How to prevent Negative SEO attacks
Today we’re going to talk about negative SEO attacks, what to look for, and what to do about them.
We have a home services company client’s website that is currently under attack, so I thought we’d share some info about this topic.
A negative SEO attack is a practice of using techniques that are intentionally trying to hurt the victim website by reducing or eliminating its rankings, traffic, and content.
Google is constantly monitoring for these and other black-hat techniques, and they’ve come a long way to where most negative SEO attacks have very low success rates. Even if successful, they’re often easily fixed.
But these methods can and do still work and affect your rankings, traffic, and lead flow, so they need to be protected against and monitored for.
Here are the most common negative SEO attacks and what you can do about them:
Spammy links – links from other websites to yours, known as backlinks, are the #1 ranking factor in Google and SEO professionals have manipulated that fact ever since there was a Google.
In the old days, you could send a bunch of links from networks of spammy, low-content sites and they would boost the target website’s ranking ability.
Links ruled and they still do but just not like that anymore.
Google recognized these and other “black-hat” tactics and went after them over the years, and today, many algorithm updates later, they now punish sites that use these spammy link farms.
Today, Google values links that come from sites with content, traffic, topical expertise, and authority.
They dismiss links from spammy sites as having zero value.
But if a flood of those spammy links come in continuously, then your site could be mistaken by Google for one that’s trying to game the system.
The penalty for that is they reduce or remove you from the search results pages and with that goes your traffic, calls, and lead forms.
So those old spammy link farms that used to help rank sites but no longer do can now be used as weapons.
This is what is happening to our client I spoke about. Their site has been receiving a couple of links per day, every single day, from very spammy blog sites for several months now.
It started happening right after our client moved to the neighboring city.
He had been dominating the SERPs for his services in the previous city and now he moved, which always results in a dip in rankings for a while. At the same time, we get business directories and citations corrected and some new site content and local links established.
We had expected the dip in rankings, traffic, and leads, so it was the perfect time to strike a negative SEO campaign.
The client did not get a manual penalty, but the rankings did lag longer than expected.
That made us check everything, which led us to the backlinks which revealed the attack.
Attacks are rare, so we admittedly got caught off-guard for a little while due to the circumstances.
But as soon as we saw the backlink profile, we knew what was happening. It took a solid day to screen, list, and disavow all those spammy links.
Now we’ve set up link alerts and brand mention alerts for this and all of our clients to catch these as they’re happening.
So let’s review that…
What to do about spammy backlinks
Protect your site from spammy links by using a tool like ahrefs to monitor new incoming links and send you an alert. Set a practice to check new and existing backlinks regularly.
Look out for links from URLs that have a bunch of outgoing links but no incoming links.
Look out for links from sites with a very low domain rating (DR).
Look out for links from sites with low or no traffic, or have nothing to do with your business, industry, or town.
Look out for links from spammy blog networks like *.blogspot.com. This is where our client’s attack was coming from.
Click on all incoming links – but first, make sure you have live virus protection software on your browser because many of these bogus sites will try to plant some malicious code on your site – never click a button or popup on any of these sites.
Check out the linking site URL. Does it look like a real site?
Scroll down to the footer and look there too.
Don’t click on anything.
Make a text file list, one URL per line, of each bogus link URL or its domain, and build a final list.
This is going to be a “disavow list” that you’re going to upload into Google Search Console for your website property and tell them to ignore these links.
This file also tells Google that it’s not you buying or sending these spammy links.
In case they’ve hit you with a manual action penalty, this will help you get that lifted.
You’ll need to do this link review regularly. You should not have any problems, but if you’re in a very competitive local market, you might find yourself under link attack, and now you know what to do.
I’ll leave a link to Google’s info on their Disavow tool on the blog post transcription of this episode.
Link removal – is another tactic used – in this one, they run your website through software to identify your best, most valuable links. They contact those websites, oftentimes posing as someone from your company and asking them to remove the link.
So you also need to monitor your existing links and set up alerts if any of them are removed or lost.
What to do about link removal is to simply contact that webmaster and inform them of the situation and that you’d like to have that link restored.
Content duplication is another tactic used – they may copy & paste your content across many sites, which Google doesn’t like, and might penalize all sources by just not ranking any of them.
Use software tools like Copyscape to search for any copies of your content on the Internet.
What to do about stolen website content
If you find content plagiarism, then contact the website owner and tell them that it’s your content and they violate Copyright laws and to remove the content.
Thieves won’t do that, but most webmasters will.
With thieves, you’ll have to go one step further and look up what company is hosting that website, then contact that hosting company and inform them of the situation. Nearly all hosting companies will then remove the content or shut down the site.
If you can’t resolve the issues with either tactic, you should also file a “Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)” complaint with Google. After investigations, Google may disable all access to any content that violates copyright laws.
Fake Reviews & Social Media Profiles
Spammers will sometimes choose to create social media profiles in your brand’s name and then have a flood of negative reviews made to it.
What to do about fake social media accounts & reviews
Set up Google Alerts to notify you anytime your brand name, your name, and other key names are mentioned anywhere on the Internet.
Be sure your company has secured brand accounts on all the major social media platforms. Even if you don’t use them much, get control of your brand name there. Put in the required graphics and information and then check on them occasionally.
Use a reputation management software that will scour the Internet and look for reviews about your company.
Respond to all reviews.
If someone has created fake social accounts, contact the social platform with the facts, and be prepared to show proof of who you are and who your company is.
Hacking into your website and deleting or altering content, changing the Robots.txt file to ignore pages, or blocking all bots from the entire site.
What to do about internal website attacks
Use long, strong, mixed-character passwords.
Use a tool like LastPass to generate and store your passwords.
Deploy two-step authentication to access your website admin section.
Keep the site and its CMS, plugins, and themes updated weekly.
Contact your hosting company and make sure you have automatic backups added.
In summary, as if you didn’t have enough to monitor and keep an eye on already, negative SEO is yet another problem to keep an eye out for. If you experience decreased rankings or have been hit with a manual penalty from Google, it may be due to a competitor playing dirty.
Now you know how to fight back, get the penalty removed, and get back your rankings, traffic, and leads.
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