Back in the late '90s (way back when), SEO was in its infancy.
It was almost like the Wild West -- anything goes.
Since the rules were loose, both white hat and black hat SEO tactics began to develop.
While white hat tactics are an ethical way of improving your organic traffic and search rankings, black hat tactics go against guidelines set by search engines in an unethical way.
However, as the industry has rapidly changed and search engine algorithms improved, it's become harder to use black hat SEO tactics.
And thus a new, unethical strategy was born: negative SEO.
Below, let's learn more about negative SEO from what a negative SEO attack looks like and how to avoid it.
Wait, did you say negative SEO attack?
A negative SEO attack is when a competitor uses mostly off-page tactics such as building unnatural links or duplicating site content to negatively impact your search rankings. Sometimes a negative SEO attack will involve on-page tactics through hacking your site to modify content.
So, you might be wondering, "How does someone do a negative SEO attack?" Below, let's review negative SEO tactics and how to avoid them.
1. Building unnatural links.
One of the ways that a competitor can use negative SEO to attack your site is by building unnatural or spammy backlinks. Basically, this means they'll send thousands of spam links to your site and/or send fake link removal requests.
If they send low-quality links to your site, they'll usually use an interconnected group of websites that are used solely to link back and forth to other sites.
Their goal is to get your site penalized by Google for spammy links.
The second method that a competitor using negative SEO might use to impact your backlinks is to remove your best backlinks. Usually, they'll reach out to a site using your name and request they remove the backlink.
With these tools, you can monitor when your site gains or loses backlinks. If you suspect a bad link has been added, you can try to remove it by contacting the webmaster and requesting they remove it.
If that doesn't work, you can use Google's disavow list. When you submit links to Google Webmaster Tools through a disavow list, this tells them that these links shouldn't be counted when considering rankings for your site.
Another method you can use to detect unnatural links is to check your website speed. If your website is suddenly taking a long time to load, you'll want to ensure it's not because someone is sending thousands of requests per second to your server.
2. Distributing duplicate content.
When there's duplicate content on multiple websites, Google filters the content which can result in a loss of rankings of your web pages. Duplicate content forces Google to choose which one of the identical pages should rank, and they might not choose the original page.
While some similar content is inevitable, several identical web pages might negatively impact your rankings.
If someone wanted to attack your site, they could take your site content and redistributes it on several websites.
To avoid this, you can use tools to track if your site content is duplicated. Sites like Copyscape.com can detect if the content on your site is being used anywhere else. If you're worried about being targeted by negative SEO tactics, you might consider checking to make sure your content is duplicated on a regular basis.
3. Hacking your website.
While most of these negative SEO tactics are off-page, sometimes a competitor will hack your site and use on-page methods to impact your rankings.
They could hack and alter your code, so you can't tell something's wrong unless you're looking at the code.
Another way they could hack your site is by editing your robots.txt file. This file tells a crawler how to interact with your site, including what pages not to crawl. If a hacker can access this, they can use your robots.txt file to tell Google to ignore your most important pages or the whole site.
One way to avoid this is to set up Google Webmaster Tools email alerts. These email alerts will tell you if your site is being attacked by malware, pages aren't being indexed, or you get a manual penalty from Google.
Additionally, you can protect from hackers by using two-factor authentication, strong passwords, creating back up files, and antivirus protection.
4. Generating negative reviews.
While having a variety of reviews can actually help your SEO, an overwhelming amount of negative reviews can impact your business's reputation.
One negative SEO tactic a competitor can use is to flood your site with negative reviews because they're easy to manipulate.
To avoid this, you should monitor your reviews and make sure you use them as an opportunity to respond and interact with your audience.
If you've spotted a fake review from someone who's misrepresenting their identity or the connection to your business, you can flag them right on Google.
5. Creating fake social profiles.
Another tactic a competitor can use to impact your rankings is to create fake social profiles in your company's name. This is done to ruin your reputation and spread false information.
To avoid this, when you come across fake profiles report them as spam before they start to get followers.
You can also use tools to track your social media mentions so you'll be informed when anyone mentions your name or site on social media. Most social media automation tools should have this capability, so you'll be alerted when a fake social profile is created.
Although negative SEO can seem like a scary concept, generally most websites don't have to worry about it. The important thing is that you monitor your SEO health on a regular basis to make sure you notice an attack before it impacts your site.