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Negative SEO: Did It Affect You?

Negative search engine optimization (NSEO) is a malicious strategy that is aimed at bringing a competitor’s website down from the top positions in the SERPs. It uses various black hat techniques to artificially lower the website’s standing and authority on search engines, thus reducing the incoming traffic it receives. These underhanded methods have become extremely important since Google launched Penguin a few months ago, which places more importance on backlinks. But is the threat of NSEO real?

NSEO uses a lot of techniques to artificially make a site appear worse that it really is1. These include DOS attacks, spammy backlink building, content stealing, source code manipulation, and other illegal or forbidden actions. Since April, unnatural backlinking has found new popularity as low cost firms attempt to downgrade, or even completely obliterate, a competing firm.

However, carrying out a successful NSEO campaign is just as hard as, or even harder than positive SEO, because the attacker must find the balance between too few links, which would have no effect, and too many links, which would alert Google to his malicious activity. Therefore, the cost of downgrading a competitor rises with their popularity and standing, and in most cases outweighs the benefits from having the competitor out of the market. SEOmoz carried out a real experiment to test the power of negative SEO2,and the results were conclusive: it would take a prohibitively large amount of resources to take down their website; probably billions of bad backlinks over an extended period of time.

Unfortunately, there have been other stories where NSEO has worked3 so well that the webmaster of seofaststart.com requested help from Google Webmasters in order to get rid of all the spam links that were ruining his website ranking. It is wise to take precautionary measures and be ready for a NSEO attack.

The first step to check for an NSEO attack is to monitor the creation of backlinks to your website for any sudden changes. There is a plethora of fantastic software available for that4. Look for anything that seems out of the ordinary. The first signs can come from the overuse of a certain anchor text—usually spammers do not have the capacity to change it over a thousand messages. Be mindful of a sudden and inexplicable popularity of your more marginal and obscure content. Also, check what pages have been the most linked to in the near past. Usually spammers choose one single page to bring down. Use a graphic representation to look for any spike in link building in any one day, as these should be quite distinct from the normal link building you experience.

If you notice anything strange in any of these parameters, go check out the sites that link to you. Some programs, like Majestic SEO, have the function to download a list of the domains that are linking to you, so you have the option to look over the domain names and check them out. Try to evaluate whether they are a respectable site with valuable content or just a link farm. The latter usually has content that is of little or no value.

When you see the sharp drop in traffic and standing, it may be too late for precautionary measures, as the search engine has already accounted for the bad links.

In order to guard your website from NSEO, you must build a strong domain authority by regularly updating your content and building authoritative backlinks. Monitoring the link building activity and disowning spammy links via the search engines’ webmaster tools can save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

References:

  1. http://www.mykeblack.com/seo/negative-seo
  2. http://www.seomoz.org/blog/googles-unnatural-links-warnings
  3. http://www.webtrafficroi.com/have-you-been-a-target-of-negative-seo-three-action-steps-to-reduce-impact/
  4. Tools:
    1. Google Webmaster Tools
    2. Open Site Explorer
    3. Majestic SEO
    4. Bing Webmaster Tools

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