefully, this brief overview of the subject provided some actionable insights you may find of use.