Negative SEO is a term used to refer to the act of sabotaging a website using black hat techniques. If you’re a target of negative SEO, the rankings of your site may become affected, and you might even be penalized by Google or another search engine for such practices (even if it wasn’t your doing). The thing is, lower rankings in the SERP (search engine results page) can only mean less traffic to your site, thus less business coming your way, not to mention tons of headache on trying to straighten everything out.
Why Would Someone Want to Sabotage Your Website?
There are many reasons why someone out there might want to ruin the reputation of your site. For instance, a nasty competitor may be in a frenzy to wipe out the competition, or a disgruntled SEO “expert” that you fired might try to get back at you. (As a note, true Web professionals wouldn’t try to “get back at you” in any way – so make sure that you entrust the building of your website only to reputable individuals or companies that frown upon black hat practices).
Now, you might say that a small business is less likely to become a target of negative SEO. On the contrary, both big and small companies are on relatively equal footing on the Web, so they have a more-or-less equal chance of being attacked. Remember that even if your business is not (yet) a huge name, if it’s getting results, it’s going get attention – attention from potential customers, competitors, and even hackers. This is why you shouldn’t overlook security when you’re building your website.
How Does Negative SEO Work?
A perpetrator may try to ruin your site using different methods in order to affect your search engine rankings, such as:
A black hat practitioner can dish out $5.00 to get 22,000,000(!) unwanted Facebook links to your site. (Screenshot of an ad in fiverr.com offering “backlink services”.)
- Junk links. This is when someone builds and posts countless spam links that point to your site, such as on message boards, comments sections, and even on other people’s social networking sites.
- Duplicate content. This is when someone copies the content of your pages and disseminates them in numerous other websites.
- Inappropriate keywords. This is when unsuitable keywords are used to link to your website (e.g. adult content, gambling, etc.)
- Fake profiles. This is when someone pretends to be you – they create accounts in various social media networks, with the intent of ruining your reputation.
- Hacking. This is when a perpetrator gets inside your website. They may do visible damage such as defacing it or changing the content; or it could be something more sinister and sly which you won’t easily notice, such as putting in hidden texts and links, or making your site behave maliciously.
What Should You Do to Protect Your Site from Negative SEO?
One advice I’d like to emphasize is, don’t wait until it’s too late. Remember that a website without security is like a house without proper door locks – any petty intruder can just walk in and do damage to your stuff. It’s vital, therefore, that you include website security during the planning and building stage, and you need to remain vigilant even after it’s already up and running. If your site is already built but you have little security, then now is the time to seriously look into it.
Photo courtesy of elitefox
Here are a few steps you can take to foil attempts to attack your site with negative SEO:
- Use strong passwords. Make it easy to remember but hard to crack; use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters; make it unique from your other passwords; and don’t leave it lying around (physically or virtually).
- Limit permissions if there are multiple authors working on your site. Not everyone you work with needs admin access.
- Keep up-to-date with web security.
- Create a social profile. Not only does this help with your online presence, it also helps build your reputation. As such, it can provide additional protection just in case your site is hacked or someone tries to ruin your business’s good standing. Moreover, it lets you have a way to inform your followers if your site has been attacked.
- Use the Google Webmaster Tools Email Alerts. This will inform you if there is suspicious activity on your site, such as malware presence, problems with connectivity, etc.
- Consider using tools to track backlinks to your site. These are special software that will detect if someone is linking to your site. This is useful for monitoring spammy links that attackers put at your expense. Make sure that you take steps to remove these. If it’s really bad, like an infestation of low-quality incoming links, then your Web specialist can help you use the more advanced Disavow Links Tool by Google.
- Conversely, you need to monitor your best backlinks to protect them – attackers will often contact the site’s webmaster (pretending to be you) to have those valuable links removed.
- Constantly check for duplicate content. Copyscape is a good source for detecting if your pages have copies in Internet.
Other things that you need to monitor are:
- Your social media mentions. Make sure that no one is impersonating you. If you spot a fake profile, you can immediately nip it at the bud by reporting it and having it taken down.
- Your website speed. You need to monitor this, just in case your site is slowing down due to a spammer’s attempt to take down your server.
- Your own SEO techniques. Don’t be tempted to use black hat SEO strategies or try to outsmart a search engine (e.g. publishing massive but low quality guest posts, buying links, linking to disreputable/ penalized websites, selling links to your site, etc.). This could inadvertently backfire on you.
These may seem too much just to maintain a website, but your Web specialist should be able to help you in establishing your site’s security and keeping it safe from attackers. Once your site’s security is established, it’s just a matter of maintenance and constant vigilance.