Google is constantly trying to enforce its rules and guidelines regarding Web content, and as its algorithms get better every year at doing just that, websites that make use of methods designed to artificially manipulate the search results get penalized or removed from the indexes all the more often. However, while many less experienced Internet marketers end up being counterproductive in their goals to increase Web traffic by way of black-hat SEO methods, there are also situations where unscrupulous competitors use negative SEO against you. In this article, we’ll take a look at what negative SEO is and how it can affect your website.

What Is Negative SEO?

Negative SEO refers to search engine optimization methods that unscrupulous competitors may use to discredit your website in the eyes of the search engines. There are a variety of forms of negative SEO, but they often involve methods that exist to sabotage your website’s link profile in such a way that Google thinks you are using black-hat SEO methods yourself and penalizes your website as a consequence. Negative SEO can be very damaging to a website, largely because those who use it against you take advantage of the fact that many external links are largely beyond your control.

Common Methods

While Google is always improving the way its algorithms work to expose things like negative SEO, it can still have a significant impact on your website. Competitors may use any of the following methods to sabotage your website’s standing in the search engines:

  • Building hundreds or even thousands of low-quality links to your website, including ones on completely irrelevant websites and those of poor repute. Link buying is entirely against Google’s terms of use, but it is still one of the most common black-hat SEO tactics, with some online marketers even using it on themselves.
  • Pointing links to your website with keywords related to commonly spammed niches, such as online gambling, generic pharmaceuticals and adult content. If Google’s crawlers find any connection between your website and such heavily spammed content, you may have your website removed from the indexes.
  • Scraping and copying content from your website before the original content even gets indexed by the search engine crawlers. In such cases, Google may assume that the stolen content is the original content, increasing its rank in the search results accordingly. After all, Google will never display the same content twice in the search results.
  • Creating fake social media profiles, directory listings and reviews of your company online with the purpose of damaging your reputation as well as your standing in the search engines. Some may also post spam blog comments while posing as a representative of your website.
  • Attempting to discredit your website by encouraging webmasters to remove the most valuable links that your website has.

The above methods are among the most common used in negative SEO attacks, and as we’ll find out in the next section, they are all too common.

Negative SEO is a Real Threat

Negative SEO is still very much a real threat, although Google is getting better with every major algorithm update at combating it. If you’re not convinced that negative SEO is a real problem, you only need to take a look at the Black Hat SEO forums which are full of posts by individuals boasting about how they have successfully killed competitors by using techniques such as those mentioned above. It is not even difficult to find people willing to carry out negative SEO attacks for a small price, particularly at Fiverr, where thousands of individuals are offering such services.

Fortunately, Google’s Matt Cutts has made it very clear that the search engine giant is very much aware of the problem, and they have also released the Disavow Tool to help victims of negative SEO deal with the problem. However, prevention is far better than letting it get out of hand in the first place, not least because you probably can’t afford to have your website penalized for a month or more until Google finds out that you are the victim rather than the perpetrator.

How Can I Deal with Negative SEO?

Prevention is always the best cure, and keeping close tabs on your website’s link profile and its standing in the search engines will help you to expose any attempt at a negative SEO attack before its get out of hand. For a start, you should set up Google Webmaster Tools to send automatic email alerts whenever your website is being attacked by malware, your content isn’t being indexed, your site has reliability and speed issues or you have received a penalty from the search engine. Also, be sure to only use ethical, white-hat SEO tactics when conducting your own marketing campaign, lest your efforts turn out unproductive.

If your website has already been targeted, you should start by creating a list of backlinks that need to be removed before using Google’s Disavow tool to tell the search engine to disregard them when assessing your website. At the same time, be sure to keep a close eye on your website’s traffic, and be on the lookout for any duplicate content by using a service such as Copyscape.