There’s nothing more terrifying than witnessing your site disappear from search engines overnight.
That can happen if your site is the victim of a negative SEO attack.
This type of intentional attack can leave your site vulnerable and susceptible to harsh deindexing by major search engines.
But you’re not defenseless.
In today’s post, I’ll show you how to stop negative SEO from ruining your rankings in just five simple steps.
What is negative SEO?
Negative SEO is the practice of purposely sabotaging a competitor’s search engine rankings by using unethical SEO tactics and other hacks that specifically target the competitor’s site.
Some of the more common forms of negative SEO include:
- Link spamming
- Link redirecting
- Content copying
- Link removal
- Website hacking
It all started back in 2012, shortly after Google released its first Penguin update—an update meant to remove legitimately spammy websites from search results.
Naturally, it didn’t take long for shady businesses to start using the Penguin update’s algorithm changes to hurt their top competitors.
Essentially, what they do is use various unethical tactics to place their competitor’s website in a status that goes against Google’s site quality guidelines.
Google has done a lot to combat negative SEO. But it still occurs on a semi-regular basis, especially to highly competitive sites.
That being said, negative SEO does not discriminate. And anyone can be a target. So it’s imperative that you know how to stop negative SEO before it kills your rankings.
Below, you’ll find a 5-step plan to help you do just that.
How to Stop Negative SEO in Its Tracks with 5 Simple Steps
Step 1: Secure your site
Here’s a fact:
Any unsecured website is at risk of being attacked by hackers.
These hackers can infiltrate your site within minutes and do things like:
- Redirect your most popular links back to their site
- Remove your most valuable backlinks
- Change your robots.txt file
- And countless other harmful changes
Any of these “hacks” have the potential of getting your site either heavily penalized or deindexed altogether by all of the major search engines.
Needless to say…
You need to make sure your site is properly protected from these attacks.
Here are two ways to do that:
A. Migrate your site to HTTPS
HTTPS is a secured version of HTTP.
And it means that all information transferred between your browser and the website is encrypted…
…which helps keep out unwanted hackers.
Some web hosting providers like HostGator offer HTTPS for free with a hosting package. So there’s a chance you might already have it.
To make sure, look for “https” at the beginning of your site’s URL inside your browser’s address bar:
And if you haven’t yet migrated to HTTPS, this guide will tell you how to do it.
B. Keep your software up to date
This includes both your website tools (like plugins) and website security software.
Plugin updates often include important security updates that fix potential security issues that were overlooked in previous updates.
And security software helps ensure your site is running the most effective and efficient anti-hacking programs.
If you’re not currently using security software on your site, then I strongly encourage you to install it as soon as possible.
If “free” floats your boat, then OpenVAS is a site vulnerability package you’ll want to check out.
Or, if you’re willing to shell out a few bucks for a premium service that adds a few additional features and more conveniences, then Netsparker might be more up your alley.
Step 2: Track your backlinks daily
Link spamming is the most common type of negative SEO.
It occurs when someone (most likely a competitor) sends hundreds or thousands of low-quality links to your site with the sole intention of lowering your site’s rankings.
The problem with link spamming is that it’s so easy to do.
Any “Joe Shmoe” can buy a few hundred low-quality links to send to a competitor website for pennies on the dollar.
But the good news is that clearing up a link spam attack is equally as simple, so long as you have the right tools at your disposal.
If you’re using Monitor Backlinks (and you should be), here’s what you would do:
Let’s pretend you logged in to your Monitor Backlinks account three days ago and saw that you had 69 backlinks that Google considers for ranking purposes:
Now, let’s pretend you log in today and see this:
Your site’s received 108 new followed backlinks in just three days, and all without you running a single backlink campaign.
That should be a crystal clear sign that something’s not right.
So you go to Your Links module and sort your backlinks by date added…
…and look at the list of backlinks.
98% of them have low authority scores and high spam rankings.
Looks like your site’s been the victim of a negative SEO attack.
So what do you do now?
It’s pretty simple and straightforward:
1. Create a disavow file that includes all spammy backlinks and domains.
2. Submit the completed disavow file to Google’s Disavow Tool.
Don’t worry. You won’t have to manually add each link and domain to your disavow list.
Monitor Backlinks’ Disavow Tool module will do it for you:
These two guides will show you how to disavow URLs and domains, step by step:
And if you’re not currently a Monitor Backlinks user?
I’ve got you covered here, too—sign up for a no-risk trial to take advantage of all these features (and more), for free.
Step 3: Monitor your site’s CTR
It’s no secret that Google places more weight on user experience now than ever before.
And one of the UX signals they value the most is a site’s bounce rate—the percentage of visitors who leave a website after viewing just one page.
So it was only a matter of time until unethical people started sabotaging competitors’ rankings via bounce rate manipulation.
Essentially, what they do is send a ton of traffic to a specific page or site and then have that traffic immediately leave.
What this does is wrongfully communicate to Google that the site offers a poor user experience to visitors, thus theoretically resulting in Google dropping it in their search results.
The good news is that Google typically catches this type of sabotage and prevents it from hurting your rankings. But as they admit themselves, they’re not perfect.
So your job is to keep tabs on your site’s CTR.
And you can do this by using Google’s Search Console, finding pages with a high CTR, and using Monitor Backlinks to disavow any necessary links to those pages.
Step 4: Search for scraped content
Scraped content is content that’s been copied verbatim from one site and published on another site.
Besides the fact that this is plagiarism in its truest form, it can also prove harmful to your rankings.
See, Google has no way of knowing for certain where content originated. So it understandably attributes original authorship to the page that gets indexed first.
What this means is that if a person who scraped your content manages to get it indexed before your own, then Google will think your page is the duplicate and penalize your site as a result.
The best way to combat this is to first search for scraped content using a tool like Copyscape to search for any copies of your page on the web…
…and then use a Legal Removal Request to get the scraper’s content removed.
Here’s a short video from Google that explains a bit more about the process:
Step 5: Monitor your Google rankings
A sudden and significant drop in search engine rankings can also be a sign of a negative SEO attack.
Catching a drop as soon as it happens will lessen the damages done by the attack.
That’s why it’s important for you to track your keyword rankings (plus their historical ranking) on a regular basis.
Monitor Backlinks’ Rank Tracker module can automatically track all of your target keywords for you and give you a detailed summary of their ranking history.
Here’s how it works:
First, go to the Rank Tracker module…
…and add your target keywords:
Once your keywords are added, sort your keyword list by “Ranking” and look for keywords that have dropped significantly in ranking:
After you find the affected keywords, use the Your Links module to locate the offending links pointing to the targeted keyword’s corresponding page, and disavow them if needed.
Thankfully negative SEO is more of a rarity these days.
And if it does occur, Google is usually good about making sure an attack on your site doesn’t negatively impact your site’s rankings.
That being said, some attacks can slip through the cracks.
As the saying goes:
The best defense is a good offense.
That’s why I strongly recommend you take the initiative to regularly track your backlinks and keyword rankings and check for signs of negative SEO attacks.
Following the five steps above will ensure you know how to stop negative SEO before it ever gets the chance to stop you.