The Top Five Ways to Defend Against Negative SEO

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The Top Five Ways to Defend Against Negative SEO

Negative SEO is real. It is possible to damage, if not destroy, a site through the use of malicious backlinks and aggressive backlink spamming. Negative SEO is a legitimate danger that can ruin a site’s revenue and cripple a business.

But it is also possible to defend against it. If you are a victim of negative SEO, suspect negative SEO on your site, or simply want to protect against a potential attack, this article is for you.

What is Negative SEO?

Negative SEO is the practice of implementing black hat SEO techniques on another site. Usually, an SEO attack is unleashed by a disgruntled competitor and his or her minions with the goal of reducing that site’s rankings.

SEO Roundtable defined it this way back in 2007 when the trend first began to appear:

Search engine optimizers force competitor websites down in the rankings so that the desired client’s website has more visibility.

A Forbes article on the subject said this:

Negative SEO…amounts to sabotaging a Web site’s ranking in search engine results. Sometimes negative SEO is performed for reputation management, tweaking online content so that it floats to the top of Google or Yahoo! results, thereby pushing a critic’s negative comments to a lower ranking. But in rare cases…negative SEO involves more nefarious means, convincing Google or Yahoo!’s search algorithms to bury a competitor’s site deep within search results, where its traffic practically evaporates.

Matt Cutts talks about negative SEO in this 2012 video, “What should I do if my competitors are using web spam techniques?”

Does Negative SEO Still Work?

Isn’t Google’s algorithm smart enough to identify negative SEO, and prevent its destructive intentions? After all, the remarks I shared above are from 2007. Surely it doesn’t work anymore…right?

Actually, it still works.

In 2007, Google’s Webmaster site had this statement:  “There’s almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index.”

In 2012, however, that statement disappeared. Instead, there is now a bland yet tacit admission that negative SEO is real:

Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.

I wish it didn’t work anymore. But it does. In fact, SEOs speculate that negative SEO is on the rise.

The algorithm has tightened the noose on webspam; that’s obvious. But the algorithm doesn’t know who’s turning on the webspam. It could be the site’s webmaster. Or it could be a malicious competitor. Either way, the spam will be noticed. The site will get penalized.

That’s negative SEO.

How Does Negative SEO Work?

I’m not going to teach you how to do negative SEO. But sometimes, in order to understand what you’re fighting against, you’ve got to understand how it works:

Maybe the best explanation comes from this nefarious webmaster, who admitted to Search Engine Roundtable his MO for negative SEO:

The first month, contract a couple $5 guest blog posts [make sure the posts are in broken English of course], then go back to what you were doing.

Second month, try a few more [4-8] $5 [broken English] guest blog posts and add some forum link drops to the mix. Go back to what you normally do—Nothing will happen.

Third month, add even more [broken-English] guest blog links [2x or 3x per week], increase the forum link drops and sign up for long-term [“undetectable”] directory additions.

If the site hasn’t tanked yet, in month four hit ’em with 20,000 inbound links all at once. Keep doing it and eventually the site you’re aiming at will tank and they won’t be able to figure out how to recover. It takes almost none of your time and costs very little to tank a site due to the “penalty mentality” Google has decided to run with.

More sophisticated techniques involve Googlebot crawl interruption. By monitoring Google’s cache entries of a victim’s site, SEO villains can DOS web servers with unclosed connections, blocking up the connection pool limit and creating 500 errors for Googlebot. When a site receives additional 500 errors from Googlebot, the page will be removed from the index.

Other times, negative SEOs will attempt to request removals for your strongest backlinks. Sometimes, they create tons of duplicate content, a technique with very limited success. Beyond the traditional shoot-’em-with-spam-links technique, some attackers use juvenile forms of threatening and intimidation to extort money or oust competitors.

So, People are Really Doing This?

I admire your innocence and honesty. But yes, people are doing this. This is real, folks.

Take, for example, the intelligent readership of Search Engine Roundtable. The site took a survey, and while the polling pool is small, the results are revealing:  Webmasters are doing negative SEO.

Top Five Ways to Defend Against Negative SEO

If you are in a competitive niche, especially one familiar with SEO, there is a good chance that you will be the victim of a negative SEO tactic. I’m not trying to stir up unnecessary fear or panic. I simply want to warn you.

How Can I Defend Against Negative SEO?

Despite its potential devastation, there are very few quality instructions on how to defend against negative SEO. Some are painfully short. Others are just plain unhelpful. You can’t prevent negative SEO. You can only defend yourself and fight back. Here is how.

1.  Set Up GWT Alerts

First, turn on Google Webmaster Tools email notifications. This may not signal the start of a spam attack, but it will at least keep your GWT information top of mind as you maintain a defensive posture against SEO bullies.

Go to Webmaster Tools → preferences, and turn on notifications for all issues.

Top Five Ways to Defend Against Negative SEO

If you do get the kibosh, you’ll know about it. Also, you’ll be pinged if Googlebot can’t access your site. Either of these notifications are a possible indication that you’ve been attacked. By that time, though, the damage will already have been done.

You need to be more proactive. On to step two…

2.  Monitor Your Backlinks

The toughest part of defending against SEO is vigilance. I recommend creating a system that allows you to stay on top of all your site’s inbound links. I make it a practice to stay informed of the activity on my site,, and my business sites.

If you are a disciplined person with a highly streamlined schedule, then set up times each week to check your backlinks through services like Ahrefs, Open Site Explorer, Link Research Tools, or Google Webmaster Tools.

If you prefer to automate your approach and receive notifications, then use a service such as or These services can be configured to automatically send you a report about new backlinks. Other helpful backlink monitoring and link checker services are Majestic SEO and SEO spyglass.

You might have to spend a little bit of money for a good monitoring service. It is money well spent.

If you’re able to discover a nascent negative SEO campaign and defend against it, then you will save yourself from tragic financial disaster.

While you’re monitoring your backlinks, it’s also helpful to monitor your site speed. is a helpful source of speed checking, as well as Google’s PageSpeed Insights. PageSpeed cannot be set up to send you notifications, while Pingdom does have this feature.

3.  Remove or Disavow Suspicious Backlinks

The reason you are monitoring is not just so you can know about the negative SEO, but so you can do something about it.

Do not wait until it’s too late. The more spammy backlinks build up on your site, the more likely it is that your site will be penalized. As soon as you see toxic backlinks, get them removed by requesting a removal. If that is unsuccessful, update your disavow.txt.

If you want to go the extra mile, you can also report the spammy backlink to Google using the Spam Report Form. This is a little-known feature of Google, that may or may not be effective at taking down spam sites. Who knows? It’s worth a try.

Top Five Ways to Defend Against Negative SEO

4.  Speak to the Enemy

If you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the individual or organization responsible for the negative SEO, then you may want to confront them.

It sounds a bit old-fashioned or ornery but you never know. Some people can be reasoned with. Maybe an email will do the trick — “Hey, do you mind not doing this?”

If that doesn’t work, then ramp it up a notch. If the enemy doesn’t speak to you, then speak to the world. Express your concern on social media. If you can create enough buzz about someone who is intentionally damaging your site, it might create the defense you need.

5.  Fight Back

The best defense is a good offense. I’m not talking about doing negative SEO against your competitors! I’m talking about transforming your site into an entity of authority and stature. You can become the authority in your niche — out growing, out ranking, out marketing, and out doing your competitors on every front.

You’ll only get so far by monitoring your backlinks and disavowing spam links. You’ll get much farther by creating a site that is so strong, so powerful, and so awesome that no amount of spam attacks can bring it down.

You don’t win by cutting the legs out from under your competitors. You win by just being plain better. To be better, you make a better website and better content.

Over the years that I’ve been building up, it’s reached a point of virtual immunity to spam attacks. Although giants can fall—like, for example—it is extremely unlikely for a site that is producing great content on a consistent basis.

The way to fight spam creation is with good content creation. Make the exact opposite of spam. Make legitimate, high-quality, powerful, and authoritative content.


I want you to come away from this article, not with a sense of fear, but with a feeling of confidence.

Yes, negative SEO is real. Yes, it works. Yes, people are doing it.

So what do you do?

You defend yourself:

  1. Set up alerts
  2. Monitor your backlinks
  3. Remove or disavow suspicious backlinks
  4. Speak to the enemy

And then you go on the offense — you make killer content. Flip the tables on your competitors by out doing them with content so good and powerful that they can only cower in fear. Get ferocious about creating a site that obliterates the competition with its power.

What is your experience with negative SEO?


Image Credits

Featured Image: Trueffelpix via Shutterstock
All screenshots taken August 2014

Neil Patel
Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions. Neil also blogs about marketing and entrepreneurship at... Read Full Bio
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  • Jennifer Mattern

    The much bigger problem I’ve come across in a couple of my niches is the fact that reporting Web spam (related to negative SEO or anything else) is incredibly hit or miss.

    I’ve seen Google ignore reports for crazy link schemes when they’ve been reported by several people (huge reciprocal link exchanges where one party benefits with all the do-follow links).

    I’ve seen them take action on paid links against the sites hosting the links while not doing anything about the site benefiting from those links.

    And I’ve occasionally seen them take appropriate action against spammers. For example, they were ranking a clear spam doorway page #3 for a popular phrase — one that used to be dominated by authoritative sites in the niche (many of which are now buried on page two or three). In that case they did remove the listing, and pretty quickly.

    Reporting anything to them doesn’t seem worth the effort, especially when their own algorithm changes have been making things worse. As long as they continue letting some people game the system, others are going to keep trying.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    It’s utterly horrible that site owners would stoop that low in order to push their own site ahead. And what’s even worse is that Google, in all their “infinite wisdom,” which is smart enough to find all those junk links, can’t see that my site had no real hand in creating them. I shouldn’t have to live in fear that other sites can undo all my hard work.

    • karan Rawat

      Agreed, There should be an algorithm to catch those junk links builder.

  • Carl Pantaleon

    Thank you for sharing Niel!. In addition to that, you can also add “custom alerts” from Analytics if where the traffic came from.

  • Rituraj Shrivastava

    The only way to save a site from Neg SEO is to become an authority site in google’s eye for your niche, period!


    Hi neil

    Yes, some of the guys out there are doing -ve SEO, but i believe the numbers are not so high. rather guys like me would like to spend the precious time on their sites, transforming them to more authority sites. Yes i agree few might be there, so these are some of the first things you need to handle negative seo.
    yes i agree a smart webmaster must be keeping an eye on all the wonderful points mentioned by you, and also i usually set the Google alerts etc. for the “brand name” & top targeted keywords and that too sometimes really helps for the same, just my point. By the way, good to read this.

  • Darko Atanasov

    Like always, Neil Patel is sharing something really valuable, something that concerns people these days and gives detailed answers for the problem. Thank you Neil!

  • Rank Watch

    There is no denying the fact that Negative SEO does exist. We have seen several websites being a victim of it. The only solution that you have is to keep a strict eye on the backlinks and disavow any suspicious links ASAP.

  • Satyajeet Hattangadi

    Sadly, none of your steps will protect you against a determined foe. One method that can and i’ve known to be employed, and youd be clueless as to what hit you is this…

    1. Set up a PBN using deindexed domains or buying expired domains that have been used by the previous owner for payday loan, xanax kind of spam

    2. Block all crawlers except the googlebot.

    3. Add your competitors link using exact match anchor text all at one go. 50 to 100 PBN run and bye bye competitor

    disclaimer: i have not tried this personally, but i know and have seen results from a few folk who have done this ( *cough cough* professionally)

  • Steve VanHove

    Having enjoyed page 1 Google rankings for years, I’m trying to come back now from pages 2, 3 and 4. One of the things I did was disavow a lot of spammy backlinks that accumulated over the years, even if they were not made by an evil competitor (I hope!). So the tips in this article are timely and appreciated!

  • Kenneth Villegas

    These kind of competitors doing negative SEO are cowards! They don’t know how to work hard to be successful in their SEO campaign. But thanks for the good information again Neil!

  • Malcolm Galt

    awesome article, some great points. With the new Google updates, websites need to be careful of using SEO tactics that will actually damage their brand.

  • Rank Watch

    The WMT alerts is a nice idea. Besides that, you don’t have any other option than to use the disavow tool. One good news for webmasters is that Google would be processing the updates from the disavow tool faster.

  • Dhimant Patel

    There is no bullet proof way as of now to prevent your site from -ve seo. What search engine companies can do is implement something like “robots.txt” for inbound links.
    Which would tell search engines that “Please do not count incoming links from“.

    Here is a simple example…. ( This is just for demo. Nothing like this exist )
    Disallow: “”

    or search engines like google can implement such features in their’s webmaster tools to directly allow user to add sites with spammy backlinks.

    I hope in near future search engine will figure out a way to implement something similar or more advanced solution to fight against negative seo.

  • Christina Booth

    We are constantly having to stay on top of negative seo and disavow religiously. The current main sites regularly linking to us are, plus a swathe of others. We had 39 links from to one site in one foul swoop a few days ago after we published a press release. They obviously didn’t like that. We also removed them all in one go. Negative seo wastes time and can be highly destructive. I shall be watching carefully over the Christmas period and am also going to contact my MP in the UK. Digital terrorism is a crime and although I know who owns, I don’t know who has paid them to try to damage our sites. There will be a money trail. I’m not satified with just disavowing.