Ever since Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, SEOs and webmasters have been carefully watching the new changes with confusion and as well as with fear. While everyone is focusing on not seeing a drop in SERPs, there is another big thing to worry about which is negative SEO.

Negative SEO
Image credit: Offervault.

The phrase ‘negative SEO’ has been buzzing around the internet at lightening speed ever since the launch of Penguin a few weeks ago. Negative SEO is, yes, you guessed it – the opposite of positive SEO. This type of SEO sends negative messages to Google which suggest that your website is not trustworthy and the result is a sudden decline in SERPs and a whole lot of frustration.

Following on the heels of the latest Google algorithm update (Penguin) which occurred in late April, many webmasters have received a message from Google through its Webmaster Tools. This message states in short, that Google has detected some pages which may be using techniques which are outside of Google’s webmaster guidelines. The warning message tells the site owner to look for possible artificial or unnatural links pointing to their site that could be intended to manipulate page rank.

This message, along with the latest algorithm update has resulted in many SEOs and webmasters to conclude that negative SEO is a real threat. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team said recently that the Penguin update is not targeting SEO but rather web spam. However, many people out there who assumed that they were doing white hat and safe SEO, saw their websites take direct hits by the penguin update.

So what is Negative SEO Exactly and How’s it Done?

Negative SEO is by no stretch of the imagination, anything new. It has however, recently become much more mainstream. The most common form of negative SEO is when one site owner points low quality links at a competitor’s website so that they can increase their own ranking. Other commonly used forms of negative SEO include hacking a site, pointing several stellar reviews at a competitor’s business to make it look as though they purchased the reviews and sending spam reports to Google. In short, negative SEO is done to reduce a page’s rankings in the search results.

Now you know that negative SEO is done by exploiting sites by identifying their weaknesses. While this all sounds very awful and indeed it is, you should know that sites with strong domain authority are less vulnerable to these tactics. Plus, it is a huge risk to partake in negative SEO which means that most legitimate businesses simply don’t do it.

How to Defend Your Site from Negative SEO

The best way to prevent negative SEO from happening to you is to make sure you have a solid SEO foundation in place and to continually monitor ranking metrics so you are aware of any suspicious activities.

You should put your focus on building a very natural link profile with high quality links coming from a variety of sources. Social media links, guests posts, social bookmarking, blog comments and press releases are all examples of natural links. Your content should be 100% unique and of the best quality possible as well. By focusing on creating great content and quality links, you will establish yourself as an authority in your niche which will help to prevent negative SEO from affecting your site.

Clean up Your Links

Doing a general cleanup of your links in your profile is a defensive measure to take. If you spot unnatural links in your profile, whether you built them or not, try to get them removed. If you cannot control some unnatural links you find, send Google a preemptive reconsideration request and tell them that you have no control over the links in question and ask that they have no value towards your rankings. Some experts believe that this reporting technique will become a part of Google’s Webmaster Tools in the near future due to the growing concern over negative SEO.

Weed out links from sites that have nonsensical or irrelevant content. Also remove links from any domain which has a very bad ratio of links out to links in. And, do not buy links as doing so is against Google’s terms of service. If you have purchased links in the past, take them down.

Amp up Your Site’s Security

Malware and hacks can occur if you are having security trouble with your FTP logins. Someone could get in and put malware on your website and make negative changes to your site. A hacker could block the Google bots from finding your site by getting into your robots.text file and if this is done, you many not know what has gone wrong. If you do not yet have good security software, purchase some and be sure to keep it updated as needed.

Maintain and Update your Sitemap Regularly

A common form of negative SEO is when someone steals your content before it becomes indexed. Doing so will make it appear as though your site is the one duplicating content. You can prevent this from happening to you by maintaining your updated sitemap and consistently re-submitting it when you publish fresh content. If you suspect that someone is scraping and duplicating your site, simply perform a search in Google using a sentence from your web page within quotes. If you find that a site is stealing your content, get into contact with the webmaster and demand that the content be removed.

The Best Defense is Rock Solid SEO

The best way to protect yourself from negative SEO is to have a solid SEO foundation in place and to consistently monitor your ranking metrics to look for anything suspicious. And, having an open and honest relationship with Google can help you to maintain good rankings.

Focus your SEO efforts on building quality links from prominent websites as doing so will boost your domain authority. Take the time to guest blog and promote your site to other reputable website owners who would be willing to link back to you.

The bottom line is that negative SEO is a real concern and something you should be aware of. There are many unscrupulous people out there who are hell bent on destroying their competitors in any way they can. The key to preventing negative SEO from affecting you is to build your online reputation and to remain vigilant so that you can address any problems you find quickly. The more educated you are about this subject, the more able you will be able to protect yourself against it.