Improper Optimisation: A Guide on Negative SEO

SEO tips

I know what you’re thinking, how can an optimization be negative? Questionable terms aside, the practice of negative SEO itself indeed do exist although it’s not as prevalent enough to be considered an epidemic and that recovery is usually relatively quick and easy. Google has never considered this to be an issue major enough for them to take seriously and usually, their algorithms are smart enough to pick up on this but that doesn’t mean the risk is not there.

How negative SEO works

If negative SEO rubs you the wrong way, a more familiar and not dissimilar term would be Google bomb. An example is this campaign launched against U.S. politician Rick Santorum by writer Dan Savage. While this Google bomb works by raising a site’s popularity to usurp traffic from a certain keyword, in this case Santorum’s name itself, a negative SEO works by negatively manipulating the rank of a certain page by using underhanded tactics. It is the digital equivalent of ‘Mediscare’ campaigns.

Because of the associated resource required to run a negative SEO campaign like that, it has never been a widespread practice and that negative SEO attacks aren’t a focus with SEO services. Recent times however have shown that the internet’s collective mind is akin to a sleeping giant. A slight poke could cause a disturbance disproportionate to what caused it in the first place. These examples of 4chan’s past ‘accomplishments’ should give you an idea just what are they capable of.

Tactics associated with negative SEO

Ironically, a lot of the methods associated with negative SEO is actually the same ones employed in SEO, just with a negative twist. If you’re familiar with the terms whitehat and blackhat SEO, negative SEO uses the same tricks considered blackhat but directed on competitors’ websites in the hope that search engine providers will penalize them for the infractions. Some of the methods associated with negative SEO are:

  • Content scraping

Scraping is the practice of copying contents regarding a particular subject across the internet and present them inside a new skin as new contents. This is a lazy, creatively deprived practice and is a stone throw’s away from outright plagiarism. The sad thing is, with the rise of tools like Contentbomb and Spinnerchief, this technique is also very easy to employ. When it comes to negative SEO, this technique is used to publish your contents across different sites in the hopes of Google mistaking a copy for the original.

Thankfully, you can fight fire with fire as tools like Copyscape can be used as an online plagiarism detection device. Google has also made it easier for webmasters to fight plagiarism using their copyright infringement form. Generally though, unless you’re sure that your contents were copied with nefarious intent, it might be a good idea to contact the offending webmasters first as it might be the work of a rogue agent.

  • Spam links

Normally, link bulilding, defined as the ongoing process of amassing backlinks to your site, is one of the most basic rules in SEO, given that backlinks are one of the factors search engine uses to determine page ranks. Negative SEO twists this concept by using spam links. Instead of having backlinks from reputable sites and/or sources, negative SEO uses less trusted sites and misleading anchor texts to give the impression that some funny business is going on, opening you to a penalty from Google.

You can however monitor the number of backlinks to your site using a number of tools available online, such as the free SEO SpyGlass. Anyway, using any monitoring tools of your choice, see if there’s a visible uptick during a short amount of time in your link profile. Most monitoring tools allow webmasters to check out the particular details of a backlink and an analysis of the quality of such links. If it seems like a spam to you, disavow them using the tools provided by Google.

  • Site hacking

When this happens to you, your ranking considerations shouldn’t be a priority and if someone actually went to the extremes of hacking your site, negative SEO is usually not the goal they have in mind. Still, any sign of that could potentially alert Google that your site was hacked could lead to a message of “this site may be hacked” on the results page being displayed next to your website. Worse comes to worse, there is a chance that Google will derank your website to protect users.

Cybersecurity is still a somewhat niche topic as the world is so focused on building walls in the real world that they haven’t been paying attention to the security of their virtual space. It is a fact for example that anyone’s life can easily be traced on what information they have in their e-mails and calendars. Anyone with access to mine would be able to tell exactly where I’m going to be spend Saturday evening for example. If you haven’t properly beefed up your security, negative SEO issues aside, you should make it a priority.

Closing thoughts

Think of negative SEO attacks as flesh-eating bacteria. They’re so rare that at times, they’re more like bedtime stories you tell to scare children but everyone who has been a witness to one would never doubt their severity. What I’m trying to say here is this, there’s little chance that what I’ve described above can happen to you but if, God forbid, that it does, you’ll be very happy to know that you are prepared for the occasion.