The Dark Side of SEO: Battle to The Top of SERP
Just like the dark side of the force, the world of SEO has its own dark side. It is known as negative SEO. Angry competitors can draw upon negative SEO tactics to help them win the battle to the top of Google’s search results. Sadly, this is done by making their rival’s website suffer. How can you tell if someone is attempting to attack your site with negative SEO? What exactly is it? Is it a real threat you need to keep your website safe from?
Negative SEO: The Definition
Negative SEO is when competitors implement Black Hat SEO on your website in an attempt to jeopardize your good ranking. Black hat SEO refers to a set of practices that are used to increases a site or page’s rank in search engines through means that violate the search engines’ terms of service. This causes penalties to be placed on the webpage by the search engine’s algorithm or manually by one of the search engines’ team members, therefore sabotaging the website’s ranking.
Penalties can end up getting a site totally removed from search engines. It can take months for a website to be fixed after an attack; leaving it essentially invisible online. Could you afford to have your website down for that long? No one can! A loss in traffic is a loss in revenue.
Negative SEO can be seen as a form of digital “foul play”. It’s the online equivalent of sneaking into your competitor’s business and stealing their computers, breaking their windows, and tagging the doors with derogatory terms.
There are multiple ways Negative SEO can be attempted on a site. As the name implies, Negative Off-Page SEO attacks without internally interfering with the website. In other cases, Negative SEO may involve hacking the website and making modifications; this is referred to as On-Page SEO since the actual pages of the website are being altered. The latter is much more difficult to implement, but still very possible.
Spamming Your Links
The most prevalent and well-known form of negative SEO is spam link building. The attacker creates a network of links on low-quality sites known as link farms to lower your site’s domain authority. Of course, there will always be bad links to your page and there is no harm in that. You can, however, be affected if someone starts building links to your page from link building farms and continues doing it till there are hundreds or even thousands.
Another way an attacker can strike is by pointing links to your website from irrelevant sites, sometimes with red- flag keywords as anchor text. This would include words like “payday loan,” “Viagra,” and “Cialis.” On top of the possibility for receiving penalties and lowering keyword ranking, this attack ruins the website’s online authority and reputation. Search engines see the website as one that cannot be trusted, trashing its chance of reaching the first pages of SERPs.
If you suddenly see a huge spike or drop in your link growth profile and you haven’t been working on link building this may be a good sign you are under attack. Keep an eye out for links akin to the following:
- A large number of new links that are uncharacteristic of the website
- Links with exact anchor text for competitive keywords
- Links from low-quality domains
- Links from low-quality blogs that could be in blog networks
- Anything that looks fishy
If you see a sudden influx of spam links, make sure to notify Google and disavow the spammy domains.
Scraping Your Content
Another Negative SEO tactic that can be used to hurt a website’s ranking is content scraping. Content scraping is when a portion of content from a website (or the entire site altogether) is copied and pasted to a low quality, spam site. When Google finds duplicate content across multiple sites it usually only picks one version to rank and penalizes the other.
Google is usually good at crawling the first posted, original version before any other. However, competitors try to combat this by using site scraper programs that automatically copy your content as soon as it is published, immediately re-post it and then submit it to Google for crawling. This allows for the scraper’s site to rank for your content, therefore getting all the love from search engines while your site gets buried in the seedy back pages of search results.
Search engines don’t like duplicate content. If your content is seen across hundreds of websites, especially spam sites, your site will be de-ranked. Say “Goodbye” to the front page of Google.
Slowing You Down
Google has recently implemented a host of new updates that call for high loading speed to achieve a better ranking. If your website does not load well, it will be left behind. Google’s own data shows that a 3 seconds load time increases bounce rates by 32% (when compared to a one second load time) and a 5 seconds load time can increase your bounce rates by 90%; and don’t forget, every bounce represents a potential customer lost. Attackers take advantage of search engines’ need for speed with this Negative SEO tactic.
If you notice your website running excessively slow and you have no idea why you may be falling victim to forceful crawling. Forceful crawling occurs when a hacker tries to overload your website with a heavy server load. This leads to slower loading speeds and may even crash your website.
Regularly monitoring your website’s loading speed to ensure that slow page loads do not interfere with audience engagement or your search engine ranking. If you think your site is victim to a crawling attack, you should contact your hosting provider or Rainman Creative to determine where the load is coming from.
Hack the Planet
Sometimes competitors take it to the next level and actually hack a website. Hacking gives them full access to the site, giving them the power to change on-site content and effect On-Page SEO. There are literally hundreds of different tactics that can be employed once a site has been breached.
A hacker gains access to the backend of a website or worse, directly to the server by exploiting vulnerabilities and security flaws of the website, hosting environment, or database. Once entry is gained, they can perform any number of malicious activities including redirecting links to spam domains or their own domain, stealing private information, code injections that can disrupt a website in a multitude of ways (for example telling Google not to crawl the website), redirecting traffic and more. Attackers may also change a website’s written content. This tricks Google into thinking the page is about something totally unrelated and decreases its ranking as a result.
If Google discovers your site has been hacked, they will display a message in search results that lets searchers know that your site has been compromised and may not be safe. No one is going near a site that is not safe!
It is very important that your website’s security be high on your list of priorates. Security is extremely important. The last thing you want is for your website to be totally altered, infested with spam and ranking horribly.
Protect Yourself Against The Dark Side
SEO can be a website’s best friend, or it can be a nightmare if the intentions are wrong. Website security and search engine impressions are extremely important for any website that wants to succeed. Preventing Negative SEO attacks involves constantly monitoring your website for spam links, anomalies and other problem mentioned above.
If you think you have fallen victim to a Negative SEO attack, do what you can to isolate the problem, let Google know and call Rainman Creative. Our team of experienced professionals will be able to diagnose the issue and do everything possible to secure your website and make sure it is ranking well again. We do this preventative maintenance and more for our clients every day and would love a chance to help your website be successful.