How to Spot & Stop a Negative SEO Attack from Harming Your Rankings (Part 1)

Try these 3 tips to help you gain positive outcomes from some of the industry’s most nefarious black hat tactics!

If you’re an SEO consultant, agency, or a DIYer, you work hard to build your skills in the ever changing SEO world. Let’s face it; it’s hard enough keeping up with all the updates Google goes through every year. You spend a lot of time and effort finding ways to increase your search engine traffic; you want Google to view your site as one that plays above board. All your cards are on the table; you never do anything (knowingly, at least) that would be even remotely considered black hat.

Looking Under the Hood of Black Hat SEO

Have you ever wondered about the other side of the equation? What exactly are the black hat practitioners doing, anyway? Don’t they know that their questionable, and in many cases, downright hostile practices, could come back to bite them? Here’s some insight: Not only do these folks know that what they do is underhanded, they go forth with abandon – always looking for new ways to game the system. Their goals are multi-faceted; with the main objective being a takedown of competitors, so their own sites rise in the search results. Even that is a bit tame for some of these black hat operatives. Some of them perform their activities for the sheer delight it brings them, as people who can, in their eyes, break the rules and get away with it. Some of these people go the extra mile and work to bring down websites or entire networks, as a result of their nefarious activities. In these cases they are known more as spammers and hackers.

So we promised some positive outcomes from all of this…how can negative SEO, the literal practice of performing acts to a website’s detriment in the search engines, possibly deliver anything positive? If we put on our detective hats, we can backwards engineer some of these harmful tactics, and turn them around to actually benefit our websites.

So in this first blog in our negative SEO series, let’s take a look at how we can get some positive outcomes if our website is hit with a bunch of bad links.

Tip #1: Make a Practice of Monitoring Backlinks to Your Website

It’s good practice to monitor the links pointing to your site. While we won’t necessarily recommend any of the myriad tools for doing this, a simple Google search will reveal a number of tools you can use to keep track of the links and referring domains. Some tools even let you disavow links straight from the tool to Google. But we are getting ahead of ourselves – let’s look at one of the ways bad links can be created, then talk about cleaning them up, and finally, how we can use these learning experiences to actually benefit your website.

One way that a negative SEO attack can use bad links against you is via spam content. This involves the creation of hundreds, if not thousands, of spam articles with repeated anchor text links that point to your site.

Several big problems occurring here:

1) Spam articles usually feature low value content; these articles will not help you rank in Google.

2) Even more important, spam articles deliver a poor user experience, and you don’t want that associated with your website (plus that’s one of the reasons they don’t help you rank well in Google).

3) These articles are often created using a tool that starts with one main article, then creates hundreds of duplicates; often with little content variation. This is the type of low value content that Google frowns upon. You don’t want your site associated with this type of content.

4) Spam articles usually have few, if any, quality links pointing to them; another strike against them, as they don’t deliver any link value by linking to your site.

So what to do if you find you’re a victim of this type of negative SEO, and how can you turn it around to your benefit?

(Please note, when we say victim, it could also be that you may have hired a consultant or agency to boost your rankings, only to find that they involved your site in one of these content spam scenarios, unbeknownst to you.

As with a negative SEO attack, you have a big problem on your hands, should your site be linked to these types of articles. But take heart – we can show you the way out of this and back into Google’s good graces!)

Here’s one way you can make that happen:

Tip #2: Your response to bad link attacks can help you build stronger ranking signals.

Google has specific rules on how to disavow links; this explanation should help you if you need to alert Google to an attack like this, where you have to disavow links.

That leads us to another discussion – in today’s SEO world, is it actually necessary anymore to disavow backlinks? The consensus is that Penguin 4.0 devalues irrelevant or spam links in real time, which is a boon for marketers. If you find a set of backlinks that appears to be a big problem (negative SEO attack or mistake made by an SEO consultant or firm) it never hurts to be cautious and proactive. You can go ahead and disavow those links to help Google understand that you don’t wish those associated with your website.

Tip #3: Reap the Benefits of Your Backlink Monitoring Efforts

And where’s the positive from all of this (short of disassociating your site from bad links and link networks)?

All the research you do to find bad backlinks can lead to new opportunities. You can discover some decent quality links that are ripe for reclamation. For example, you may find a perfectly good, natural link to your site from a local website. They may have referred to a great local article you created. Perhaps they didn’t link to the actual article, but to your home page. You can contact the webmaster and ask them to link to the article itself. You could also ask them to create the link using specific anchor text, such as ‘awesome jelly doughnuts in Philadelphia.’ Notice how we created that anchor text. We didn’t write ‘Philadelphia jelly doughnuts’ – we built a phrase around the keywords to provide natural anchor text that will read well for human users, and in turn, be a great phrase to help us rank in Google.

It’s always a good idea when dealing with negative SEO, to look for opportunities along the way. You’ll be doing (or the agency or consultant you hire, will) a lot of research to pinpoint where a negative SEO attack is coming from. That data is incredibly useful for a variety of other activities – including building positive signals to Google about your website.

Join us next time when we’ll ferret out more ways to spot, fix and benefit from negative SEO!

And if you suspect your website has been the target of an SEO attack, contact Engine-ius Marketing. Our specialists offer two decades of experience and the expertise you need to defeat negative SEO. Get in touch today to help boost your online visibility!

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