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What does negative SEO mean?

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 20 Oct, 2014
Essential Essential topic

3 case studies showing how negative SEO works

Negative search engine optimization (SEO) can take many forms, but the most dangerous are those you never see coming. It’s not indulging in 'black hat tricks' hoping you’ll never get caught, getting lazy when defining 'quality content' or getting talked into invisible text as a means for boosting your rankings. The worst kind of negative SEO is an attack from the competition. It can be many things, but some of the most common include:

  • A competitor buying 'bad links' and then pointing them to your site to sink your rankings
  • Hacking websites to inflict damage
  • 'Review bombing,' which seems like a positive thing at first, but when the competition floods review sites with glowing reviews for you it seems 'paid for' and can result in a search engine penalty
  • Reporting you falsely to Google for participating in black hat tricks
  • Stealing non-indexed content
  • DMCA removal requests

Unfortunately, website owners have very little control over external links, but you can still protect your website from this type of negative SEO. The best offense is a good defense, and when it comes to the battle for SEO rankings, remember that 'playing clean' will always keep you ahead in the long haul. Consider negative SEO watchdogging just as important as those Google Analytics tools or daily social media reporting.

Case Study 1: Bestseller blasting on Amazon

Your competition doesn’t need to be an SEO guru and read Smart Insight's SEO hub for tips (or even know what SEO is an acronym for) in order to engage in a full-blown negative SEO attack. Recently, bestselling crime author RJ Ellory was caught flooding Amazon with fake review (ironic, right?). He was found both writing high reviews for his own books while simultaneously writing horrendous reviews for those he saw as his top competitors. The British writer was caught by another writer, Jeremy Duns, who brought down a media firestorm via Twitter.

Duns tweeted, 'Ellory writes five-star reviews of his own work on Amazon. Long, purple tributes to his own magnificent genius. RJ Ellory also writes shoddy, (insert four letter word here) sniping reviews of other authors’ work on Amazon, under an assumed identity.' At least two pen names have been used by Ellory, but (wisely) Ellory’s publisher, Orion Books, has chosen not to comment when ABC reached out. However, Ellory himself has admitted his actions and sends his regrets.

Case Study 2: Journal website hacked and content ruined

The DeNovo Journal Online was recently hacked with what appears to be the sole purpose of destroying and changing content. Dr. Ketchum, the website’s owner, temporarily took the website down until repairs could be made and worked diligently with the hosting company to make repairs as quickly as possible. On Facebook, Dr. Ketchum wrote, 'The haters have been busy,' when describing the experience. This isn’t her first experience with what she’s dubbed the 'Melba Haters,' a group that’s seeking to discredit her work with DNA.

Once the site was hacked, much of the high quality content was removed completely while 'new' content was added. The false content suggested that Dr. Ketchum’s DNA Study did not abide by Peer Review standards. By removing quality content, the hackers effectively altered the overall content quality of the site which in the long haul would destroy SEO rankings. Fortunately, the website owner caught it quickly and took the proper steps: Temporarily removing the site until security could be optimized and the quality brought back up to standards.

Case Study 3: Reviews for the highest bidder

There’s writing fake reviews (for better or worse) for free, and then there’s buying fake reviews. The New York Times recently reported that Yelp has been hosting sting operations and has caught employees posing as reviewers in order to make some extra cash. Yelp has also caught companies trying to bribe people for reviews, offering up to $50 for a glowing review on their site. While this type of negative SEO can get expensive quickly, it might be worth it to some competitors who have a particular bone to pick.

The good news is that reputable review sites like Yelp are doing everything they can to protect fellow businesses. The bad news is that it’s not Yelp’s responsibility: It’s yours. Protecting a website against negative SEO is solely the job of the website owner, no matter how fierce the competition may be.

Protect your online reputation

Here’s how to protect yourself and your online reputation from getting wrongly marred:

  • Keeping your website clean

Following SEO best practices as well as security best practices is the number one way to keep negative SEO at bay. As a website owner, remember:

  • Sites with strong domain authority aren’t as vulnerable to negative SEO as others
  • Engaging in negative SEO is very dangerous, so your competition has to think it’s wroth it
  • If you monitor SEO factors, you can catch negative SEO and correct it in a timely manner
  • Google’s review systems are pretty solid and recovery happens quickly

Recently, Google launched the webmaster’s Disavowal Tool which is very effective, very powerful, and should only be used as a last resort. It’s for removing links you believe are dangerous and were not added by you.

However, it’s always best to clean up links yourself manually before opting to Disavowal. If you and your webmaster believe that this is, indeed, your best bet, you can start the process now.

  • Tools for fighting back

One of the best ways to prevent negative SEO is to simply catch it early. You can do this by setting up Google Webmaster Tools Email Alerts or opting for another alert program.

Google’s will instantly alert you if it’s suspected that your site is on the receiving end of a malware attack, pages aren’t indexed, you just got dinged with a Google penalty or there are issues with server connectivity. Get started by clicking on 'Webmaster Tools Preference' and enabling email alert preferences.

Also make sure to watch your backlinks profile via a tool like Ahrefs. This is how you can manually see if someone is building links pointed to your site. Other reputable options are MonitorBacklinks.com or Open Site Explorer. You don’t have to opt for manual either; automate your backlinks check and get a report letting you know if anything seems fishy.

Sometimes negative SEO happens to the best of businesses. However, it’s how quickly and well you respond that really matters.

Thanks to Larry Alton for sharing his advice and opinions in this post. Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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