13 Mar - 2018

Types of negative SEO in 2018

Sudden drop in SERP rankings, noticeably lower number of visitors, extremely high number of links from websites you’d never think would have links to yours – all of these could be symptoms of a negative SEO. Disputed by a number of experts but still cause of fear for many, this type of SEO has become the boogeyman of the internet. And the funny thing is: if it happens, it is by no means a laughing matter.

By definition, negative SEO is a set of activities aimed at lowering a competitor’s rankings in Google search results. It’s rarely spoken of, but it is an issue business owners should be aware, especially if they are a part of a highly competitive market.

When we talk about this subject, the first question that comes to mind is: How do they do it? Well, before we go into details, we will need to cover the basics. There are two main types of negative Seo:

  1. Negative Off-Page Seo: targets your website without internally interfering with its structure;
  2. Negative On-Page Seo: targets your website by finding a way inside its structure and making alterations. Sometimes, those modifications can be radical. Other times, they can be subtle, damaging your website’s rankings over time.

Negative Off-Page SEO

*For the sake of this post, imagine that you run a small, family business – a bakery, for example.

1. Unnatural linking

Your business website is well positioned for keywords such as “strawberry shortcake” and “lemon pie”. And that is completely understandable, as these treats are your specialty. But in the course of a few weeks, your rankings have plummeted. As 30% of your revenue comes from online deliveries, this is a serious blow. After close inspection, you found out that there is an unusually large number of links coming to you from several unknown sites, and all of them have identical anchor “white flower”

This type of negative SEO tends to use Penguin updates. Essentially, it simulates the black-hat SEO technique of link purchase and manipulation. Google’s algorithm detects the unnatural behavior and flags the website as it is against their Webmaster Guidelines.

According to an SEO expert Marie Haynes, your website may have suffered from this type of a negative SEO attack if you detect:

  • Unusually high number of links from foreign forums;
  • Unusually high number of links from sites with TLDs of .ru, .cz, .cn, .pl, .ro, .bg, .biz, .com.ar, .com.br and .info;
  • An abundance of keyword-anchored links from multiple sources;
  • Finally, host of links from porn sites, gambling sites, payday loan sites, etc.

2. Scraping

You are taking good care of your “Baking Blog”. There is a new, comprehensive post every week, content is original, and visitors take note of it. However, during the last month or two, your latest blog posts failed to make an impact. After quick consult session with the plagiarism checker, you realize that your original post was published on someone else’s blog, just seconds after you made it “live”.

This negative SEO approach is called Scraping and is taking full advantage of Google’s Panda updates. The scraper copies your content moments after publishing and provides crawlers two versions of the same article. Even though Google’s algorithm is usually smart enough to determine which post was the original one, in certain situations you may be penalized for utilizing “stolen content.

The real problem occurs if this trend continues over the extended period, as being continuously flagged for plagiarism can hurt your SEO efforts. To add insult to injury, stolen content is spread across link farms to confuse search engines and convince Google that your content is the fake one.

3. False Reviews

Since the moment you’ve opened your doors to the public and up until recently, you had 4.2 to 4.3 average on Google reviews (sure, not everyone is a fan of strawberry shortcake). However, in a recent couple of months, your rating has plummeted to 3.6. People have noticed, and so has Google.

Fake reviews are a relatively new form of negative SEO, and the one to vary in 2018. And while Amazon had trouble with an abundance of fake positive reviews for some of the items on sale, small businesses will suffer from negative ones. There are a few giveaways that a bot or “paid associate” left a series of hateful comments:

  • The review typically has one star and a one or two-word statement;
  • The reviews will occur within a few hours or days of each other;
  • The reviewers either don’t leave reviews for other companies, or they tend to have a long history of reviewing other pages.

As a businesses owner, you should expect to see a mixture of good and bad reviews. However, if you do notice a series of one-word negative reviews, a negative SEO attack is highly likely.

4. DDoS attacks

One morning, a customer comes in, aggravated that they had to drive all the way down to your bakery, so that they can order a birthday cake. According to them, the “place your order online” feature is slow, unresponsive and borderline unusable. After opening your website, you find that it’s slow, laggy and, just as the customer said, borderline unusable.

Distributed denial of service (DDoS) is negative SEO tactics that rely on automated crawlers to produce a heavy load of traffic on your website. That can have several effects:

  • Your website will become extremely slow with a possibility of crashing;
  • User experience will decline, and most of those visitors will never come back;
  • Google won’t be able to crawl your website. If this becomes a trend, your visibility will decline, and your site will ultimately be removed from Google altogether.

Even though this approach may sound a bit far-fetched, just in the first three months of 2017 there was 380% increase in DDoS attacks worldwide when you compare it to 2016. This might mean that we should be on the lookout in 2018 as well.

Negative On-Page SEO

1. Hacking

You receive a customer complaint: one of the pictures in your gallery leads to the website you never heard of, completely unrelated to your business, or even your niche. After further inspection, you found out that it wasn’t the only one: ver dozen similar links have been placed all over your website.

For something similar to happen, a hacker would have to get into the structure of your website and alters it. The hacker can achieve this either by security flaw, hosting environment, or database. Once inside, it’s all up for grabs: credit card numbers, mailing lists, even cookies. However, a person that has negative SEO in mind will most likely do something like:

  • Add a low-quality or disturbing content;
  • Replace the content of older blog posts with duplicate content from other sources;
  • Add or replace links to lead to their pages or miss direct visitors to unethical websites;
  • Remove links and images
  • Hide content changes in the HTML, so only webmasters would notice.

If Google discovers that your site has been hacked, it will notify searchers that your site has been compromised and may not be safe. If that happens, expect drastically fewer visitors than before.

2. Getting your website de-indexed

You wake up one morning, and your bakery website is gone. Google doesn’t know anything about it, and no one can find you. That’s it!

You’ve just got de-indexed (also known as being removed from Google) completely. There is more than one way to get de-indexed yourself, but if you explicitly stuck
to the ethical principles of search engine optimization, than it is likely, you became the victim of extreme negative SEO tactics. There are two main ways one can achieve this:

  • They somehow got into your Google Search Console and blatantly requested your URL to be excluded from all searches and future crawlings.
  • They made a small change in your robots.txt file and disallowed crawlers from accessing your website. As a result, Google ignores it completely.

If you fall victim to this tactic, you either managed to overlook radically deteriorating state your website’s SEO is in (which is unlikely), or this was done on impulse, fuelled by emotions (think of former employees who might have a grudge). If someone who is experienced at negative SEO wanted to do real harm to your site, this wouldn’t be their “preferred weapon of choice”: it’s somewhat tricky but easily rectified.

Straight to the point

It’s all up to you. You can wait to be attacked by a hacker, or just wake up and find your website unusable – but why should you? Negative SEO prevention is the key to battling this kind of a nuisance and preventing it from ever happening. At the least, now you know what you are going up against and what to expect. And that, my friends, is half the battle.