Negative SEO is Alive and Well: What You Need to Know to Combat/Prevent It

Negative SEO is Alive and Well

On my All Things SEO Blog I typically like to share basic to intermediate level strategies for businesses that are interested in improving their online visibility through SEO and other Internet marketing strategies. This post, though, touches on a deep, dark, evil, subject related to SEO that up until a couple of months ago I had never had to worry about, and that’s Negative SEO.

Unfortunately, one of my local organic SEO clients has been under attack from what appears to be a jealous competitor who apparently got tired of seeing my client in the No. 1 organic position for nearly every targeted keyword we optimized for in his local industry marketplace for going on almost 2 years now.

Instead of doing things the right way to promote their business locally online using ethical local and organic SEO practices, this competitor decided they were going to take the unethical approach of hiring a Negative SEO service to knock my client off their No. 1 pedestal by spamming them with thousands of low-quality links.

As one of Atlanta’s leading SEO consultants who has worked with numerous businesses around the country, I for one, am disgusted by the practice of Negative SEO and hope that Karma serves those who practice it.

Am I taking a risk voicing such a strong opinion to these practitioners who may end up reading this post and vow to “stick it to me” for talking smack about them? Probably. But it needed to be said, and I’m prepared to battle with the consequences.

Regardless of my passionate feelings on the subject, the point of this blog post is to educate those who may be under attack from Negative SEO.

What is Negative SEO?

Put simply, the goal of Negative SEO is to decrease the search ranking of a particular website, not by earning higher rankings with superior content and links – as reputable SEO companies strive to achieve for their clients – but by using deceitful practices that discredit the website being targeted with Negative SEO strategies, which I’ll outline in the next section.

Negative SEO Strategies

As a more complete picture, Negative SEO can be construed in many ways from attacking website code and server vulnerabilities for a targeted website, and of course, human error of leaving yourself vulnerable by joining public networks or not signing out of important programs such as Webmaster Tools.

Negative SEO StrategiesThe case my client and I are dealing with currently is related to link spam, which has been one of the primary discussion points for SEOs over the past 2+ years since Google released its Penguin Update. Penguin, released in April 2012, was an algorithm update that essentially penalized websites participating in unethical link building practices (spamming the web with back links) in order to achieve higher organic search rankings.

While Google’s intentions of ridding the search results of these spam practitioners was a necessity, it opened up another avenue for Negative SEO by enabling unethical SEOs to spam-bomb their clients’ competitors websites with low-quality links.

Going back to my client’s situation, over the past 2 months my SEO team has uncovered nearly 4,000 Negative SEO-driven spammy back links pointing to my client’s website, using anchor text ranging from Pornography-related terms to “Sex and the City Quotes.”

Yes, this Negative SEO has temporarily dethroned them from their top organic position, but fortunately for us, our team has the tools necessary to combat such an attack, and we’re determined to reclaim our client’s rightful place at the top of the search results.

Ways to Combat Negative SEO on Your Website

Preventive measures will always be the key to combating Negative SEO against your website. Staying on top of what’s being said about your brand or website, continually monitoring your website’s back link profile, and keeping your website code (don’t ignore your WordPress/Plugin updates!) and/or server up to date with the latest code bases and security patches to minimize the risk of a hacker attack are ways to stay one step ahead of potential catastrophe from Negative SEO attacks.

Back Link Auditing Tools to Combat Negative SEO

In the case that your website is being spam-bombed by a jealous competitor, you’ll want to constantly monitor the back links pointing to your website, as blasting out thousands of low-quality links in the form of blog comment spam, forum spam, and links from other non-relevant (and often times non-English websites) is a strategy often used by Negative SEOs.

How do you monitor your website’s back link profile? Check out these great tools below.

Ahrefs.com

Ahrefs.com is a tool I use on a daily basis for competitive analysis, and now for Negative SEO analysis for my clients. Ahrefs.com claims to have the largest index of live backlinks of any of link checker tools online, and judging by experience, I’d have to agree but you have to have a paid account in order to get the quality results you’re looking for in a link checker tool.

Ahrefs Link Checker

Ahrefs.com inbound link reports have consistently produced the most amount of back links for my client’s website as compared to the other two tools that I will discuss, but I must say I thoroughly believe you need to utilize multiple link checker tools to get a more complete picture of your website’s back link profile.

SEO SpyGlass

The next back link analysis tool I use is SEO SpyGlass, which is part of the SEO PowerSuite by Link-Assistant.com.

SEO Spy Glass

The cool thing about SEO SpyGlass is it not only gives you the list of back links pointing to your website, but it also provides advanced data on the domain your site is being linked from, such as the Title Tag, Anchor Text, URL, PageRank, etc.

Open Site Explorer

Part of the Moz.com Suite of Pro Tools, the main feature about Open Site Explorer that makes worth while for combating Negative SEO is the “Recently Discovered” section of links that were added to the OSE index within the last 60 days.

Opensite Explorer

Again, this is a paid tool that I don’t find to be as comprehensive as Ahrefs.com, but you’re going to need multiple link analysis tools to properly monitor your back link profile for Negative SEO, and this is a good resource overall.

Google Tools for Combating Negative SEO

While all of this Negative SEO business is focused on driving down the Google rankings for a targeted website, Google itself provides some great tools for preventing Negative SEO from having a long-lasting (or any for that matter) impact on your organic rankings, which I detail out below.

Google Webmaster Tools

The hub of Google indexation management and health motorization of your website, Google Webmaster Tools provides two sections of note that you’ll want to closely monitor for the affects of Negative SEO. The first section is the “Links to Your Site” section under the “Search Traffic” category on the left hand side.

Here you can identify links that Google is aware of that point to your website, including the negative ones. If you see any low-quality links that could potentially be harmful to the rankings of your website, take note.

Webmaster Tools Link

The second section section within Google Webmaster Tools that you’ll want to pay close attention to is the “Manual Actions” section under the “Search Traffic” category on the right.

Webmaster Tools Manual Actions

Here, Google will actually tell you if your website has been issued a manual penalty (major reduction in search visibility) because of unethical (or negative SEO) practices.

Google Alerts

Google Alerts is a free service provided that enables you to setup custom alerts in (almost) real time for terminology that gets indexed/mentioned in the Google index.

Often used for online reputation management campaigns, Google Alerts are fairly customizable by phrase match or broad match queries.

Google Alerts

If you configure an alert to send you a message anytime Google finds a new piece of content about your brand/website, you’ll be alerted right away and you can take that alert into consideration, as it could potentially be negative and drive down your organic ranking.

Google Disavow Links Tool

The crown jewel of the Google tools for combating Negative SEO against your website is the Disavow Tool. Released in October of 2012, the Disavow Links tool allows Webmasters to submit a report of all the links/domains that are pointing to your website that could potentially negatively impact your rankings and search visibility.

Disavow Links Tool Negative Seo

While Google suggests trying to rid the Web of the spammy links, sometimes it’s just not possible because of circumstances out of your control. So utilizing the Disavow Tool to notify Google that there are harmful links out there that point to your website and you do not what to be associated with them.

If it isn’t utilized properly, Disavow can cause more harm than good, so it is a tool that only advanced Webmasters and SEOs should use to prevent negative SEO.

Got a Negative SEO Problem?

So now that you’ve got the low-down on negative SEO, how it works, and what it could be doing to your search rankings, if you feel like your website might be under attack by a vengeful or jealous competitor, feel free to reach out to me or my company for more information and a free initial consultation.

5 Must-Have Tools for DIY SEO

5 Must-Have Tools for DIY SEO

I’ve noticed a trend in my consulting business of late that more and more businesses are interested in SEO training rather than a full-on SEO program.

Hiring an SEO coach to complement the DIY SEO efforts can be ideal for some businesses that have a marketing staff with technically savvy employees. DIY SEO helps keep costs down over hiring a professional SEO consultant to manage your entire campaign, so long as you’re able to efficiently manage the SEO process in-house.

That said, I’ve put together this list of 5 must-have tools for DIY SEO, should you choose to keep your SEO efforts in-house.

Google Ads Keyword Planner

If you’re conducting a DIY SEO campaign, you’re most likely already in-tune with who your potential customers are and what they might be searching for to find you online.

That said, the first task to address in DIY SEO after you’ve identified your target audience and come up with a rough draft site map of your website is to conduct keyword research around your business’ products or services.

A great tool to conduct this keyword research is the Google Adwords Keyword Planner. It’s free of charge easy to use.

Then simply start typing in relevant keyword phrases at the top of the page, and click on the “Search” button to get  a list of suggested keywords to target and what their monthly search volumes are.

Google Keyword Planner for DIY SEO Keyword Research

An SEO Friendly Content Management System

Most companies don’t have a full time development staff to manage their website content updates, so it’s more than likely your marketing team will need a dynamic website that’s built on an SEO friendly content management system (CMS) in order to make site updates.

It’s important to make sure that the CMS platform your company chooses to build its website on is fully equipped with everything you need in order to execute your DIY SEO strategy. If you’re using WordPress, you need to make sure you have a reputable SEO plugin such as the Yoast WordPress SEO pack or the All-in-One SEO pack. Both of these SEO plugins give DIY SEOers the ability to manage the essential on-site SEO elements for DIY SEO including Meta Titles and Descriptions, SEO Friendly URLs, Canonical URLs, etc.

Google Analytics

Another great free tool provided by Google is the Google Analytics, which allows you to continually monitor you website’s traffic to help you identify trends and traffic sources. For those who are conducting a DIY SEO campaign, Google Analytics is essential for tracking the organic search traffic that comes to your website from your DIY SEO efforts.

In addition, you can set up Goal Conversions that tracks important visitor conversion activity such as an online sale, a contact form submission or an email newsletter signup. Staying on top of your website’s analytics can give you the information you need to make any necessary tweaks to your DIY SEO plan and to track its progress over time.

Webmaster Tools (Search Console)

Google Search Console for DIY SEO

Webmaster Tools (Search Console) are an essential configuration resource for DIY SEO that you’ll need to effectively manage how your website is indexed by the search engines. Once you’ve verified ownership and installed webmaster tools onto your website, you can get access to a bevy of information of how Google sees the overall health of your website.

You can get information on crawling errors and Robots.txt notifications that a search engine spider encounters, as well as get a better picture on what relevancy your website has on certain keywords and the traffic/impressions that you’ve garnered from them.

You can also submit XML sitemaps for your website that tell Google about each page on your website, how often they’re updated, etc. Webmaster Tools also allows you to request that certain pages be removed from the search index.

Moz.com Pro Tools Suite

No I’m not a paid endorser of Moz.com’s Pro Tools, but I’ve found them to be a great resource for a variety of on-site and off-site SEO metrics, and if you’re doing a DIY SEO campaign, I highly recommend you subscribe to them.

Yes, there is a cost to the Moz.com Tools, starting at $99/month for up to 5 campaigns, but I’ve found the insight they provide to be well worth the cost.

There are multiple features to the Moz.com Pro Tools, which include:

  • keyword ranking and organic traffic data reports that run once a week
  • a number grading (0 to 100) on the effectiveness of the on-site SEO that you’ve done for certain keywords on a page by page basis
  • crawl diagnostics that identify critical errors, warnings, and notifications that you need to be aware of on your website that might hinder your DIY SEO efforts
  • competitive link analysis that allows you to compare your website’s link profile authority with up to 3 of your competitors
  • the Open Site Explorer tool which allows you to analyze your back link profile, as well as the link profiles of your competitors
  • a social dashboard that tracks social engagement such as Retweets, Fans, Likes and Traffic

If you’re going to take on the task of planning an executing a DIY SEO campaign, make sure you’re well equipped with helpful tools that can assist you along the way.