Keyword research, on-site optimization, social media strategy, and content development… After all the hard work you’ve been putting into making your website rank above your competitors, it may be possible that you’ve been also a victim of negative SEO. Let’s dive into this term a little bit.

What is negative SEO?

SEO means search engine optimization; basically, a series of practices put into place to make your website appear at the highest rank among search results. There are SEO agencies who can help you with that or you can always do the work in-house. On the contrary, negative SEO also referred to as “Black Hat SEO”, indicates a set of activities used to decrease a website’s ranking, usually a competitor’s website. These activities may be duplications of content, publishing negative reviews, modifying a website, using spammy links, or even hacking a website.

Negative SEO may be intentional or unintentional. It may stem from your competitors or your employees. There are SEO agencies that will try to use short-cuts like negative SEO to take out the competition for their clients. On the other hand, you may have simply worked with inexperienced so-called SEO experts or dishonest writers. Either way, it is best if you know how to identify negative SEO and protect your website against it.

Is negative SEO common?

Google assures us that negative SEO is a real thing but it does not happen very often and even when it does happen, it is not always successful. They claim to have algorithms set in place to detect and prevent negative SEO. Most websites today, especially small businesses, are safe from negative SEO attacks. Even though it is unlikely to get these attacks, it is better to be safe than sorry. Here are some examples of negative SEO and ways to protect your site from them.

Common negative SEO examples and ways to protect your website

Link farming

Just like using backlinks to drive traffic to your website, low-quality links coming from link farms can decrease your ranking. Link farms are websites created for the sole purpose of housing spammy and unrelated links used to boost a website’s ranking. Creating this type of website is prohibited by search engines like Google and comes with a fine of deindexing of the link farm. The website that uses links from the link farm can be reduced in rank or even indexed. If you think you are not experienced enough to detect and fight back link farming, an SEO agency might be able to help you to get your website ranked where it should.

Duplicating content

It is obvious that duplicating content already published is unethical. If this does not stop a person from copying someone else’s work, the fact that Google hates it might be a bigger reason not to do it. Even if you are being extremely careful not to commit plagiarism, your website may be easily made to look like it has duplicated content. This may be the easiest technique of negative SEO because it is simply copying content and posting it on multiple sites or even as a part of link farms. Google is pretty good at detecting duplicated content and preventing it. This means that Google chooses a version of the content that it considers to be the original. Usually, the algorithm is sufficient and picks the original version to be ranked. However, if the “content duplicator person” is pretty fast and has posted the duplicates very close to the original content’s posting time and for some reason, the duplicate one is indexed before the original one, there is not much chance for you. If you find yourself in such a case, you may try reporting the duplicate content to Google through the copyright infringement report.

Fake reviews and social media profiles

You’ve worked tirelessly to get good reviews and build up your online presence and then a fake profile comes and discredits your good work. They may write bad reviews or create business accounts presenting themselves as your company to post low-quality posts in hope that they may ruin your reputation. Because it is relatively easy and fast to create social media accounts and post bad reviews, this type of negative SEO might be the most common.

You should keep an eye out for reviews posted around the internet and to your business profile on Google. Fake reviews are prohibited by Google and you can report them.

Heavy crawling

One of the criteria for determining the rank of a website is by evaluating the speed at which it runs. Slow-loading websites are not preferred in the eyes of Google. Thus, it is an easy way to de-rank a website by slowing it down. This may be possible by crawling the site, taxing the server load, and maybe even forcing the site to crush. If it happens enough times, your site may lose its credibility in terms of ranking on search engines.

Thankfully, Google Analytics Alert sends a notification to let you know that your site is becoming slower. When you get this alert or notice the slowing down on your own, you should contact your SEO agency, your hosting company, or webmaster to learn the root cause of the problem if it is maintenance, organic traffic, or an attack. They may put additional firewalls in place or reroute traffic through a DDos protection service.

Hacking and malware

If it comes to the worst and your website is hacked, the aftermath may be quite a mess. There may be low-quality or duplicate content, links missing, replaced or added, root files changed among other things that are not favoured by search engines and badly impact your ranking. To try to prevent such occasions from happening, there are a few things you can practice such as using strong administrative passwords, implementing 2-step authorization, when possible, frequent maintenance, implementing security plugins, and automatic backup systems. 

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