The recent Google Penguin update has made Negative SEO much easier. In case you have not heard of Negative SEO before, here is a little explanation. Google penalizes websites that openly violate its quality guidelines. Called webspam, or “black hat” techniques, practicing deceptive or manipulative behavior in order to improve search engine rankings is considered wrong and will result in dropped search engine rankings. But what happens when a competitor, aiming to get your site penalized, violates Google’s guidelines on your behalf? This is called Negative SEO, and while it is rare, it is something that can happen.
Some common negative SEO techniques include site intrusions, content manipulation, and link spamming. A site intrusion can be hacking websites or injecting malware. An example of content manipulation is the creation of falsely duplicated content across the internet; when Google crawls the duplicate content of fake sites, the real site is ignored or punished as duplicate content. Finally, link spamming is building many links from low-quality link sources and pointing them to a competitor’s website. Google might identify the links as unnatural or artificial and send out a spam alert that could affect the site’s rankings. In order to protect yourself against Negative SEO, let’s look at each of the different areas in detail.
Site intrusion happens when your web server gets hacked. In order to penalize your rankings, hackers install malware or malicious code into your HTML source code. Google is able to detect these relatively easily, and will delist your site to protect online visitors. In order to defend yourself against these kinds of intrusions, make sure that your web server is up-to-date with all the latest patches, and that you monitor your site for unidentified code. You can also use free tools, available online, to alert you of changes made to your page. These can help you determine when new, or unapproved changes, need to be investigated further.
The good news is that if you find malicious code and remove it, your site should get reindexed by Google within days or weeks, depending on how popular your website is.
Penalization of your website may occur if someone creates duplicates of your content. Google’s algorithm checks for duplicate content across the web, usually giving one version a high ranking while the rest get a much lower one. The site that had the content first normally gets the highest ranking, but that is not always the case, such as when you have new content that has yet to be indexed by Google, and someone who copied it gets indexed first. In addition, sometimes the sites with a higher PageRank may get the benefit of the content. So if you have a new site with no PageRank, and someone with a higher PageRank steals your content, then it may be possible for them to get indexed. Another technique perpetrators use is to post your content hundreds of times across the web. The more times your content is repeated, the more likely it is for your site to be penalized.
To avoid this type of penalization, I recommend checking for duplicate content often — you can do so by using Copyscape.com. More simply, you can grab a unique sentence (5-15 words long) from your website, put it in quotation marks, and search for it in Google. If any other sites come up, check them to see if they have copied the majority of your content. If they copied only a few sentences, it may be OK.
If a handful of sites copied you, contact them to ask that your content be removed; or send a cease-and-desist letter. If they refuse, you can file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaint. Google provides a reporting tool to communicate issues about web search and content found on YouTube, Google Plus pages, etc.
If you find many sites copied you, which may make their removal challenging, then the best thing to do is to revise your own content.
Often, businesses have problems with affiliates that borrow or repeat their content. If you run an affiliate program, we suggest adding clauses to your terms stipulating that affiliates cannot use your website content. It’s also a good idea to have alternate content prepared for your affiliates that can be used for legitimate purposes.
To avoid duplicate content Negative SEO, I recommend that you update your website content often, at least monthly. Follow Google’s quality guidelines about producing relevant, useful, and engaging content.
If your site has too many low-quality links vs. high-quality links, your site may get penalized. This is what the new Google algorithm called Penguin does. Penguin is a filter which is run every so often and it is not in real time. Therefore, if you get penalized and you start cleaning the spam, it may take weeks before you recover from the penalty. If someone wanted to use these techniques to do Negative SEO to your site, they would need to create hundreds of low-quality links, enough for their number to overtake that of your high-quality links. Therefore, Negative SEO using link spam is possible, but is not an easy task.
Some examples of low-quality links include:
- Links from pages with an unrelated subject to your website
- Links from footers
- Links from pages with too many consecutive links, such as sponsored links
- Links from pages with too many outgoing links
- Links from pages with low Google PageRank
- Links from forums and blog comments
- Links from low-quality directories
- Links from low-quality blog networks
- Many links from sites with identical or similar IP addresses
- Links from link exchange-type pages
- Using a certain keyword too many times in link anchor text
- Too many site-wide links
When it comes to links, keep a clean, strong backlink profile by avoiding manipulative link-building techniques. Using only quality sites, create a varied profile of links with varied anchor text. It’s also important to periodically check your link profile in order to find and remove spam links. Since Google does not provide good backlink data, and Yahoo recently stopped their Site Explorer, you should use third-party tools, such as SEOMoz’s OpenSiteExplorer.com or Majestic SEO, to check your backlinks often. Both tools offer free versions for limited usage.
Pierre Zarokian is the CEO of Submit Express, a leading search engine marketing firm since 1998. Submit Express is a 3-time Inc 5000 and 2-time Fast 500 honoree. They were ranked as the #1 SEO Firm by Website Magazine in 2009. Submit Express also offers social media marketing services via iClimber. Pierre Zarokian is an expert in SEO. He has written many articles on the subject of SEO & Social Media and often speaks at industry trade shows. Contact Pierre on LinkedIn