Most business owners never have to worry about negative SEO. If you have your own website optimized for search engines, you probably never have to give another thought to SEO. But just in case you are attacked by a competitor who wants to play dirty, let's talk about what you can do about negative SEO.
What is Negative SEO?
Negative SEO can take several forms, including:
- Hacking your website and posting content that makes you look like a spammer in Google's eyes or deleting content that is performing well with search engines
- Linking to your website thousands of times from sites that Google considers to be spam or using linking techniques that Google flags as spam
- Copying your content and distributing it across the Internet so Google thinks you aren't original
- Removing legitimate links to your website that are helping you rank higher on Google
- Pretending to be you online so traffic that should go to your site goes to their site instead
Let's look at what you can do about each of these issues.
1. Stopping the Hackers
You're using a strong password, right? And you've protected your site with an antivirus to prevent malware, right? And you're making regular backups of your content, right? If you answered, "Right!" to all of these questions, you have nothing to worry about. If you didn't, consider this a little kick in the pants to get things in order. Most hackers will move on if your site is protected. They're looking for easy targets; don't give them one.
You should also monitor your website traffic. Someone can slow down your website by sending automated requests, and Google doesn't like a slow site (not to mention, your server could go down). I like Pingdom for monitoring site traffic.
2. Disavowing Spam Links
Someone building links to your website sounds good...at first. However, Google considers certain links and link activity to indicate that you're trying to game the system. For example, if you have tons of links coming from low quality sites or it looks like you've paid for links, Google might blacklist you, which means that you won't appear in search results.
Luckily, Google has created a disavow tool, which allows you to say, "Hey Google, I didn't ask for these links, and I don't want you to consider them when you look at my site." It can take a few months after clean-up for Google to start including your website in their rankings again, but they will work with webmasters who are being attacked by "black hats" who are creating these links specifically to discredit your site.
3. Deleting Copied Content
Google puts a lot of value on original content. Unfortunately, writing original content is a lot of work, so "scrapers" take content posted on other sites and post it on their own site as though it is there own.
The good news is that most of the time, Google can tell which is the original content and which is the scraped content. However, you can also use tools to find this scraped content and get it removed. Better safe than sorry! Copyscape is great at finding scraped content. Then, start by reaching out to the webmaster and asking them to remove the content.
If that doesn't work, you can contact the website's host. Most have a specific process to report that someone is copying your content. But, since plagiarism is illegal, they will help you get the content removed.
It might not be worth your time to go after every piece of scraped content out there. Prioritize by going after anything that actually hurts your reputation, such as mentions of your product on a site that is x-rated, anything that will create brand confusion, or using your copy to promote their own products.
4. Ensuring Your Links Stay in Place
When you get links from really great websites, it can help your rankings on Google. If your competitors know this, they may try to get these links deleted. Your very best defense is to actually get to know the people who linked to you. Build relations with these bloggers and webmasters so that no one can reach out, pretending to be you, and ask them to remove the link. Saying thank you when someone links to you has the added benefit of encouraging them to link to you again!
5. Stopping Copycats
Lastly, it can be damaging to your reputation, not to mention confusing to Google, if someone is pretending to be you online. When someone types your name or your company's name into Google, your website and social accounts should top the list. Of course, if you have a very common name, you might be competing for the top spot, but if someone is pretending to be you, you have bigger problems.
If you haven't already, make sure that your company name and product names are trademarked. This protects you from having these names be used by others. For example, I can't start up an animation studio and call it "Disney" or any variation that a judge will deem to be too close to the Disney name. If someone is pretending to be you, you'll be able to get a lawyer involved if your company names are protected.
Is someone pretending to be you on a social network? Most networks have ways to report this, so fake accounts that look like you are quickly removed.
I hope you never have to use my tips to help you deal with negative SEO! But if you do, remember to be patient. Search engines want to help you - they want their rankings to be the best they can be - but it can take time to overcome anything a black hat is trying to do to discredit you.
About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.