How to Protect Your Site from Negative SEO

by Jason Acidre on June 28, 2012 · 64 comments · Search


A few days ago, I just found out that someone’s trying to pull one of my top keywords’ search rankings by building thousands of spam links to its designated page. Obviously, that douche has plenty of time to waste. Though, unlucky for him, the page is still standing strong on the SERPs up to now (playing around the first 2 spots).

Before I start off, I first want to thank my friends from UPrinting and Repair Labs for lending me some of their awesome tools.

Anyway, the culprit used automated link building tools (not sure which one was it) to bombard the page with spammy blog comments (from irrelevant pages that automatically approve comments) using exact match anchor texts for the keyword that my SEO strategies resources page is ranking for – which is “SEO strategies”.

The link blast started late last week of April (right after the Google Penguin update) up to late May of this year. Below is a sample, and there are actually thousands of more of this kind of spam links built directing to my page:

The reason why I haven’t noticed it immediately is that the attack didn’t really affect my search traffic, which clearly means that the effort taken to build thousands of nasty links to my page was somehow useless.

What is Negative or Reverse SEO?

Negative SEO is the process of downgrading a site/page’s search result rankings through implementing tactics that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and to trigger negative ranking factors/signals, for it to be penalized or be affected by algorithmic updates.

These sabotaging methodologies have somehow proven to work, as many experts have already seen its effects (wherein some websites have been already victimized by this practice) and many of them have already shared their thoughts on this (like from Rand and Aaron).

The scary part of this emerging trend is that it can possible create its own industry, in which people might offer services to specifically bring down the organic rankings of their clients’ competitors.

Although Google is already finding solutions on how they can combat this practice, like the most awaited “Disavow links feature” for Google Webmaster Tools, there are still other existing ways to protect your site from Negative SEO and to recover from the attacks if in case your rankings have been already affected.

How to detect if you have been a victim of Negative SEO

There are a number of tools that you can use to determine if your site is being attacked through spam and manipulative link building, and these are the ones that I used:

  • Ahrefs.com (Subscriber account)
  • Majestic SEO (Pro version)

It’s best to start with Ahrefs.com, and explore the linking behaviors to your site’s entire domain:

I first noticed that there was something strange happening when I saw the most used anchor text for the links pointing to a page on my domain:

At first, I thought that it could be just because of a sitewide link naturally given to the page (as that page did get several natural links).  But 9,000+ links with that anchor, you’ll have to be skeptic with that amount. So I started checking the pages linking to its preferred landing page, and there I saw the nasty pages being used by the spammer to build unwanted links to that page.

The first linking page I visited has 2,800+ comments on it. Obviously, a link farm that spamming tools can easily scrape, seeing that a lot of exact match anchor texts links were used in the comment section.

The second tool that I used was Majestic SEO, to extract and download the list of all the links directing to one of my pages. You can also use the tool to see the historical link graph of your site (or the page being spammed externally) using their fresh index, where you can see which month/day links have exploded to your site – in an unnatural way.

After seeing the spike in new indexed links, I downloaded the list of links pointing to that page using Majestic SEO’s site explorer feature. To extract a more detailed data about the page’s link portfolio, which normally includes the URL of the pages linking to the page, anchor texts used as well as the dates where they were indexed by Majestic SEO.

Another tool that you can use is Google Alerts (as suggested by Dan Petrovic from Dejan SEO) where you can set the search query to – “Name Surname” | “Brand Name” | “BrandName” | yourdomain.com | -inurl:plus.google.com -inurl:yourdomain.com -inurl:twitter.com

There are many factors that you can focus on building up to protect your site from negative SEO and there are also other methods that you can use to have those bad links removed to clean up your link profile.

Below are some tips that you can choose to implement if in case you’re worrying negative links might hurt your rankings.

Start with the On-site Factors

Improve the page’s content in terms of depth, extensiveness and usability. Make sure that the page offers information-rich content and is shareworthy (to generate social signals), as these are also used as a major ranking factor by search engines in weighing which pages should be ranking on their search results.

So even if your competitors are trying to pull your page(s)’ search positions through spam link building, if the content has proven its robustness, it will still be hard for them to outrank you. You can also choose to continuously update the content of your page(s), so search engines can find something new every time they crawl your content.

Beef up the homepage’s link profile to sustain link equity

The overall link profile of the site is important to repel negative SEO effects. It will also be more dangerous if spammers get to attack your homepage with malicious links, as it can spread the venom down to the site’s inner categories/pages, which can affect the overall ranking power/capability of the site.

The best way to protect your site from Negative SEO is to continuously build strong and value-passing links to your homepage, given that it’s one of the most obvious bases of domain trust and authority.

If you can elevate the volume of high-value links pointing to your site’s homepage, the more you can improve the ratio of good vs. bad links pointing to your domain. You can also try to increase the number of quality/authoritative link sources directing to your attacked page(s), to make sure that the page will be able to sustain its rankings.

One probable reason why my page (that’s being trying to be pulled from its current rankings) isn’t that much affected is because of the existing authority and contextual links to it (it has links from SEOmoz, Pole Position Marketing, Linkbuildr and a bunch of other natural links). Plus it’s also hosted in a domain that’s continuously attracting good links from various authority link sources.

You can check out these other resources in building more quality links to your site.

Build more positive signals around your site

There are so many ways to build positive signals to your site, especially in using other online marketing channels and Google properties, to make your site/brand look more authentic in the eyes of search engines.

Some of the most common signals that can help build trust to a site over the web are:

  • Implementation of authorship markup (rel=”author” and rel=”publisher”) – this can improve the CTR of the site’s search listings, as it will display the author/publisher’s image on Google SERPs, which can in turn attract more clicks and can exemplify trust to users. Here are some helpful guides on how to implement authorship markup – from AJ Kohn and Joost de Vaulk.
  • Setting up a Google+ Brand Page – this is definitely a strong signal that you can use to prove authenticity to Google, especially if you can build a following base on this network. You can also check out Mashable and Social Media Examiner’s guide on how to create a Google+ Brand page.
  • Setting up a Google+ Local Page – since Google Places will be migrated as well to Google+ any time soon, it will also be a good addition to your signal building campaign, where you can set up a local page for your business. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to create a Google+ Local Page by Elevate Local.
  • Building a strong follower base on Facebook and Twitter – search engines are evidently using social signals to distinguish quality/authority/popular content over the web, so having a strong presence on these networks is a plus. Treat your site’s content as a vehicle to fuel your online marketing efforts, because the more you put out great and shareworthy content from your site, the higher chances of getting more new followers on these social platforms.
  • Explore other types of content – utilize other formats of content such as videos, data visualization, slide presentations, rich images, ebooks and whitepapers, since you can cross promote these materials from your site to other social networks (where you can build more positive signals to your site) – like Youtube, Vimeo, Pinterest, Flickr, Slideshare, Scribd and more.
  • Build strong authors for your brand and use authorship markup as a link building process – utilize your company’s employees to build a strong online brand presence for your site. Allow them to set up their own blogs or to have them share expert content on other industry blogs (guest blogs) and implement authorship markup on these content distribution campaign. The more known authors under your brand are actively sharing useful content, the more search engines and users are to trust you as an authoritative brand.    

Authority Building

Try to penetrate top industry blogs for guest authorship or for a regular column as well as authority news websites for press coverage/mentions. Getting your brand mentioned or featured (with or without a link) on these top sources for industry-related information is not just great for brand exposure, but it’s also a great signal for search engines to evaluate and justify if a site really deserves its search rankings.

These brand citations will protect you from people who want to damage your site through harmful links, and these link relationships will allow search engines to better understand the real value of your brand.

That’s why it’s very vital that your campaign focuses on providing linkworthy content, because it’s a solid way to prove your brand as an authority in the field, which can then allow you to easily penetrate these types of sites for content contribution and/or press coverage (and you can easily request for high-end links with these materials hosted within your site).

Bonus: Matt McGee recently published a post on how they have utilized HARO (Helpareporter.com) to get press mentions and high-value brand exposure for one of their clients. You definitely have to check that out!

Link Removal with Removeem.com (Optional)

If in any case these unauthorized links have affected your site in a bad way, you can also try to have them removed using Removeem.com – a link removal tool designed by Virante.

The tool basically allows its users to find all the links directing to their sites, specifically links that have used exact match anchor texts. The tool also has this feature that can extract contact details (such as email addresses and contact forms) of the sites linking to you, wherein you can contact the site owners directly from the tool.

Remove Em can also generate canned email templates to be used in contacting webmasters for link removal requests. However, these templates being provided by the tool are particularly targeted for Penguin affected sites (meaning link removal requests for manipulative links previously acquired by you or your link builders).

So you’ll going to need a new template that explains that you aren’t aware of those links being built for your site, and perhaps your competitors have done it to have your site penalized for violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, which will look quite similar to this:

Hi there,

I am [Name] with [Example.com]. We’ve just recently realized that some of our competitors may have been doing spam linking tactics to try and pull our site’s search rankings (without our knowledge), like the one on one of your site’s pages:

[http://www.example.com/asd-asd]

This link may have been acquired against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and it’s important for us to bring our site into compliance. Could you please remove our link from this page and any other page on your site?

Thank you and hope you’re having a great week.

[Name]

Here’s a quick preview of the tool, in case you’re interested to add this method to your campaign:

Publicize that your site is being attacked (Optional)

Write about your experience of being a victim of Negative SEO, so in case the next algorithm refresh/update hit your site’s search rankings, you can easily request and show to Google guys that you’re not behind those dirty link acquisitions. Just like what I’ve done in this post.

Submit the spam page for Removal from Google’s index through Google Webmaster Tools (Optional)

If you think that some of the spammy links are already hurting your search rankings, you can report it to Google using the Remove Content from Google tool.

Most of the spam pages that are used to demolish a site’s search rankings through automated link building tools mostly contain hundreds and sometimes thousands of irrelevant links in it, and that’s a valid reason to have them removed from Google’s web search.

And most of these sites are also already being deindexed by Google themselves.

Move the old content to a new URL (optional)

If the page where the nasty links have been built to is heavily hit in terms of SERP rankings, you can also choose to move the old content to a new URL (but don’t 301 redirect the old URL to the new one) to kill the connection between the site and the harmful links.

Then try to reclaim the page’s natural/quality links by contacting the sites/blogs that have link to your old page in the past and have them change the link to its new URL.

If you liked this post, you can subscribe to my feed, follow me on Twitter @jasonacidre and on Google+.

Jason Acidre

Jason Acidre is Co-Founder and CEO of Xight Interactive, marketing consultant for Affilorama and Traffic Travis, and also the sole author of this SEO blog. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonacidre and on Google+.

More Posts - Twitter - Facebook - Google Plus

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Leave a Comment

{ 21 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: