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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:

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.

Content Manipulation:

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.

Link Spamming:

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

8 Responses to “How to Protect Your Site from Negative SEO

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    Baraccuda

    I disagree with having to rewrite your content because too many idiots are copying it. That is insane.

    Also, you are wrong in saying that “Negative SEO using link spam is possible, but is not an easy task.”

    It is easy as pie. We have a competitor who simply paid one of those spammy link sites to create hundreds of links to our site, for the sole and exclusive purpose of bringing down our rankings. To a large degree, it worked. And we have hundreds of great links from class “A” sites. Companies and individuals in Korea and Russia have link spam packages they sell cheap.

    Google likes to project an image of being the “smart guys”. They are anything but. Penguin, and algo changes before it, are reactionary responses to their inablity to correctly identify, sort and rank website content. Their engineering shortcomings are put onto the web in the form of ridiculous ranking procedures, which haven’t really improved their results much in the last five years. Because they can’t get it right, they punish innocent sites, while the spammers move on to newer techniques. Maybe Google ought to hire some of those spammers, who seem to know more about their algo than their engineers do.

    Google plays God of the web and many people are tired of their dictatorial attitude, I know I am. I used to care about our Google rankings, I no longer do and our site traffic hasn’t suffered at all. There are other creative ways to get traffic. We found that the majority of the traffic from Google is junk anyway, because Google SERPS are how spammers find out who to spam.

    May 31, 2012

    Thanks for the great article. Plenty of nice insights, and definitely some good ideas to combat some of these problems. However, I have to agree with Barracuda about the ease of negative SEO practices – sometimes I feel that the algorithm changes do more to hinder those trying to engage in positive practices while at the same time helping those engaged in negative practices. But, I suppose this is the issue with any secret algorithm that you do not have much control of – especially when one search engine dominates the market.

    All of that said, thanks again for sharing. I enjoyed reading the article.

    May 31, 2012

    Since when did forum link become bagd seo ? There are many well respected forums where links are created naturally by users, these type of links are generally liked by google and show up as high quality in link checking tools

    June 1, 2012

    Thank for the good read. This is by far the truth.

    June 3, 2012

    I use a lot of “Proper” forum marketing for the firm I work for – It actually has increased our traffic by 10% with quality content -

    June 5, 2012

    How many people actually look in webmaster tools to check whats pointing to their sites?

    Very few.

    June 8, 2012

    Pierre, that’s a great checklist you provided!
    Although I may slightly disagree with some of your points, I’m sure this article may save one time figuring out what happened to their website and what type of negative SEO could have been done to it.

    Also, whether link spam is hard or easy is a debatable question. One may say black-hat SEO is quick and easy. But, if you look at the ultimate and long-term ROI, it is really not. Black-hat SEO is mostly about short-term gains, and these guys are not making any investment in their reputation, which is a big disadvantage. So, negative SEO’s may win today, and even tomorrow, but never in the long run. They will end up doing more work with less stable results than the white-hat guys.

    June 12, 2012

    Hi Pierre, I want to know why also these SEO/SMO are badly messing just in order to be shown on Ist page of Google. Isn’t there any other way out.

    June 14, 2012

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