Negative SEO: a new online evil
As if business owners didn’t have enough to worry about when it came to marketing their business online when up pops a very real risk of unscrupulous competitors attacking your website in a bid to get your site banned from Google or have your search engine rankings drastically demoted to the nether regions of Google’s search results.
Negative SEO has been an issue for a while, but it is now hitting the mainstream. There used to be much debate surrounding the issue of whether a competitor could attack your website in such a way that it could have such a hard-hitting detrimental effect on your search engine rankings. It is now a harsh reality that negative SEO practices can cause your site to drop in ranking and even be removed from Google altogether.
Why does Google allow this to happen?
Google has put measures in place to deter website owners from using tactics that are intended to manipulate their search engine rankings.
The deterrent is a tough one – try to manipulate your search engine rankings and you risk being banned from Google’s index.
As a result of negative SEO, practitioners can look at sites that have been banned as a result of build off-page SEO tactics and back-engineer what caused the site to be banned and use the same techniques to target a website that they want to eradicate.
How do they do it?
Negative SEO practitioners will use various tools that allow them to place thousands of website links pointing to their targeted site in various places across the net. These links will be crawled by Google and then processed by their algorithm. If Google’s algorithm thinks that the links have been placed to manipulate Google’s algorithm, then the targeted site will receive a penality.
Who is at risk?
A large high-authority site such as Amazon has nothing to worry about. This type of site has so much authority that it would be almost impossible to use such tactics to get them banned from Google’s index. It is smaller websites that are much more vulnerable to attack.
What can you do?
Several people who work in the SEO industry have told me that their client’s website is under attack from people using negative SEO practices and asked for advice. However, it is very difficult to offer advice because there are no clear guidelines from Google as to how you should tackle this.
It is almost impossible to find out who is carrying out a negative SEO attack because many of the people involved are highly skilled and use multiple proxies to protect their identity. If you cannot identify the perpetrator, it is very difficult to take any form of action.
Unfortunately, at the moment website owners of businesses that are being attacked are waiting to see if they receive an “over optimisation penalty” notice from Google, which website owners can then appeal. An over optimisation penalty is often accompanied by a demotion on the search engine results pages, which will make your website very hard to find, or your website may be removed from Googles index completely.
When you receive a penalty notice from Google, you are instructed to clean up your act and remove any links that may be violating Google’s guidelines.
Unfortunately, if you have no knowledge of who placed the links and if there is no way to remove them, then your only option is to plead your case to Google in the hope that they believe that it was someone else attacking your website and not a result of your own actions.
This is a complex problem that only Google can fix, and, as long as people can make money from destroying other people’s websites and potentially their livelihood, it is not a problem that is going to go away any time soon.