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by Oliver Ewbank on 18th April 2012
Well, negative SEO is the complete opposite to search engine optimisation. The objective is to reduce competitor’s page rankings in search results, often to artificially promote another website.Negative SEO is a hotly debated topic where some people believe Google has the power to protect websites from the threat of attacks. Others have been on the receiving end of suspicious behaviour which could only be down to the work of a brutal competitor.
The reality is that negative SEO can happen, especially if you operate in a competitive marketplace. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are a number of ways to identify negative tactics.
Everyone knows Google is staunchly against duplicate content and in particular duplicate websites. If your content appears on a different domain this can certainly cause you problems. Known as ‘site scraping’, this could be anything from your Home page content to a chunk of your FAQ section.
The solution is to carry out regular copy checks. There are a number of free plagiarism checker tools available to help you make sure nobody is using your content – including Copyscape. You can also occasionally check content on Google, simply by searching for a small section (possibly just a paragraph) on Google in quotation marks. Once you identify the source you are well within your right to demand they remove the content.
Negative Link Building
Negative link building is pretty self explanatory. This is where links are directed to your domain from bad neighbourhoods or other link schemes that are frowned upon by search engines. If Google can penalise a site for participating in link farms there is little to stop competitors doing the same. Hard to believe but this can happen.
The solution is to carry out regular backlink checks. Depending on your marketplace and the value of your domain this can be done weekly or even daily. If you sort by PageRank, IP address or even the date of the link you can quickly spot unnatural patterns. Once you find the source of the problem you can ask the host or link provider to remove the link.
If you don’t have ‘page one domination’ for your brand you are at risk to negative press appearing in search results. This could be anything from a personal review to a hub page deliberately optimised to appear in the SERPS.
The solution is to secure all the social profiles for your brand name. It would also be beneficial to set up Google Alerts for your brand so you can stay on top of any negative mentions.
On Site Attacks
On site attacks can include anything from hidden links in the source code to infecting sites with a virus. To avoid this situation it’s vital that you have high security on all password protected avenues. This includes FTP details and who has access to your Google Webmaster Tools. If a user has access to functions like this they can exclude pages and inflict crawl errors like broken links.
DOS or Denial of Service attacks are a less common form of negative SEO, but when performed well they can be massively devastating to a website. The basic premise of a DOS attack is that a hacker or programmer will write a program, often referred to as a “bot” or “botnet”, that infects multiple computers on multiple networks. This bot then uses the combined bandwidth of all of the infected computers (botnet) to bombard a website with requests from a diverse and distributed pool of IP addresses, exceeding the capacity of the web servers’; thus the website is effectively brought down making it unavailable to other users for the duration of the attack.
DOS attacks are more often used as leverage for people looking to blackmail companies, holding them to ransom in exchange for relenting the attack. There is almost nothing that can be done to prevent this from happening prior to the event itself, once your site becomes the target of such an attack there are options but if a botnet is large enough it will be nearly impossible to stop it.
The thought of negative SEO shouldn’t leave you feeling vulnerable but it should encourage regular checks. There are a number of ways to eliminate a page from the SERPs but Google’s algorithm can detect deliberate attacks. For example, if duplicate content goes live it will take into account the date and prioritise the original source.
If you do operate in a competitive sector there is no harm in being proactive. Regular content reviews and backlink checks should be part of your strategy for positive SEO.