How Do I Prevent Negative SEO Attacks?

By Lenny Ford

Posted:

Category: SEO


You probably already know that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the most powerful tool for bringing traffic to a website. SEO consists of different steps and is a long-lasting process. Achieving top results in search queries involves an investment of time and energy, and you might not see the effects for months or years to come. This is because search engines, like Google, use unique algorithms to sort pages in the search results. Google’s algorithms consist of over 200 ranking factors. Some website owners want to appear in search results as fast as possible, and they are not willing to wait for SEO outcomes. Instead, they try to trick the search engine so they can improve their website’s ranking quicker. In the SEO world, there are many rules to follow when optimizing a website, and breaking these rules causes penalties.

“Some unethical SEOs have given the industry a black eye by using overly aggressive marketing efforts and attempting to manipulate search engine results in unfair ways. Practices that violate our guidelines may result in a negative adjustment of your site’s presence in Google or even the removal of your site from our index.”

Writes Google

There are Google human reviewers who look at your website. If they see you broke the laws of the SEO world, they might penalize you. The penalty means your site’s ranking drops, or it might no longer be in search results at all.

Now, you might think this is something you shouldn’t worry about because you aren’t breaking any rules. Unfortunately, even if you aren’t breaking any laws, others might break them for you so that Google penalizes your website and its ranking drops. Some sites might do that because they are not willing to create better content; they cannot beat others without aggressive efforts or don’t want to wait for the successful SEO outcome. These website owners attack their competitors.

“If you publish anything online, one of your top priorities should be security. Getting hacked can negatively affect your online reputation and result in loss of critical and private data. Over the past year, Google has noticed a 180% increase in the number of sites getting hacked.”

Writes Google

What Are Negative SEO Attacks?

Negative SEO attacks are the steps others take to drop your website’s ranking in search engines. There are many types of attacks, such as:

  • Building spam links to your website,
  • ruining your reputation by creating fake social profiles,
  • removing backlinks to your website, and
  • taking your content and scattering it all over the web.

Negative SEO attacks are a real threat and might negatively affect your rankings. Fixing problems caused by SEO attacks might require more time than preventing them. So, let’s look at the ways you can keep your website safe from aggressive competitors.

Link Building

Links that point to your website, known as backlinks, help you increase the visibility of a webpage. Backlinks are an essential part of SEO, and there are different strategies to use them effectively; however, backlinks are also a crucial part of negative SEO attacks. Negative SEO attacks involve building spammy links from a group of interconnected sites so that Google penalizes your website.

There are two types of links: external and internal links. External links come from other websites to your web page. Internal links point from one page of your site to another one.

A graphics showing that external links come from other sites to your site while internal links are between pages on your own site

You might ask, “But how can I control who links to my site?” Unfortunately, you cannot control who links to your site. If you use Facebook, you know there’s an option to review a tag before a post appears on your wall. That’s not the case in link building. There is no way to prevent someone from pointing to your website. But you can avoid manual actions from Google by disavowing the spammy links.

If you think you need to research to find every website linking to your content, that’s not true. Luckily, Google Search Console can show you all external links. There you can see which sites link to yours and what link text they use. You can also download a Links Report.

Image showing the help tip from Google Search Console links screen

“In some circumstances, incoming links can affect Google’s opinion of a page or site. For example, you or a search engine optimizer (SEO) you’ve hired may have built wrong links to your site via paid links or other link schemes that violate our quality guidelines. First and foremost, we recommend that you remove as many spammy or low-quality links from the web as possible.

Writes Google

If you discover there are spammy links or unnatural links that might affect your ranking, you can either: 1) contact the webmaster of the site 2) Disavow links using the Disavow link tool in Search Console.

To disavow links, create a list of all unnatural and spammy links you need to remove. Upload the text file to Google.

A link file format from Google:

  • Specify one URL or domain to disavow per line. You cannot disavow an entire subpath, such as example.com/en/
  • To disavow a domain (or subdomain) prefix it with “domain: ” for example domain:example.com
  • The file must be a text file encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII
  • The file name must end in .txt
  • You can include comments for yourself by starting a line with a # mark. Google will ignore any lines that begin with #.

Image of an example link disavow list written in Windows notepad

To upload the text file with the list of links to disavow, follow the instruction below:

  • From the dropdown menu select the website for which you want to disavow links
  • Click Disavow links
  • Hit Choose File and select the text file with the list

Image of Google Search Console's Link Disavowal tool

Image showing warning message in Google Search Console's Link Disavowal Tool

Three very important things to remember:

  • If you are uploading a new Disavow file, it will rewrite the old Disavow file. Therefore, if you have new links to add an old Disavow file, it’s best to download the old file and add the new links to it. Otherwise, you may bring back older spammy links. (See image below)
  • Do not update your Disavow file too often. It is a dangerous tool and if you use it too often, it can negatively affect your ranking. Think of it as a credit score – you can lose points by checking it too often.
  • Google will need a few weeks to process the information you submit.

Image showing the message received after properly uploading a disavow list in Google Search Console

Protect Your Backlinks

Remember how we said you could contact the website owner to take down the link to your website? Guess what? Aggressive competitors will try to remove your best links using this method. They might contact the website owner using your name with the request to remove the link.

Again, you cannot do anything to prevent others from being unethical, but you can monitor your links. You can download your link report from Google Search Console.

If you see your best backlinks have suddenly disappeared, contact the website owners. Use an email address for your domain and ask if they removed the link because of the request. If it was an SEO attack, after explaining the situation, ask the webmaster to bring the link back to their site.

Duplicate Content

Another way to attack you is by copying your content and scattering it all over the web. If Google sees the duplicated content, you will get a penalty and drop in rankings.
You can use Copyscape.com to check if other websites are publishing your content without your permission.

Fake Social Media Profiles

Some attackers might create fake social media profiles under your company’s name, ruin your reputation, and link to your website. Mention.com is a great tool to check if someone is using your brand name. You can create an alert so that every time someone mentions you on Social Media, you get a warning and can decide whether to take action.

Check Your Website Speed

Because Google uses Website Speed as a ranking factor, some might try to slow your website down so it drops in ranking. If your website has slowed down for no apparent reason, and you cannot find any cause of the problem, someone is using forceful crawling. Contact your hosting company to see the source of the server load.

Watch out for Sudden Waves of Negative Reviews

Believe it or not, some might even attack you with negative reviews. And we don’t mean one, two, or even three reviews…but rather, hundreds of them.

The best way to get rid of fake reviews is to flag fake reviews.

Go to review on Google Maps and click “Flag as inappropriate.” Do this only when you are positive the review is fake. Otherwise, if these reviews turn out to be legitimate, Google will penalize you.

How to Prevent Getting Hacked

Luckily, Google cares about malware, attacks, and suspicious behavior no less than any website owner.

“Today, we’re happy to announce that we’ll be expanding our set of alerts in Google Analytics by adding notifications about sites hacked for spam in violation of our Webmaster Guidelines. In the unlikely event of your website being compromised by a 3rd party, the alert will flag the affected domain right within the Google Analytics UI and will point you to resources to help you resolve the issue.”

Wrote Google on June 21, 2016

A handy step to take for avoiding SEO attacks from competitors is to set up Google’s Webmasters Tool Email Alerts. Google launched the system because of increased spam and hacked websites. If you set up alerts, you will get notifications about: malware attacks, problems with indexing your pages, issues with server connectivity, and Google penalties. It’s a great way to stay alert and watch out for all types of malicious behavior.

Image showing the message in Google Search Console that a user sees if Google detects that their website is compromised

Read how to turn on email notifications in the Search Console.

It’s disturbing that many websites and business owners use unethical tools to drop your rankings. But if someone takes so much effort to take you out of the search results, it means you are doing great in rankings and creating valuable content. We hope with these steps, you can keep your website safe and save your top positions in search queries.



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