Let’s say you own a website that is the go-to resource for information about running shoes. Online visitors who search for running shoe types, prices or trends are immediately directed to your website by search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. Not only are you seeing high online traffic, but your running shoe affiliate sales are through the roof. Your life as an online entrepreneur couldn’t be better.
Until, one day, you notice a drop in your online traffic and sales. Checking your Webmasters Tools are, you find an unexpected message from Google saying that your running shoe website has received a manual penalty and been de-indexed because of user (that means you)-generated webspam.
However, you don’t publish web spam or engage in black hat SEO tactics. So, what gives?
That’s when you notice a strange assortment of pingbacks in your website comments area. Investigating further, you perform a link analysis and discover that your backlinks have skyrocketed to new heights:
However, these backlinks aren’t from your loyal fans or related third-party sites. No, the links lead to oddball spam web pages referencing things like losing weight or buying Viagra, all of which have nothing to do with your site’s focus on running shoes. Some of these backlinks tag every spam topic possible within a single web page or post:
At this point in your investigation, the answer is fairly obvious: Your website has become the target of a negative SEO campaign.
What is negative SEO?
In the world of SEO, it’s a jungle out there. Websites, even those with good quality content, often struggle to be listed as one of the top 10 results through a search engine like Google or Bing. Keywords are continually whittled down to longer and longer phrases, with smaller and smaller audiences looking for such esoteric terms. In short, it’s tough getting to the top of the search engine results page (SERP) food chain. For most websites and blogs, it simply doesn’t happen.
However, for those lucky and industrious websites that do make it, the rewards are substantial and include massive traffic, page views, and sales. Businesses, even those that have a brick-and-mortar existence, can live or die based on how much online traffic and sales they attract. It’s not just about getting a page “Like” or comment; eyeballs equal money. Without these things, a business can actually go bankrupt.
Thus, unscrupulous website owners and businesses could engage in SEO tactics that, in essence, knock down their online competition from the SERPs. And this is most easily accomplished by generating thousands of spam backlinks, then directing those backlinks at the competing site and its pages.
It’s not hard to create anywhere from a few hundred to even 25,000 spam backlinks over the course of several days and latch them onto a competitor website. Automated link generators abound on the Web- here is an example of just one generator that creates backlinks for you “while you are sitting on a beach:”
Now, what’s to stop your competitor from creating a bogus shell website that ranks for keywords like “cheap Viagra” and “diet pills” -as well as “good running shoes”? At that point, thousands of backlinks will latch onto your legitimate running shoe site and infiltrate it with spammy anchor text that eventually alerts Google and other search engines that you are running a spam website. You get a manual penalty and de-indexed by major search engines, and your competitor gets to fill the now vacant SERP slot.
If you think that negative SEO is the province of highly competitive niches like mortgage refinance or poker/casino, think again. Negative SEO attacks have been used to silence “small-time” niche sites as well as investigative journalists and bloggers who report online scams.
Luckily, there is a way to fight back.
How to fight negative SEO attacks
As with all corruption and unsavory practices, vigilance is key to finding and rooting out negative SEO- and the earlier the better. To begin with, you should periodically check your website for incoming links, as well as their recency. Google Webmaster Tools offers a handy (and free) method for doing this task- simply input the website you want to research, click on ‘Search Traffic,’ and then click on ‘Links to Your Site.’
If you have a lot of domains linking to your site, you can organize those links by the number of times they have linked to your website, as well as to how many pages. You can also quickly estimate if you have a webspam issue by downloading the latest links going to your website.
If you find spam links to your site, and especially a lot of spam links generated over a short period of time, you may have been the target of a negative SEO campaign. Sure, you could try to petition the spam sites to remove their links, and you could even send those sites a cease and desist letter. However, in most cases, asking nicely will not work- and that’s if you even know who to ask. In most cases, web spammers and individuals conducting negative SEO campaigns will use multiple proxies to ensure they are not identified.
Luckily, Google has addressed this issue with the disavow backlinks tool. Using this tool, you can generate file using Notepad that lists shady backlinks, report on your requests to have them removed, and submit a request to Google to basically ignore those backlinks. This tool is a kind of a last resort for a webmaster who is being inundated with webspam-ridden backlinks and who sees no other option than to ask Google to ignore entire websites.
The disavow backlinks tools isn’t perfect. For example, what do you do if you have a hundred different spam backlinks, all originating from different websites? The sheer volume of automated links that you will have to wade through and reference to Google can make this Herculean task impossible to complete.
Thus, in some cases, it may be more efficient to simply unpublish your spammed pages and posts and then regenerate them at a later date. This means that the previous ranking your pages had will be lost. However, if those pages were already optimized, it shouldn’t take long for them to rise to the top of the SERPs once again.
Negative SEO and your website
In summary, there is no easy or fast solution to the issue of negative SEO attacks. However, you can remain vigilant with your website or blog and take routine steps to find out if you’re being targeted. This way, ridding yourself of webspam will be much easier and not require a Google-generated penalty for you to take action.