Vulnerability to Negative SEO and What You Can Do
There is almost as much debate about the possibility of negative SEO as the reality of extra-terrestrial life. While the general consensus seems to be that negative SEO strategies exist, webmasters—all experts in their field—have differing opinions about the effects that these techniques can have on your website’s search engine rankings. As a website owner, it pays to learn what negative SEO is all about and what activities are involved in it, not so you can use it against your competitors, but so you can protect your site and your brand from its potential effects.
What is negative SEO?
As the name almost too clearly implies, it is the opposite of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). While normal SEO seeks to elevate your site’s position in search engine rankings using a variety of techniques, negative SEO aims to bring down your site or your competitors’ pages. Erring webmasters do this to bring greater attention to their site or to raise their own rankings. Normally, the entire process entails the use of grey or black hat strategies that can cause quick but suspicious results.
There are several kinds of negative SEO, but most of the processes done today are link-based. This involves pointing low-quality links to your site. Google uses backlinks among the key criteria that decide your website’s quality—if you have reliable websites pointing back to your site, you are most likely to get higher rankings. By having low-quality links directed back to your page, negative SEO specialists can lead Google to become suspicious of your site, resulting to a drop in rankings, a penalty, or worse, a complete eviction from the results pages.
Are all websites vulnerable to link-based negative SEO?
Technically, no website is safe from negative SEO. It depends on how much effort the instigator puts into bringing your site down and how much protection your webmaster has put up. As a rule, however, new websites tend to be more vulnerable than established ones. Why this happens depends on the backlinks.
You see, older websites have a backlink profile that they have established over several years of operation. Google would pay greater attention to this profile, especially if it is made up of links that they have proven to be reliable over time, than to most of the low-quality links posted by negative SEOs. As such, the backlink profile serves as a wall that makes it hard for negative SEOs to target or penetrate.
New sites, meanwhile, typically lack this wall. Because of this, they are extremely vulnerable to link-based negative SEO. The attacks can be straightforward or they can be subtle. Many new websites find themselves cruising up the rankings during the first few months, only to be evicted because of low quality links that have been piling up for some time.
How can you protect your site?
If you run an established site, you do not have much to worry about. This does not mean that you have to play it cool though. As far as Google is concerned, quantity may trample quality. A persistent negative SEO can bring you down the rankings using high numbers of low-quality links. Because of this, you need to monitor your backlinks constantly. If you own a forum, a blog, or any website that accepts user-generated content, pay great attention to the outbound links that visitors post in your pages.
If you run a new website, you need to check your backlinks at least once a month. Focus on creating online PR and branded link-building activities for the first few months. Make sure that you link your page to high-quality and established websites. Avoid linking to just about any site, as these websites may link to low-quality pages that are not related to your niche and may affect your ranking negatively.
If you have been hit by a negative SEO attack, the key is to act affectively and promptly. Make sure to check the extent of the damage. Did the attack damage your homepage or did it impact the subpages? Make sure to disavow the links afterwards.
It pays to remember that your site’s falling rank is not always caused by negative SEO. It could be the result of everything from an algorithm update to mishandling of the page. In any case, the best thing to do is to constantly monitor your site, how it is used by visitors, and how it interacts with users and other websites. This way, should anything go wrong, whether it is brought about by negative SEO or not, you can respond appropriately and avoid damage.