Negative SEO: Should You Be Worried?

Black HatOne of the buzziest buzzwords in 2014 is, unfortunately, negative SEO. Recently, Forbes’ contributor Jayson DeMers chronicled how his small company was targeted by scammers. They demanded he pay them US$250 (£151.56); if he didn’t, they’d flood his website with inbound links – and not the high-quality, authoritative links that Google likes so much and which visitors trust so much either. Are schemes like this common, and, if they are, can you protect your website?

What is Negative SEO?

Prior to the Penguin update, the more links, the better. Link farms, link schemes, you couldn’t buy enough of these things.  With this major update, Google told websites in no uncertain terms that poor-quality, spammy links would not be tolerated. Infamous JC Penney and Overstock.com penalties, which caused both retailers to drop precipitously in the search engine results pages, emphasised just how serious Google was.

Now, while this was a great move for searchers – and quality, legitimate websites – it did have an unsavory consequence. It opened up a side industry in negative SEO, where “mercenaries” like those who targeted DeMers, thrive by threatening sites with spammy links.

In addition to bad links, negative SEOs can:

  • Copy your site’s content and distribute it over the internet.  Bam…duplicate content penalties for you.
  • Point links to your site using such reputable and estimable keywords as “Viagra.”
  • Developing false social media profiles in your name or that of your website or business.
  • Removing your high-quality backlinks.
  • Hacking into your website and having free run over your content and backend workings.

Should You Worry?

Yes and no. Yes, it could be devastating if your site were targeted, but no, it’s not that likely. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, says:

In my experience, there’s a lot of people who talk about negative SEO, but very few people who actually try it, and fewer still who actually succeed. I know that there’s been a lot of people stressed about this. Whenever we dig into what’s actually going on, there’s been a lot of discussion but very little in ways of actually people trying to do attacks.

It is best to run your website, do your white hat SEO, and produce quality content as usual – but remain aware and take steps to keep your site – and your online reputation – intact. How?

  • Log into your Google Webmaster Tools account and enable email alerts. Google will let you know if your pages are not indexed, your site is attacked by malware, or if you’ve received a manual Google penalty. Simply click on Webmaster Tools Preferences. Enable email notifications for All Issues and click Save.
  • Monitor your backlink profile. See what types of sites are linking to your sites to ensure they are legitimate. You can ask a reputable SEO firm to help you develop and monitor your profile or use a tool such a Majestic SEO, Ahrefs, or Open Site Explorer.
  • Use a tool such as CopyScape to monitor for duplicate content, and keep an eye on your site speed. A sudden and marked slowdown can indicate that spammers or negative SEOs have attacked it.

If you do find bad links:

  • Contact the webmaster and request they remove the links.
  • Use Google’s Link Disavow tool. If you’ve taken every step possible to remove bad links, you can request that Google ignore them when assessing your site.

Like Matt Cutts reminds us, there is likely nothing to “stress” about. So don’t. Just be on top of your link profile and content to spot trouble before it can take root.

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