There has been a great deal of talk over the last few weeks about Google’s Penguin update. Through this blog I have provided facts, advice and opinion about how to adapt your SEO marketing strategy in order to both avoid potential penalties and maximise your website’s success. But there is another side to the whole issue of Google’s web spam algorithm. It is perhaps not a terribly pleasant issue to consider, but I believe it’s important for every web developer and SEO marketing professional to consider the problem of negative SEO.
So What Is Negative SEO?
Effectively negative SEO is something of an oxymoron, since SEO is obviously about optimising a website for the search engines. Negative SEO is taking steps to deliberately sabotage a website’s chance of either making it to the top of the search results, or even being listed at all. It is the implementation of deliberate tactics in order to increase the chance that Google will penalise a website, either demoting it significantly, or even removing it from its search listings completely.
Why Would You Ever Want To Use Negative SEO?
If you can’t think of a reason why you would ever want to implement negative SEO techniques then not only are you probably one of the good guys, but unfortunately you may also be one of those people who could find your site being targeted. Unscrupulous online marketers to sometimes use negative SEO in order to penalise those websites belonging to their rivals, improving their own ranking and traffic by default. After all, there are two ways to get your website ranked higher than those of your rivals: either massively promote your own site, producing reams of fresh, useful content, or damage your rivals’ sites so that yours appears higher than theirs.
What’s The Difference Between Negative SEO And Black Hat SEO?
Black hat SEO techniques tends to be specific strategies to boost your own website using methods which are underhand and usually in breach of those policies published by Google. Black hat is exclusively about promoting your own site up the search results, usually by trying to fool the search engine algorithms. Negative SEO is about damaging your opponents’ websites, rather than improving your own. In some cases the end results may appear very similar, although clearly neither is to be encouraged or sanctioned.
What Sort Of Techniques Does Negative SEO Involve?
There are three main techniques used by those people carrying out negative SEO attacks on websites. These three techniques include site intrusion, content manipulation and link spamming. These three techniques have been around for awhile, but in light of Google’s Penguin update recently it is even more likely that websites affected by one or more of these techniques will be severely penalised, which is why it is particularly important to be aware of these risks, and know what to do to protect your website and your business’s reputation.
Negative SEO Technique One: Site Intrusion
This method doesn’t just demote a website down the search results, it actively prevents traffic reaching a website from those results. The method here is to hack a web server, and then install malware, or embed malicious code into the webpages. Google is extremely good at identifying websites which contain such malware or malicious code, and responds quickly and effectively.
This response is to immediately delist your website, effectively removing it from the search results. Alternatively you might find that any visitor who clicks on the link to your website in the search results will be redirected to a warning page which strongly and unequivocally advises them not to visit your site as it may harm their computer.
Clearly this can be a very damaging situation, but there are ways in which you can protect yourself. Obviously the first thing to do is to make sure that your web server is up-to-date, fully patched, and that any passwords are very complex, and regularly changed. There are also a number of free tools available which you can use to scan your website for any malicious code or malware such as http://www.qualys.com and http://sitecheck.sucuri.net/scanner. Additionally you can also use a number of free tools which will immediately alert you to any changes made to your webpages, such as the Google Chrome plug-in Page Monitor and http://www.changedetection.com.
If your site is hacked and you find that Google has delisted your site then as long as you remove all instances of any malware and malicious code you should find that your website will be reindexed by Google, although this may take anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
Negative SEO Technique Two: Content Manipulation
We all know that duplicating content across the internet is bad news. Having a few copies of an article or blog post may be fine, but mass publishing an article is definitely something which is likely to have a negative impact on your website.
One of the ways in which content manipulation can take place is where someone takes an article or blog post you have written and just published, and then mass copy this across hundreds or even thousands of article directories and websites.
Unfortunately this is not something you can easily prevent, since anyone can pick up your blog post within minutes, and use dubious article submission software to automate the process of publishing this across many hundreds of websites within a matter of minutes. This can then result in Google downgrading the relevance of the article, the power of the links included with it, and even the rank of your own website to which the article links.
Another potential negative SEO technique as far as content manipulation is concerned is to lift fresh new content from your website, blog or other location, and publish it on a website which is likely to be indexed by Google before yours.
If your website is not updated terribly often, then it may well be that Google identifies this, and schedules indexing of your site on perhaps no more than a weekly basis. If someone owns a website which is updated regularly, Google may index their site several times a day. If such a person identifies the fact that you have just published a new blog post or article, they may lift that article and publish it on their own website, increasing the probability that Google will index their copy of your post before your own version.
Now whilst Google doesn’t have a duplicate content penalty, what they will do is to prioritise the first example of any content which they come across. This means that if they come across the duplicated copy of your article or blog post before your own, they will give a higher ranking to that site than to yours, even though you wrote the content and published it first.
So How Can You Protect Yourself Against Content Manipulation Techniques Such As These?
There are three main ways in which you can help to protect yourself against such tactics. First of all, there’s prevention. This isn’t always something which will work, because sometimes your content doesn’t allow for it, but if possible try to include personal references to either yourself by name, or the website on which your content is being published.
Referring to other pages or posts on your website can also help to reduce the appeal to other people of lifting your content wholesale since this will necessarily either render it meaningless within the context of their own site, or at least in need of significant manual editing.
Another thing you can do is to try to ensure that Google crawls your website more often, and the best way to do this is to make sure that your blog or your website is updated with fresh new content on a more regular basis. Rather than writing one great long blog post consider breaking it up into several shorter posts. Little and often is likely to be better than dumping a great long feature on your website once in a blue moon. If Google indexes your site more regularly then you significantly increase the chance that it will be your version of your content which is indexed and listed first.
The third thing is to simply check regularly for duplicated content. There are several online tools for doing this, the most popular of which is copyscape.com. Alternatively you can simply copy a few sentences from your article or blog post, put quotation marks around them, and then do an online search.
Using either of these techniques you can then identify websites which include a copy of your content, and you can then decide whether to take further action.
If you find copied content the first stage is to simply contact the website or business directly and ask for the content to be removed. If you don’t get a prompt reply the next stage is to send a Cease And Desist letter. A copy of this should also be sent to their web hosting company. The third stage is to file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaint.
You can also find a form provided by Google which gives you the opportunity to report examples of content which you feel should be removed from the search results listings, including content which has been plagiarised.
Negative SEO Technique Three: Link Spamming
One of the biggest warnings as far as Google’s Penguin update is concerned is about having low quality links. Google is now paying very close attention to both the quality and the number of the links pointing back to your website, and having too many low quality links can very well see your website demoted very significantly.
The negative SEO technique is therefore to generate vast numbers of low quality spammy links to a rival’s website. This might include creating links from pages which have a low Google Page Rank, links from forums and blog comments, from low quality websites, from link exchange websites, from websites which have either the same or very similar IP addresses, links which are partially or fully hidden, and links included in the footer section of pages. If links include the same keyword or anchor text then it is also likely to be interpreted as spammy.
Unfortunately it is sometimes possible to automate the process of creating these low quality links across the web, and so relatively easy to cause damage to rivals’ sites.
So how can you protect yourself against having these poor quality links created on your behalf, and without your authorisation or knowledge?
Unfortunately you cannot prevent such links from being created, so all you can do is to regularly check to see which sites are linking to you. You can use tools such as http://www.opensiteexplorer.org to check your back links. If you find low quality back links being generated then you should take immediate action to have those links removed.
It is important to appreciate that Google’s Penguin algorithm does not work in real-time. It is something which is run periodically, removing spam from the results. This means that if you regularly check your back links, you should have a bit of time in which to have any dubious back links removed before Google’s Penguin identifies the link and determines your site as a potential source of spam.
Is negative SEO an issue which you have previously been concerned about? Have you been the victim of negative SEO? Is the whole idea of negative SEO something which you haven’t previously considered? Please join in the conversation and leave your thoughts in the comments box below.
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