What Is Negative SEO And How Can It Hurt Your Website?

SEO is usually used to help a website rise in search engine rankings, but negative SEO is the opposite. Negative SEO refers to a malicious practice that intends to damage the search rankings of a competitor’s site.

Find out more about negative SEO below and why it can harm your organization.

Why Is There Negative SEO?

Most of us only think about white hat SEO services that are done to improve your Google rank. But why would anyone want to engage in negative SEO?

Simply put, competition can be so cut-throat among companies online that some organizations will attempt to sabotage other organizations in their niche. It’s not fair, but it’s a common practice.

The best thing to do is learn about the different types of negative SEO and combat it as needed.

There are two types of negative SEO: off-page and on-page. We’ll review off-page negative SEO first.

Off-Page Negative SEO

Creating Spammy Backlinks

Backlinks are essential to a high Google rank today. In the old days, it was possible to game the search results somewhat with large numbers of questionable links. That’s where the term ‘link farms’ came from.

Today, Google frowns on link farms and the like. But a negative SEO campaign may set up spammy links pointing to your site from link farms and private blog networks.

SEO consultant Michael Cottam, who’s seen a number of clients recently come under negative SEO attacks, says, “One common tactic is to create content that is designed to draw a Google penalty, and link from that content to the victim’s website.  Sometimes it’s computer-generated gibberish, sometimes it’s sneaky redirects to malware, and sometimes it’s porn.”

That’s why your webmaster should watch your site’s link profile and take note when there is a dramatic rise in backlinks in a few months.

If you confirm there are spammy backlinks affecting your ranking, you can make a disavow file that will cause Google to ignore the questionable backlinks.

Scraping Content

Some organizations will take content from your website, copy it, and create other sites with duplicate content. As we all know, Google doesn’t like copied content because it degrades the user experience.

Fortunately, Google usually sorts out who wrote the original copy.

To keep your website copy original and safe, rely on Copyscape to look for copy that has been duplicated.

When you run across scraped content from your site, the first step is to politely ask the webmaster to take it down. If they ignore you, the next option is to report the black hat SEO to Google.

On-Page Negative SEO

Altering Your Site Content

Many companies are surprised to discover when a bad actor gets into their website and changes the content in a negative manner.

It’s common for a hacker to get into a site and add spam content, often using bad links. The negative content can be hidden from view so it’s invisible unless you dig into the code.

Also, if you look in your webserver logs, you’ll probably find hundreds or thousands of hacking attempts daily.  Hackers run scripts, testing for all sorts of vulnerabilities, against millions of websites at once.

Weekly audits with Website Auditor and related tools are the best way to catch these shady attacks and put a stop to them.

Changing Robots.txt

This is one of the most critical files on a website as far as SEO goes. The robots.txt file tells Google crawlers how to crawl your site. It’s usually used to tell search engines the parts of the site you don’t want to be crawled.

A hacker that breaks into the site can modify the file and tell search engines to ignore important content, such as your Best Sellers page.

If you keep in mind these types of negative SEO tactics, your company will be better prepared to maintain and improve your SEO ranking over time.