How to Protect Your Site from Link Spam and Negative SEO

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Before beginning our discussion, let’s try to understand how classical SEO’s interpret their actions and strategies in search engine optimization. Broadly speaking, the entire SEO industry can be divided into two major groups. The first group believes in the idea of numbers while the second group believes in the idea of value.

The second group, which believes in generating value, is a very elite group of people who stay away from black hat trickery to gain higher ranks. Their idea is simple: generate value. Links, goodwill, reputation, and revenue will follow on their own, without having to cadge for it every single day. That’s the best, and probably the only, way to sustain a website and ensure that it stands the test of time.

However, people who believe that this is a “numbers game,” use all sorts of false measures and tricks to gain higher rankings as quickly and as easily as possible. They buy links from partner sites, spam the forums, and use deceptive techniques to gain more PageRank, whether organically or inorganically. These methods continue to evolve and change as search engines change the nature of their algorithms, but the main idea has remained intact for more than a decade, which is increase PageRank by maneuvering links, irrespective of their organic or inorganic nature.

Google’s Penguin update changed all this.

Google pushed the Penguin update for its algorithmic filter to lower the rankings of sites who use false measures to gain higher ranks in Google search results. This includes lowering the ranks of sites that don’t follow Google webmaster quality guidelines, participate in link exchange schemes, spam forums and directories for signature links, use cloaking or sneaky JavaScript redirects, and deploy all sorts of black hat formulas to manipulate rankings. An excerpt from Google’s official blog post is below:

“We’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.”

The Curious Case of Negative SEO

Since Google’s recent algorithmic change is targeted at lowering the rankings of sites that use black hat techniques, some webmasters are worried. What if a competitor tries to reduce my website’s rankings by buying links on spam sites or porn sites that point to my domain. There is no way I can stop anyone from buying spam links for my site. It’s their money and their choice.

Since Google is considering link spam as one of the signals of a low quality site, what if my site is caught in a false positive? How can I tell Google that these links have nothing to do with my site and have been generated by a competing source who is jealous of the prosperity of my business? If there is not a way to minimize the effect of spam links or paid links that I haven’t generated, will Google disqualify and filter my entire website?

In my honest opinion, this is a very pessimistic feeling, but there are situations when you may be ambushed by competitors. For example, some folks have put up a service at where you can pay a fee, and they will try to “destroy” your competitors’ rankings.

Preventing Link Spam and Negative SEO

So what should you really do to ensure your website is not being made a victim of an algorithmic change (the Penguin update) by competitors, who may use negative SEO to “behave like a competitor?”

1. Carefully monitor your Google Webmaster tools account.

Regularly check the “messages” section of your Google Webmaster tools account and also keep an eye on the “incoming links” section. Whenever Google crawls and finds new links that point to any page on your domain, it will be listed in this section only.

Do you see an unusually high number of links from a single source? Do you see random IP addresses linking to your website? Do you see a list of weird domain names linking to random pages on your site?

If the answer to these questions is yes, and there is high activity on the “incoming links” section, there is a chance that someone is trying to defame your online reputation and destroy the trust and credibility you’ve worked hard to build. That does not imply that he will be successful in this wild, evil venture. Before penalizing a website, Google takes into account a lot of factors, such as the following:

  • Age of the Links: Were these links recently generated?
  • Pattern: If someone is hitting your website, he must be following a definite pattern and/or a formula. Google algorithms are wise enough to detect the pattern, and they will disregard these links on their own. The result is that these auto-generated links will not be counted for evaluation.
  • Sources: If the same source has a record of linking to hundreds of thousands of sites without any defined purpose, there is a high chance that the source is not legitimate and should not be counted upon. Algorithms will figure it out on their own and move on.

The only option you have at your disposal is to file a reconsideration request and inform Google about the changes you’ve observed. Google has its own way of figuring out link spam, and in most cases, you should not worry about it at all. But just in case you find an unusually large number of spam links emerging out of nowhere, do file a reconsideration request and point out the domain names that are generating suspicious backlinks to your domain.

2. Use Bing’s Disavow Links.

Microsoft’s search engine,, recently introduced a new feature in Bing Webmaster Tools that allows you to disavow spam links you don’t trust.

Using the Disavow Links tool in Bing Webmaster Tools, you can tell Microsoft about the sources that are maliciously linking to your website without any purpose and that they should not be counted as original signals. The Disavow Links tool allows you to submit page, directory, or domain URLs that may contain links to your site that seem “unnatural” or appear to be from spam or low-quality sites.

While your efforts won’t have any direct, immediate impact on the rankings of your website, it will certainly help Bing engineers learn more about the malicious sources. There is a rumor that in the coming months Google will introduce a similar feature in Google Webmaster Tools.

3. Build a solid wall of positive signals.

The best way to fight web spam is to build credibility and trust that no search engine can ignore. If you get good press mentions, a lot of genuine backlinks, viral activity on Twitter and Facebook, or you are in a scenario where a lot of people are talking about you, referring to you, linking to you, and spreading the word about you, there is no way anyone can harm your site through negative SEO.

The algorithm has to judge the entire cosmos, and genuine links will act as a protective shield against all sorts of evil, foreign actions that you cannot control whatsoever. Try to make your service better and reward your readers with high-quality content, and you should be in pretty good shape.

As they say, “You don’t cover the entire earth with a red carpet. Just buy shoes and walk around anywhere you please.”

Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel has over 12 years of digital marketing experience and has helped hundreds of clients increase web traffic, boost user acquisition, and grow their... Read Full Bio
Sujan Patel
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  • Nick Stamoulis

    “The best way to fight web spam is to build credibility and trust that no search engine can ignore.”

    I’m not saying it’s impossible for an unscrupulous competitor to undermine your website, but if you have been doing everything “right” since the beginning it’s not going to be an easy job for them. Established sites that put out a lot of great content, are active in social media and have built up their authority aren’t going to be ruined by a handful of links generated by a spammer.

  • Gail Gardner

    Acknowledging that there ARE unethical people who CAN damage your business is not “pessimistic” – it is realistic. While Bing’s link disavowel tool can benefit the person using it, I have a concern over how Bing might use that data which is the same concern I have over Google Chrome’s block data.

    Google has people running scared. Those who have been slapped for NON-RELEVANT links in comments and in guest posts they have written and had published on quality sites are now contacting bloggers and requesting that their links be removed based on data they see i Google Webmaster Tools.

    There is a very real possibility that they may disavow those links in Bing which could lead Bing to discredit quality sites whose only “fault” is that they were flagged as irrelevant TO THAT OTHER SITE by Google. What we need to know is what else Bing is planning to do with that data in the long run.

    I have the same concern with Chrome block data. It is my prediction that Google intends to eventually use that data to lower sites in the serps or even drop them from the index altogether. This will damage quality sites whose only “offense” was that they were not relevant to a particular Internet user – and it will hurt the bloggers most who are the most brilliant because what they write is contrary to the prevailing opinions of the day.

    We have a saying in the IT industry: “garbage in = garbage out” which means that the quality of the data you use affects the accuracy of the output you get. The scary part is Google and Bing and the majority of people will not care at all about whose businesses become “collateral damage” – until it affects them (and when it does – and it will – they won’t have much recourse.

  • Earl

    Wow. I’ve only heard of that negative SEO site here. It’s disturbing to think that some people will do anything to come out on top. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Justin

    I don’t know. I just can’t imagine Google penalizing sites for backlinks that they may absolutely have no control over. It seems like a quick way to sabotage your competitors. It seems like the worst thing they would do is just not give any unnatural links any value.

  • No BS SEO

    I think that Google should simply identify the link farms and junk link sites and cancel any “link juice” from them. This would be a much fairer fix than to penalise sites which have these links which in some cases were put there by their competitors as sabotage.
    Saying that Google can tell if these links were put there by the website owner or by someone else is rubbish, they can’t.

  • Manan Patel

    Hey Sujan,

    website considaration & approval is long process. don’t you think so?????

    suppose a site is been hited by the nagative seo & if it’s been lossing ranking than who is responsible ???
    because that sites will not goes automaticaly to the considaration first, second it will take time for considaration, third there are no guarnteed from the search engine that penlized site will get back on rank, if they are panlized free.

    penguine update, search engine or website owner????

    so what could be the next step from the google & can penguin become less harsh because of this negative seo problems?
    can penguine give less weight to other links from the same domain? for solving this problem

    is there any solution for not become a victim???


  • Cameron Whitaker

    I have heard a rumor that Google may be coming out with something similar to the Bing disavow link tool within the next few months? This will obviously be a big help for people trying desperately to clean up their back link profiles and get back on Google’s good side. It could also mean spammers have another tool at their disposal to further assist them, another double edged sword I suppose.

    • Dmitrio

      Is there any official info when Google plans to launch a tool similar to Bing’s ‘Disavow Links’? Seems this is just a rumor out there.

  • Louis Shenker

    To get penalized by google is the worst thing to happen. The fact that we, website owners have no control over negative SEO is getting the scenario worst. I agree, Google should implement similar tool to Bing or more than that so website owners we’ll be more confident to defend themselves to google.

  • Bryan

    I personally think the panda and penguin updates were a positive, good thing for those who actually practice white-hat SEO. It’s not right that a website can get great rankings simply because it has more backlinks than it’s competitor.

  • Daylan Pearce

    I too have heard that a link disavow option is coming to webmaster tools in the next few weeks (why would the internet lie to me).
    But I agree with No BS SEO, just kill off any link juice from rubbish websites would fix the issue for most cases – except for the ones where the sites who’s link juice was killed off and they felt it to be unjust.
    A Google disavow tool will help though.

  • Artash

    This is very interesting post Sujan! Thank you for sharing it. The more it gets harder to optimize your website the more try to use unethical methods.
    I think by time there will come around more helpful tools that will detect negative SEO.

  • Batist

    My site is working perfectly, but when I enter it in Google it gets me to a spamsite with a different url. Everything looks normal in google even the description of my website. What can I do to get the google search for my site end up on the correct site?

  • K

    Hey, I enjoyed your article and its informative content. I never thought about the idea that people may sabotage competitors seo through link spamming. I guess I never thought anyone would ever go out of their way to have something like that done. That is so sad but at least you give a couple methods to how to battle link spamming if it happened to you.

  • Brennan

    Negative SEO is exactly what most SEOs claimed would never happen or else everyone would do it to their competition. Until now, it seemed that buying backlinks would either have an increase on your search rankings or no effect at all on your rankings. Of course, if you purchase links and only use one to three different anchor texts – you are just paying for negative seo on your own site.

  • Paul

    We own and run a reputable Migration company here in Perth and employed an SEO company (P#D) who we thought were credible , our rankings were great and were getting lots of enquiries and business, that much that we had to turn work away.
    In the last few months our ranking has taken a big hit and we have slid from top of the first page position 2-6 to page 5 position 75 I think.
    We started to engage another SEO Company who has informed us that our current SEO Company (P#D) has been spaming us to get cheap ratings and now we are being penalised by Google.

    As you can imagine this came as a great shock, after all we specialise in Migration law and not SEO thats why we employed these so called experts.

    Is it possible to turn our website around or are we going to be penalised by Google for ever due to a shonky SEO company spaming us to get cheap ratings.


  • Jason Rogers

    Great article,

    I have been looking for ways to improve my site. I found this article helpful.

  • Property Network

    We seem to be having a lot of SPAM links coming to our domain with anchor text loaded with over the counter drug names etc. Although these links are not showing up in Google Webmaster Tools, they are showing in other SEO analytics packages. 100’s if not 100’s of links from one or two domains – our rankings have also taken a dive recently. I can’t help but think that this is a problem for us!

  • Rohit Palit

    This article is very useful for webmasters. I think I have been affected by spam links posted in my blog. Some guest authors put that kind of link in their posts which is harmful to the site in which they are posted.