How to Combat & Recover from Negative SEO Attack: The Survival Guide

SMS Text
negative SEO

The email starts off with “This is an extortion email” and goes on to say if you do not pay a certain amount of money, the sender will hit your website with tactics they call negative SEO.

Now what? 

Yes, negative SEO exists and can impact your site’s performance on Google. Scraped content from your website, spammy links, and unnatural anchor text are all evidence that your site might have been a victim of negative SEO. While it is difficult to avoid an attack, especially for larger sites, it is not impossible to stay protected.

What Exactly is Negative SEO?

Negative SEO is when someone uses unethical, black hat techniques to harm a website’s rankings in the search results. Basically, they do everything Google says not to do in order to make it look you are violating Google policies. Although negative SEO can take different forms, here are some common ways your site can be attacked:

  • Building bad links to your site using unrelated keywords
  • Hacking your website to add malicious code
  • Creating fake social profiles of your company

Why Can Negative SEO be Risky?

Google can’t always tell the difference between a site being hit with negative SEO and an actual spammer, which is why you should always keep an eye on your websites links and traffic. Start-ups or new websites are generally not a target (but they can be); it is usually bigger websites that become the prey.

Google has started to address this issue and is now providing solutions through the Google Webmaster Tools and the Disavow tool. This is another reason why people tend to avoid taking a risk.

There’s either good SEO or bad SEO. Negative SEO is an intentional act of spamming a website or over-optimizing it to lower its rankings in SERPs or get it penalized by Google (in worst-case scenarios).

Types of Negative SEO

Unfortunately, negative SEO works incredibly well and has the potential to harm your site in many different ways. Let’s dig deeper into the world of negative SEO before you get hit by Google’s ban hammer.

Here are the types of negative SEO your business can encounter:

Bad Links

Your competitor can build bad links to your website by paying off a few dollars to adult sites, gambling sites, or a banned website. Creating a link farm is the easiest way to get you hit with a Google penalty. This is done by creating a group of websites that hyperlink to each other to increase the number of incoming links.

If a competitor does this aggressively enough, Google may ban your site. Some aggressive negative SEOs will only target to take down a specific page on the website by building low-quality links to a subpage.

Unnatural Anchor Text

Unnatural anchor text is a link using anchor text that is not related to the page on which it exists or is linked to. It is a common negative SEO technique that can harm your ranking and get you penalized. Thus, it is vital to ensure all the anchor text linking to your website uses relevant keywords.

Domain Redirects

A 301 redirect passes 90-99 percent of the link juice or ranking power to the redirected page. When used for negative SEO, the competitor can:

  • 301 redirect unrelated/banned domains to your site
  • 301 redirect gambling/SEO/pharma/adult domains to your site

Virus and Malware

Implantation of malware can result in site intrusion. If a malicious code is entered into the HTML source code of your website by a hacker, Google could quickly de-list your site. You would probably find out the code was inserted after receiving an alert email in your Webmaster Tools account or if somebody saw a notice on Google upon searching for your website.

A virus or Trojan Horse can lower a website’s trust rating. As a result, your website is likely to be reported as unreliable. WordPress hacks and SQL Injection are two common tactics used in negative SEO. Moreover, your site can also be infected with a display message like “This site may harm your computer”.

Playing Profile Games

A number of black hatters are engaged in creating fake profiles to adversely impact their competitor’s business. Running blog spammers with competitor’s link or spamming people with competitor’s domain name mentioned are two common types of negative SEO.

Maximizing Problems

Yet other tactics that can be used to attack your website with negative SEO including:

  • Linking the website to pages that do not exist
  • Creating multiple duplicate content (which will get Google’s immediate attention)

How Can You Find Out if your Website is a Victim of Negative SEO?

Finding out whether or not your site has been affected by negative SEO can be difficult. Here are some tips to spot any negative SEO attacks on your site:

Sudden Fall in Search Traffic

If you haven’t gone against the Google Webmaster guidelines but there’s a massive drop in search traffic, you might be a victim of negative SEO. This is why it is important to pay attention to traffic coming to your website. This can be done by using a variety of tools like Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, Searchmetrics, SEMrush, etc.

Google Analytics

  • Go to Google Analytics and open your website
  • Click on Acquisition on left side bar
  • Click All Traffic to see whether there has been any decrease in traffic

Google Webmaster Tools

Login to your Google Webmaster Tools account.

  • Click on Open Campaign
  • Click Search Traffic
  • Click Search Queries

You will get a graph reflecting your website’s traffic. Go through this data to find out if traffic to your website has fallen recently.

For a quick review, try these tools:

Searchmetrics

  • Go to Searchmetrics’ Essentials page
  • Look for the Start your analysis now button on the right side and enter your website URL
  • The dashboard will show you a graph of your website’s SEO visibility and paid visibility and the traffic coming to your website.

SEMrush

  • Go to SEMrush
  • Type in your website URL
  • Different graphs and charts on the dashboard will show the changes in traffic and an overview of the website.

SEMrush

Screenshot taken on 08/19/2014 of http://www.semrush.com/info/www.searchenginejournal.com?db=us

Conduct a Backlink Audit

Spammers can build low quality links to your site. Conducting a backlink audit is the most important step you can take to see if your website is a victim of negative SEO. Use tools like Google Webmaster Tools, Ahrefs, and Open Site Explorer to see if someone is building spammy links to your site.

Google Webmaster Tools

You can use Google Webmaster Tools to download your site’s latest links.

  • Go to Google Webmaster Tools
  • Click on Search Traffic>Links to your Site

This will give you an overview of all your inbound links.

  • Click on “More” under “Who links the most” for a list of all domains linking to your site.
  • Under “How your data is linked” section, you can find pages that are linked to most often within your website.

Export both of these reports to check for low quality websites linking to your site and anchor text that is too long.

Ahrefs

  • Go to Ahrefs.com and enter your full domain into the search bar.
  • Click on Inbound links>Links

This will show you a report with all the link information and a lot of data to analyze.

Ahrefs

Screenshot taken on 08/19/2014 of https://ahrefs.com/site-explorer/backlinks/external/subdomains/all/all/1/ahrefs_rank_desc?target=www.searchenginejournal.com

Look out for links that appear on a domain not indexed by Google, websites with malware warnings, link farms, or links from a page with zero Google PageRank.

Majestic SEO

This is another great tool for backlink profile analysis. On the homepage of Majestic SEO, type your site name into the search bar and make sure to check Use Fresh Index.

  • Click on the Backlinks tab
  • Scroll to the bottom and click Download Data

Majestic SEO

Screenshot taken on 08/19/2014 of http://www.majesticseo.com/reports/site-explorer/top-backlinks?removeDeleted=1&q=www.searchenginejournal.com&oq=www.searchenginejournal.com&IndexDataSource=F

This will give you a list of your top backlinks with URL flow metrics, domain flow metrics, and link type.

Open Site Explorer

Enter the URL of your website in the search bar. Click on Inbound links. The link data will include the title and URL of your linking page, link anchor text, link URL, as well as page and domain authority.

Check for Unnatural IPs

If your site and target markets are located entirely in a particular country, foreign IPs or TLDs should not be pointing to your site. Check for these foreign IPs and pay attention if there are multiple links from the same IP irrespective of the domain.

SEMrush can be used to check IPs. This can be done by:

  • Enter the domain of your website on the homepage
  • Click Backlinks on the left pane
  • Select Referring IPs from the drop down

Unnatural-IPs--SEMrush

Screenshot taken on 08/19/2014 of http://www.semrush.com/info/searchenginejournal.com+%28backlinks_refips%29

Check for Duplicate Content

Also check for duplicate copies of your content across the web. Copyscape is a great tool you can use to check for duplicity of your content. All you have to do is enter your site’s URL and the tool will scan the content to see if it has been copied elsewhere on the web.

How to Combat Negative SEO

If you were too late to take preventive measures against negative SEO and it has already caused a severe harm, it’s time to run a full-fledged rescue operation!

Data Organization: Organize all the link data you have collected from Google Webmaster Tools, Ahrefs, Majestic SEO, and Open Site Explorer then copy/paste the data from each link source into relevant sheets. Make sure you remove the duplicates from the sheet by going to the Data tab and selecting “Remove Duplicates”, so you have only one URL link.

Identifying Bad Links: When there’s a relatively huge list of backlinks, it gets time-consuming to go through each one of them for the bad links identification purpose. Use tools like URL Profiler, CognitiveSEO, and Backlinks Monitor, to identify bad links and unnatural anchor text.

Disavow the Bad Links: After you have identified and made the list of the links to be removed, submit the data into the Disavow Tool. The Disavow Tool will label a link with a tag so that Google algorithm does not credit it to your site in a positive or negative way, but keep in mind there are mixed reports on the efficacy of the tool.

You can use the Disavow tool to disavow individual links or the whole domain. I recommend using the tool as the last resort. Here’s a complete guide on Identifying Bad Links and Pruning Them Using Google’s Disavow Tool.

Contact the Webmasters: The key point to understand is that disavowing a link won’t help you come out clean. You need to contact the domain webmasters and ask them to remove these links. Getting the contact details of all these bad links might take you several days. This is where tools such as URL Profiler and Rmoov come handy:

URL Profiler

Once you have made the csv of the backlinks, URL profiler will help you in getting the contact information of the webmasters. Upload the csv into the tool and click on:

  • Email addresses
  • Whois Emails
  • Whois Information

The tool will take some time to fetch contact details for you.

URL Profiler

Screenshot taken on 08/19/2014 for http://urlprofiler.com/

You can try the tool free for 30 days before going for the paid version.

Rmoov

Rmoov is one of the best tools to help find webmasters’ contact information quickly. In addition to providing contact details, the tool can also send automated link removal requests to webmasters on your behalf. The email can be customized and SMTP password can be shared to send bulk link removal emails on your behalf

You can try the Basic version of the tool, which is available for free, to check the effectiveness of the tool. However, there are limitations on number of campaigns and URLs processed. The basic version allows you to search only 250 URLs. Register for the paid version for more URLs.

Some webmasters might immediately remove the links, if you are lucky, while others may try to charge you money. If they are trying to charge you to remove the links, simply mark down the site and attach the correspondence details to the reconsideration request you will be sending to Google.

How to Prevent Negative SEO

Prevention is always better than cure. Here are several measures you can take to prevent negative SEO.

Set up Google Webmaster Tools Email Alert

This should be your very first step to combat negative SEO. By setting up the alerts, you will receive an email from Google if:

  • Your website is attacked by malware
  • There’s a server connectivity problem
  • You have received a manual penalty from Google

All you have to do is log in to your account and click on “Webmaster Tools Preferences”. Choose to receive alerts for all the issues by enabling email notifications.

Google Alerts

Google Alerts will help you keep an eye on what others are saying about your website. You will be notified immediately of any review or mention of your website on Google.

  • Enter the URL of your website
  • Click on Show Options to set filters
  • Choose All Results from the drop down on How Many
  • Enter your email to create alert

Google Alerts

Screenshot taken on 08/19/2014 of https://www.google.com/alerts#1:0

Keep Track of your Social Media Mentions

Spammers might also adopt techniques like creating fake social media profiles of your account. Report them immediately as spam.

You can use Mention.net to find out if someone is using your brand name on social media. Whenever someone mentions your company’s name on social media, you will be notified.

Conclusion

If you receive an email threatening harm to your site with negative SEO tactics if you do not pay up, it is important to stay calm and report the email to Google. Extortion emails are cropping in the industry a lot lately, so make sure you take measures to stay safe.

You should also ensure your site is verified in Google Webmaster Tools and check your links regularly in the above mentioned tools. If you suspect your site has been targeted by negative SEO, follow the steps mentioned above. Negative SEO is a serious issue and should be handled carefully. Just stay a little extra vigilant and make sure you stay protected.

 

Featured Image: vetkit via Shutterstock

Navneet Kaushal
Navneet Kaushal is the founder and CEO of India’s leading search marketing agency PageTraffic. You can follow him at twitter @navneetkaushal.
Navneet Kaushal
Navneet Kaushal
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  • http://www.sudorank.com Dale Harries

    You forgot the most scary negative seo tactic…

    Google+1 bombing.

    • http://technoratan.in Gautam Sehgal

      Mr. Dale, If you have something regarding “Google+1 bombing” that would help the readers of SEJ, you may please drop it here.

  • http://ignitevisibility.com John Lincoln

    Why not just look at your list of recent new links to start? Then contact those websites and see who made them? Also block them and alert Google.

    • http://pagetraffic.com Navneet Kaushal

      Thats a good start, however its not necessary that all the new links shows up in GWT right away. Hence will recommend checking in other tools too.

  • http://wishesngreetings.com Nikhil ganotra

    Hello Navneet,

    Great write up indeed!

    Recently, I lost my all traffic from USA. I have written one post which was ranking on 15th position and went down to 36th position after the recent pigeon update.

    Is there any way to recover it?

    Appreciate your efforts in delivering this ultinate article ūüôā

  • http://wishesngreetings.com Nikhil ganotra

    Hello Navneet,

    Recently, I lost my all traffic from USA. I have written one post which was ranking on 15th position and went down to 36th position after the recent pigeon update.

    Is there any way to recover it?

    Thanks for sharing this ultimate article.

    • http://pagetraffic.com Navneet Kaushal

      Pigeon update is not related to links its more for local. There has been some other recent updates too. So double check and see if its due to any other issue/update.

  • Rank Watch

    Great insights. The best would be to start building diversified anchor texts ASAP and report the negative SEO links via disavow tool.

    • http://pagetraffic.com Navneet Kaushal

      Agree. However removal of those negative links is equally important. Disavow is not enough.

      • http://technoratan.in Gautam Sehgal

        Sir, Recently a couple of porn websites started linking to me, I made a link disavow request to Google, but because I was unable to contact the admins of those blogs, I couldn’t get it removed. Now I just checked, one of the sites is suspended by Google, and the other one is still there, but my link being removed.

        What can we do in such cases when we are not able to get the link removed from any particular domain.
        Is blocking the referral traffic from that domain the only option? or you could suggest something more prominent.

        Thank You

  • Simply Zesty

    I’ve seen more and more site fall victim of these shady, reprehensible tactics in recent years.

    Best advice: Know your site. Stay up to date with these tactics and always monitor your site activity fr any signs of irregular activity.

  • http://technoratan.in Gautam Sehgal

    Initially when I started, working on Technoratan, really didn’t know about all this stuff and I had suffered a lot because of bad and unnatural backlinks and of-course, “Bad SEO”. Now I keep a regular watch on my webmaster stats. This article has refreshed my knowledge base as I should adopt a couple of left techniques mentioned here. Indeed a very informative article.

  • http://www.bloggingtechniques.com Mustafa Gaziani

    Hi Navneet,

    Nice tips to prevent from negative SEO. I didn’t hear before about majestic SEO I just know about it from your post and it’s very popular to find backlinks where it comes from.

    Thanks for sharing this valuable post ūüôā

    Regards,
    Mustafa

  • http://technosoftwares.com/ miketat

    Its one of the most useful and helpful for Internet marketers. It covers all aspects for recovery and saving tips from negative SEO. Thanks for sharing such worthy post.

  • http://netgainsorg.tumblr.com/ Richard

    Thanks Navneet for such an informative post.. All my doubts that I have related to negative SEO are now cleared. I am waiting for your next post.. Keep writing..

  • Rituraj Shrivastava

    Actually if someone is dedicated enough to carry the neg seo you cant really do much about that.The problem is webmaster tools only show links after 10-15 days to a month after it first index.Which more often than not enough time to affect your SERP.

  • http://www.seoyo.in Strawberry Loco

    Yes, One should take care while creating SEO for your site.If negative SEO is done for your site, it may harm your website.

  • http://www.seoyo.in/ john clerk

    Yes, negative does exits. we should take care of such things while doing SEO for our websites.