Negative SEO is a relatively new idea, popping up in headlines all over the internet just last month. There is a lot of concern about it, and not much understanding, and website owners end up with a lot more questions than answers-what exactly is Negative SEO? How is it done?
How can a site stay protected against it? Before answering that, we have to start at the beginning-how exactly Google determines page rankings.
How You’re Ranked
Google actually uses an algebraic equation to determine the objective importance of your website. This equation is then given a value on a scale of zero to ten-zero being a website that has little to no rank in the internet community and ten being King of the Mountain. Google.com is a ten. My second cousin’s blog about the indigenous spiders of Peru is a zero.
The magical formula of Google Page Rank has a lot to do with links-how many links go into and out of your website is a huge factor, and that’s why SEO services focus on them, but it’s important to realize that it is not just how many links but where those links are from. Currently, if you are getting and/or giving links to sites that have been determined to be spam or malicious sites, it will actually decrease your Page Ranking no matter how many links are included…so Google looks at both quality and quantity.
As an illustration-if you are trying to determine someone’s reputation as an employee you will call their references. Let’s say you have two candidates. Person One has three references, two fantastic ones and one mediocre one. Person Two has ten references, but all of them are mediocre or negative. In this scenario, you’re going to say that person one has a better reputation, even though there were more references for person to…and so would Google.
What is Negative SEO and How Does it Work into the Formula?
Negative SEO manipulates the system that Google has devised to calculate page ranking primarily by creating an overload of links from malicious websites (or bad references) to their competitors’ websites. When the Google search engine sees this, they will lower the target page’s ranking, sometimes even marking the site itself as spam or devaluing the site. So essentially, by manipulating the links that go into the site (something the owner has no control over) they can ruin their competition’s reputation on Google PR and, as a consequence, increase their own.
What Else Does Negative SEO Do?
There are several other tactics that those practicing negative SEO have used to create negative feedback for their competitors and thereby raise their own rankings. SEO Companies regularly encourage their clients to update their content frequently in order to increase the frequency with which the crawler will visit the site. This, however, provides an opportunity for those engaging in negative SEO to steal or “scrape” newly updated content from the target websites and posted them on a third dummy website before the target website gets crawled by the Google bots. If this occurs Google will rank the person who has been indexed first.
Going back to our employment example, if Person Two copied Person One’s paper and they both turned them in at the same time the boss would be unable to tell who is the plagiarizing party, and would be forced to discipline both employees. Google will not penalize you for this (a common duplicate content myth) but, instead will only give credit to original content source.
The third, and perhaps most damaging way that a company engaging in Negative SEO can harm the target website is by manipulating the new DMCA laws. By finding and targeting the websites most useful back links and reporting copyright infringement on the target site, forcing the linking website to remove the link and therefore the reference which provides a boost to the target site’s page ranking.
This is as if Person Two called Person One’s best reference and convinced them that Person One was a thief. That previous employer would no longer provide a reference to Person One, or may even provide a negative reference, damaging their reputation. The boss isn’t going to hire Person One without their positive references, and Google isn’t going to give that page a higher page ranking.
Protecting Yourself from Negative SEO
Negative SEO can be especially difficult to guard yourself from. At this time, Google continues to utilize a formula which relies heavily on links (or references) to form your page’s reputation and there is little that a website owner can do to control outside links. Although, there has been a shift away from this with the latest Panda and Penguin updates. There are however a few tips to help keep yourself and your site safer.
Monitor your site carefully. Keep track of where your links are going to and where your links are coming from. If you see a site that is linking to you that appears to be spam or to be a malicious site, contact the webmasters to inform them of your suspicions and ask them to remove you.
Establish a relationship with legitimate links. This can be done by writing even a short email to the company, owner, or site master of the site that you are linking to or from, like a thank you note with unintended and very helpful consequences.
The Bottom Line
Negative SEO is a new and scary thing affecting web development and Search Engine Optimization today. Unfortunately because of the current Google rules, your defenses are limited, however the outlook is good. You have some basic methods for protecting your website, and Google has made it a point in the past to keep their Page Ranking system in alignment with the current trends in system manipulation. Hopefully, they will be able to keep this type of spam or black hat tactics from damaging good quality sites.