What you need to know about “Negative” SEO
By Katherine P
If you run a site and follow SEO practices, then you’ve probably come across the term “Negative SEO” and were filled with a sense of dread. Negative SEO…what is that? It sounds bad and it is bad—but it’s probably not happening to you.
Negative SEO is another party’s deliberate attempt to lower a sites search engine ranking. The most common type of negative SEO is “link based”, meaning another party is sending spammy poor quality links to your site which can in turn harm your sites ranking. Sometimes it seems like the tiniest change you make to your site ruins your search engine rankings, so it’s completely reasonable to think that if it’s that easy for you to harm your standings, then it must be just as easy for someone else to negatively impact your site.
However, Google feels that true effective negative SEO is very rare and almost impossible get away with. The Google algorithms have been built to ensure it is highly unlikely for negative link building from a competitor to lower your sites ranking. Before January 2003, Google said that there is “nothing” a competitor can do to lower your sites search engine rankings or have your site removed. Later that year they reworded it to say “almost nothing”. This change in phrasing was smart because at the time simple negative linking couldn’t harm it, but if a competitor somehow managed to hack into your site and change things, then it could obviously do some harm (something that is still true today). Then in 2007, Google came out and said that negative link building wasn’t impossible, just extremely difficult. In October 2012, Google created the “disavow” tool so that when sites did find harmful links on their site, they could easily tell Google crawlers that they didn’t want those links counted toward their site ranking.
Google insists that Negative SEO shouldn’t be a concern because they have built into their algorithms things that help decide whether the negative links are self-made or not. This means that if there are a bunch of bad links pointing to your site, most likely they will not harm you because Google has figured out a way to recognize whether those links are coming from a competitor or if they’re coming from something that the site owner has done. Google does admit that they aren’t 100% correct all the time, hence why the ‘disavow’ tool was created.
Google says that most of the Negative SEO attacks that are reported turn out to in fact not be actual attacks from other parties, but just negative things that have naturally occurred. For example, you could be getting a lot of bizarre looking links that are actually coming from something you’ve done in the past (link building, a former SEO company that may have outsourced their work), or could be coming from a completely benign source. Some weird links are totally normal and most sites end up getting links from undesirable sources, but Google understands that this is natural and doesn’t count them. If you notice an influx of spammy links and can’t figure out where they’re coming from, it helps to ask around. Sometimes it’s something as simple as a well-meaning friend or family member that thought they could help you get some links.
If by some small chance your site is targeted by a Negative SEO attack, here are some things to look out for:
- Sudden influx of redirected links or from sites in “bad neighborhoods” like porn, gambling, payday loan, etc.
- Links from foreign forums—if you suddenly have a lot of links from places like Russia, China, or other foreign countries that really have no business with your site.
- Flood of links from sites that end with .ru, .cz, .cn, .pl, .ro, .bg, .biz, .com.ar, .com.br and .info. Not all are necessarily bad as a few are completely normal, but a sudden rush of links coming from sites like that could be an indicator that someone is trying to harm your rankings.
- Large number of links from “nonsense blogs”—blogs that are obviously fake and don’t make sense.
While these are some indicators that a competitor is trying to harm your site ranking, Google has taken strong steps to make sure their algorithms recognize that it is someone else trying to deliberately harm your site, and discount those links. However, if you are creating bad links for yourself, Google will also see that you are the problem and not someone else. Essentially…the only person who can realistically harm your sites rating is yourself. The chances that someone is effectively harming your site through negative link building are extremely slim.