neg_seoThe aim of search engine optimization (SEO) is to increase a site's visibility and ranking in the SERPs - and negative SEO aims at the opposite. How and why do people do this? Can there perhaps even be a legitimate reason for negative SEO? How can you recognize if your site is a victim of negative SEO? How much damage can it actually do, and how on earth can you defend yourself?

According to Myke Black there are three main cases where negative SEO is used:

 1. To downgrade a competitor's site ranking, also called SERP bubbling - generally performed alongside standard SEO.

 2. Large corporations, high profile figures and celebrities are using negative SEO marketing experts  to downgrade the rankings of sites that are detrimental to their image. This process is called Search Engine Reputation Management (SERM) or online reputation management and seems to becoming more and more common, since the number of companies that offer specialist advice and SERM services is increasing.

 3. Targeted Negative SEO (TNS) attacks on a website for political, financial or personal reasons: There is evidence that negative SEO is performed by some animal rights groups against animal testing firms and some would even argue that China's censorship of politically uncomfortable material amounts to Targeted Negative SEO.

 According to Kate Morris, however, the likelihood of your site being targeted with Negative SEO is slim, since it takes time, dedication and money to really work. Pointing thousands of low quality sites will not hurt your site in the long run if you have everything else right.

Here are Kate‘s five easy things to help you in the watch for possible negative SEO attacks:

1. Get emails: Set up Google Webmaster Tools email forwarding and update your profile in Bing Webmaster Center to get emails when you have messages, ideally weekly, but daily and monthly are choices as well. This will allow both engines to tell you immediately when they believe something is wrong with your site.

2. Set up alerts:  

a. Google

  • Your site name
  • Your domain name viagra (and a few other spam terms)

    [note: this won't work if you actually sell Viagra or talk about it, but you get the point] 

b. Check Analytics:

  • Sudden drop in traffic
  • Decrease in conversions
  • Increase in bounce rate

3. Check your site: Hand check the site, or get someone new to check it each time. Get a volunteer outside of your organization to search one of your terms you rank well for and have them browse the site. Get their feedback while you’re at it. This process gives you peace of mind that the site is working right and also gives you some information about usability. 

4. Track your links: Track link metrics from, for instance, OpenSiteExplorer, Majestic SEO, or AHREFs. Choose one and stay with it. Keep an eye on the total number of links and root domains. Any major changes should be investigated - look for things that stray from trends.  

5. Identify new referring domains: This is trickier, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy and can help with link building. Download a list of referrering sites in your analytics package—from 2 months ago and last month. Take out any sites that are mentioned twice, what is left over are the new referring domains. Look for oddities. Also, if there are new domains referring traffic and they look awesome, dig deeper, check what page is getting traffic, the anchor text, etc. And thank the person/company that linked to you.

Start with these five things and you should be well on your way to keeping tabs on your site. The best way though to combat Negative SEO is to build a site that is untouchable. Take the time to ensure your backlink profile is well developed and focus on relationships, not ranking #1 for any specific term. You may not like the idea of doing what Google or Bing recommend, but in the end it’s their index.

Normally, if you are hit by negative SEO, you soon find out, as your traffic drops like a stone, says Myke Black, who offers a few tips on how to defend yourself against negative SEO, too:

  1. Make sure you check Bing webmaster tools and Google webmaster tools regularly - also make sure that your email address is set up correctly, so you can react to notification emails promptly;
  2. If you are hit by a virus or malware, get your website back online as soon as possible, the longer you leave it, the worse it will be;
  3. Remove any potentially damaging material from your website and social media. Fix any pages that might have bad links on them, e.g. Facebook comments from bogus accounts;
  4. If it’s a DDOS attack, inform your ISP or webhost as they can usually do something to mitigate the damage;
  5. Disavow bad backlinks - Bing webmaster tools now allow you to report any backlinks from spam-related sources. Google does not yet have this feature, but hopefully it should be coming soon;
  6. Use reconsideration requests if you have been penalized. Although it take a little while to get dealt with is much faster than just letting Google figure it out on its own;
  7. Try to identify the source - sometimes offence is the best defense and if you can prove that a competitor is damaging your websites revenue, you may have grounds to sue.

The Hellbound Bloggers stated that the existence of Negative SEO has been kind of confirmed by Google with the launch of a new option in Google Webmaster Tools – Disavow Links - making it clear that backlinks from bad sites can affect visibility of a website negatively and therefore the “Disavow” links are needed. The guys however believe that” the Link Disavow option is a just a gimmick and an attempt to make webmasters believe that the fate of their websites is in their hands”.

In any case, keep on top of things always remains a challenge for SEO marketers. Thus, stay alert - not just with SERPs and search algorithms, but keeping an eye on possible attacks all the time, too.

By MediaBUZZ