Negative SEO: How to Spot It and How to Protect Your Site

In most cases, business owners will likely view search engine optimization in a positive light. Whether you outsource your SEO to other experienced professionals or implement the best SEO practices yourself, following Google’s guidelines while optimizing your site can have a huge impact on your web traffic, your lead conversion, and your overall revenue stream.

However, there are some dark sides to SEO that you might not know about. Black hat SEO tactics, for example, have been around for quite some time and are used by those who want to game the system and obtain results — regardless of the risks. These unethical techniques may have worked well in the past, but Google has since cracked down on those who try to cheat their way to the top. Penalizations for participating in these methods can be severe; if you’re caught, your site’s ranking may fall or you might disappear from search results entirely.

But even if you think you’re doing everything right, your website might still suffer these kinds of consequences. Through no fault of your own, your SEO (or your client’s SEO) might end up in a downward spiral. Worst of all, you may not even know why. In some cases, the answer might lie in another dark form of optimization: negative SEO.

But what exactly does negative SEO entail? And should you really be worried about it? Read on to get a better idea of why you should start taking this threat more seriously.

What Is Negative SEO?

While the process you know as search engine optimization aims to have a positive effect on your website’s ranking, negative SEO has the opposite goal. But it’s not really used on your own site. Instead, it’s usually used to lower the rankings of other websites. Black hat SEO tactics are typically used here (since, by definition, this practice is wholly unethical), but it takes things a step further. Rather than use unscrupulous techniques to get their own site ahead, the people who turn to negative SEO utilize those kinds of methods to put other sites further behind.

In some cases, the goal is to merely knock a site out of a top ranking spot and get Google to denounce or penalize the site. In others, someone might hope to get a site to completely disappear from Google search rankings for good.

Does Negative SEO Actually Work?

Unfortunately, the rise of negative SEO actually came out of a positive development: Google’s 2012 Penguin update. Once that algorithm update — which was intended to put a stop to tactics like keyword stuffing and manipulative link-building — was released, the people who had been relying on those techniques were no longer seeing the results they wanted. So they came up with another way. Instead of focusing on their own sites, they targeted the sites of their competition using the techniques that Google had essentially outlawed. As a result, Google blamed the sites that were actually being victimized. Even though the people running, maintaining, and optimizing these sites were being honest and following the rules, the individuals performing the negative SEO attacks ended up getting what they wanted. In many cases, the good sites were penalized, while the bad sites made gains.

Although a lot of business owners have certainly experienced the adverse impact of these tactics firsthand, there’s a lot of debate surrounding the effectiveness of negative SEO. Even some of the higher-ups at Google have publicly said that you should simply ignore negative SEO attacks, though many SEOs vehemently disagree with that sentiment. Google maintains that while negative SEO is real, these attacks are quite rare. There are extreme measures others can go to in order to harm your site, but the company says that many of the most common tactics are ineffective in the long term and will be caught (especially if the website owner takes advantage of the tools Google has provided).

However, experts like Neil Patel and others stress that these attacks can and do hurt sites on a regular basis. While negative SEO techniques might be found out and eliminated eventually, most business owners can’t afford to suffer such a significant loss even in the short term. To increase your chances of not becoming the target of negative SEO, it’s best to prepare and prevent whenever possible. For all intents and purposes, you should consider negative SEO to be real and effective — and something you need to protect your site or your clients’ sites against.

What Are Some Examples of Negative SEO?

Negative SEO can take numerous forms. Some of the most common examples include:

  • Website hacking (infiltrating a website or plugin to manipulate rankings, blocking robots.txt files to eliminate crawling, or adding malicious link redirects)

  • Link spamming (building spammy links that direct to a site)

  • Content scraping (copying and pasting a site’s content to many other sites)

  • Forceful bot crawling (in order to overload or crash a server)

  • Bounce rate manipulation (using bots to visit and leave sites to impact bounce rate and dwell time)

  • Backlink removal (attempting to impact your domain authority and backlink profile by getting rid of high-quality backlinks obtained honestly)

How Do I Know Whether My Site is Being Targeted?

Because SEO can be such a mystery in the first place, it’s not always easy to know for sure whether you’re being targeted. Some people might even assume that they’re the subject of a negative SEO attack when, in reality, they might be responsible for wrongdoing or there may be something else going on (like a Google algorithm update).

That said, if you know you haven’t done anything wrong and there’s no online chatter about Google making changes, there are some potential signs you’ll want to watch out for. These include:

  • Sudden drops in search traffic

  • Drops in individual keyword rankings

  • Significant increases in spammy backlinks

  • Increased instances of duplicated content

  • Slow-loading or constantly crashing websites

  • Huge drops in dwell time or unwarranted increased in click-through rates

  • Disappearing from search engines (de-indexing)

  • Newly added and unauthorized link redirects

  • Receipt of manual penalty notifications from Google

What Can I Do to Protect My Site or My Clients’ Sites?

Prevention is usually the best way to reduce the risk of becoming a negative SEO target. Fortunately, there are a number of tools you can use to monitor the inner-workings of your site and ensure you catch any malicious actions sooner rather than later. You can sign up for Google’s Webmaster Tools alerts via email, keep track of your backlinks, increase your website security, utilize Copyscape to check for duplicate content, keep tabs on your website speed and social media mentions, and more.

Of course, that’s a lot of work for one person to handle. Businesses often outsource their SEO campaigns, web design, and website maintenance in order to keep operations running smoothly and ensure they aren’t subjected to these attacks. If you’re an SEO reseller who handles these responsibilities for other clients, you’ll need to implement these monitoring tools yourself or work with other professionals who can assist you in ensuring your clients’ campaigns are a success across the board.

Ultimately, knowledge is power. The more you know about how negative SEO operates, the better position you’ll be in to protect your site or your clients’ websites from harm. And the more monitoring you do, the more likely it will be that you can prevent and catch these issues before they become catastrophic.

5 SEO Reporting Mistakes You Don’t Want To Make

Your SEO reports are used to inform your clients, stakeholders, and colleagues on how their website is performing on the search engine results page. But SEO reports are much more than your average data analysis.

SEO reports provide you and your company with an opportunity to show your clients the value of your hard work. They give you the chance to strengthen work relationships and improve client retention.

However, many SEO businesses see SEO reporting as a chore rather than an opportunity. This can have a negative impact on how your customers feel when they receive their report.

So how can you create an SEO report that makes your client not only want to read it but also want to stick around with your company as a regular customer?

Here are five of the most common SEO reporting mistakes you might be making that could be keeping your clients from sticking with your business.

You’re not reporting on what your clients care about

Just like any other business, your client has main objectives that they want to see reflected in their data metrics. When you create SEO reports that highlight metrics that don’t reflect these objectives, it causes your clients to lose interest because the information is irrelevant.

You need to hold your client’s interest in order to make your SEO reports count. To do that, start by identifying your client’s business objectives and creating an SEO plan that will help them to achieve those goals.

From there, execute the plan you’ve created and report on the metrics that measure the work your business has done for your client.

When you choose KPIs that match your strategy and your client’s business objectives, they’ll be excited to read their SEO report and be excited to work with you again.

You don’t have any specific goals outlined

As mentioned above, it’s important that you start an SEO campaign by establishing the client’s business objectives. If you don’t have the objective, you don’t have a goal.

Your goals and the client’s goals need to be specific and mutually agreed upon before the SEO campaign begins. Establish your goal, inform your client what your goal is at the beginning of the month, and then report on the goal at the end of the month.

When your goal has been clearly established, you can objectively say at the end of the month on your SEO report whether you’ve hit, exceeded, or missed your target goal.

By creating a mutually agreed upon target goal, you reduce the risk of your client being frustrated or upset that you haven’t hit a higher target. That means a happier client, and a happier client is a retained client.

You’re not visualizing your data in a way that’s meaningful

Graphic design isn’t something that’s just meant to make your website and your SEO reports look pretty. It’s there to solve a problem. If your SEO report looks good, but doesn’t convey the information you need it to, you need to create a different report.

Once you’ve figured out the data metrics your client cares about, you need to choose how you’re going to display that information to them. Pie charts and bar graphs are only valuable when they’re clear, concise, and informative.

Consider doing some research on how to visualize your data effectively. You want to transform your metrics from data into a story that conveys information and meaning to your clients. If your clients can’t understand what they’re reading, they’ll go somewhere else where they can.

You’re only providing metrics, not insights

An SEO report isn’t just a way of showing your client the data you’ve accumulated over the past month. It’s a way of showing your clients how that data has impacted them.

If you’re only showing your clients raw, numeric data, there’s a strong chance they won’t understand how that data is affecting them. This is where insights come in. You need to deliver insights in your report to help the client understand not just what your data metrics are but also why they matter in the first place.

To get into the grove of creating insights in your report, start by asking yourself “Why does this matter?” Look at your data metrics and what they mean for the client. If they’re ranking on the first page of Google for a specific keyword, tell them how that contributes to their goals.

You’re not connecting your SEO results to revenue

When your client is working with you, it’s a mutually beneficial partnership and it’s vital that they’re able to see those benefits. If you’re not showing your client how their SEO results are affecting their revenue, it could come back to bite you.

Of course, connecting SEO results to revenue can be challenging because search engine optimization is a few steps back from conversions. SEO and revenue can also be difficult to connect on websites where the final conversion happens offline.

So how do you tie together organic traffic to revenue? Start by setting up goal conversions. Add a value to those conversions in your analytics.

You might not be able to calculate an exact profit because clients often don’t know their lifetime customer value or their average close rate. And, when they do, sometimes they don’t want to share that information with you.

Despite these hurdles, try to connect your SEO to revenue even if you can only gather a rough ballpark figure. These estimated numbers will at least give your client a look at the bigger picture and how your work is benefiting them.

Your SEO reports ought to be more than just accumulated data metrics. With just your SEO report, you can influence whether a client chooses to continue working with your business or to seek SEO help elsewhere.

By avoiding the mistakes listed above and delivering data, insights, and revenue that are related to your client’s goals, you can retain a greater number of clients and improve your overall customer experience.

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