What is negative SEO and how to be safe from a blackhat attack

Even though search engines update their algorithms to improve the quality of the search results and to try to neutralise blackhat techniques, negative SEO still exists and in many cases a website can be sensitive to a negative SEO attack without our noticing.

Negative SEO consists basically in performing unethical actions (unethical even for the search engine), with the only aim of breaking up the organic ranking of a direct competitor in the search results. The truth is that these techniques are banned by search engines, which will ban the sites that are resorting to them. Doing this kind of actions is easier than it seems and they need not be performed from a web with authority, page rank nor with a good ranking. They can be done even from the subdomain of a newly created WordPress or Blogspot.

Different types of negative SEO attacks

Negative SEO attacks can come in different forms, but we could say that the most common are:

  1. Generating toxic links

We all know that search engines value links and the anchortext to rank a website. Therefore, if we build thousands of links pointing to a website with e.g. an anchortext including swear words, we can make that the website appears under the results for that search. We can also link it to an anchortext that Google has banned and thus have the whole website banned. To avoid this, track the backlinks to the web and, if necessary, ask for a disavowing of the backlinks that you consider toxic.

  1. Using the website’s internal search engine

Many pages index the searches coming from their internal search engines, changing the title, H1 and other important elements for the ranking of a website. They do so automatically and according to the search being made. Therefore, if we get a URL with e.g. a swearword related to the brand and we build many links towards it, using this anchortext we can manage to rank the search for the query that is putting the brand in a bad situation. To avoid this, my advice would be to control the indexation patterns of the internal search engine, or you can also stop indexing them.

  1. Using undesired indexation patterns

A similar thing can arise when we modify part of a web’s URL and it keeps loading and indexing. We can include swear words in the URL and the link them again and make these words rank for the search we want. To avoid this, you have to make sure that changing chunks of the URL does not result in an error 200, but that it is redirected forcing levels or it delivers an error 404.

  1. Plagiarism

If we plagiarize the contents of a web or even the full site (something known as mirror web) we can do a lot of damage to the webpage we are copying, because the search engine will see that the level of duplicity is close to 100%. Not so long ago, my great friend Matías Acosta (in Spanish) went through such a thing. On his website he tells how somebody was damaging his web via feed, and how he worked it out. To avoid this happening to you, my advice would be to track the content of your web from time to time, to be sure that nobody is plagiarizing it.

  1. Piracy in the website

If somebody finds a vulnerability in your website or the sistema that hosts it, they can pick your code, modify it as they wish, add links to webpages with a bad reputation, insert redirects, and so on. To avoid this I would recommend you to keep updated security backups of your web, avoid using shared hosting services that are too cheap, keep your CMS updated and periodically change the passwords to access the web. And, of course, use safe passwords.

  1. Online reputation

If somebody creates fake social profiles or uses secondary email addresses to leave comments and speak badly about your brand, these can affect your online reputation. To avoid this my recommendation is that you always use your brand’s name. There are many free tools that do the tracking for you, also in real time.

  1. Denial service attack

Este tipo de ataque consiste en sobrecargar los recursos del servidor impidiendo atender todas las peticiones y provocando por tanto, una caída del sistema o ralentización en la carga de las páginas. Para evitarlo, te aconsejo monitorizar los accesos al servidor y contar con sistemas que detecten este tipo de ataques para poder revertir la situación.

  1. Eliminación de backlinks

Como antes hemos mencionado, los buscadores valoran los enlaces entrantes y por tanto si alguien suplanta tu identidad y pide que eliminen enlaces que apuntan a tu web, podemos perder posiciones de forma drástica. Para evitar que esto suceda hay que monitorizar constantemente tus enlaces (al menos los mejores enlaces entrantes que tengas).

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