The Mercurytide guide to combatting negative SEO

Negative SEO brings a whole new meaning to the word ‘competition.’ If you have worked hard and played by the rules of SEO, unscrupulous competitors can knock you off the top spot with underhand tactics.  So, how can you stop these negative SEO fraudsters?

What does negative SEO mean?

Negative SEO means strategically using furtive methods to harm the rank, and therefore traffic, of a competitor site. Affected sites are typically those who have an impressive search engine rank and receive the high levels of traffic for their sector or services. 

Negative SEO tactics include: using ‘bad links’ from spammy, inappropriate or unrelated sites,  hacking into your site and blocking Google from being able to index it and reporting your site as spam multiple times. So, why would someone go to these lengths? To make competitors invisible in the eyes of Google.

As those affected tend to have large amounts of commerce or enquiries via their site, its effects can have devastating results. The internet is a key resource for the growth of the majority of companies, a drastic drop in search engine rank – while your competitor triumphs – can have a disastrous impact on revenue.

The emergence of negative SEO was ramped up by Google’s Panda updates in 2012. Google sought to fight back against internet spam and improve relevant search results. Any sites that used paid-for, irrelevant links to boost their position within search engine results would be affected.  This new practice created a window of opportunity for negative SEO to be actioned.

How can it be prevented?

To make sure that you stay on the right side of Google, here are some indicators which suggest foul play.

  • Monitor backlinks: make sure you monitor the anchor text of your links either through Google webmaster or with a trusted web company.
  • Content copiers: you can create original, engaging content for your site and someone can come along and copy it. If their site is indexed more often than yours, then it’s you that will be penalised. Monitor how often your pages are being indexed by Google using Webmaster tools.
  • Increase in reviews: fake and negative reviews. Nobody’s perfect, but it’s highly unlikely that there will be a spike in negative reviews for no reason.

Can you really turn a negative into a positive?

The methods of overcoming negative SEO are hotly debated. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, but there are plenty of ways to try to recover. Use our step-by-step guide:

  1. Contact bad links: If you have thousands of bad links, then this may not be feasible. But if you are starting to notice a few dodgy links, then contacting each site’s webmaster may help to have them removed. Of course, they can ignore your email…but at least you can say that you tried!
  2. Disavow: As the surge of negative SEO is largely due to the Penguin algorithm, Google’s webmaster tools offers the ‘Disavow’ function to try to assist sites who have been unfairly penalised. Google’s Disavow tool allows websites to pinpoint ‘bad links’ and asks Google to ignore them when a site is indexed, or to get an existing penalty removed. This doesn’t happen straight away however, and can take a few months for your site to be re-indexed.
  3. Counteract the bad with the good: Until Google’s Disavow tools works its magic, work hard to generate ‘good links’ that will outweigh the bad. Using links from trusted, relevant sites will help to reduce the impact of the negative links.

What does Google have to say?

Google are obviously somewhat unhappy that their new algorithm is being used as an underhand tactic between competitors. Matt Cutts, Distinguished Engineer at Google, addresses the issues of negative SEO in this video.

His advice? Don’t worry about it. If you are under fire from SEO tactics, Google believes that their Disavow tool is all that you need to provide a counter attack. Matt Cutts also recommends starting fresh with a new domain rather than trying to dig yourself out of a hole created by negative SEO.

It’s important to catch these practices before your site ranking drops off the face of the Earth. Who is looking after your site’s best interests, what are they looking for and how often is this done?"

If you have any thoughts or comments about negative SEO, then carry on the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

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