Facts & Myths on Negative SEO

Negative SEO happens when someone attempts to lower a website’s rankings on search engines. This can be done by employing simple “guerrila” tactics like sending links that are considered untrustworthy, denial of service (DOS) attacks, malware and other hacks meant to slow your site down and send red flags to search engines. Fortunately, negative SEO can be neutralized with a few precautionary measures like Google’s Disavow Links tool.

n April 2012, with the first release of the Penguin algorithm, Google started penalizing websites for the use of unnatural links. That’s when this issue started to raise eyebrows among online marketers.

In 2013, Google introduced the disavow links tool, which allows websites to request Google to ignore certain links in their search algorithms. If your site is no longer getting its fair share of traffic via search engines due to inbound links from blogs who are poorly ranked, you can disavow some links or even an entire domain by adding one line to a text file and uploading it to Webmaster Tools.

This online form of bad publicity made headlines this week as reputation manager Brand.com had to work on its own rep. Google penalized them for “black hat” SEO during the summer of 2014, though they hadn’t built any bad links themselves. Having noticed that hacks and negative backlinking were done without the company’s approval, it fought back in a swift manner to regain its search engine visibility.

“We built a team of highly trained and qualified individuals to begin the process of requesting the articles be taken down and add the sites to our disavowal list to demonstrate to Google that these links were built without our approval,” said CEO Mike Zammuto to Philadelphia blog Technical.ly.

Negative SEO probably won’t affect you

Typical “mom and pop” shops who have some online presence shouldn’t feel concerned with their competition trying to use these tactics. In specific niches, like online casinos, legal services and other very competitive industries that rely on keyword placement, this can become an issue. This was confirmed by Matt Cutts, head of the Google Web Spam team, in a recent video.

Nofollow links do not carry any PageRank weight, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t disavow them.

Links that may seem fishy are not always interpreted as such by search engines.


When to worry ?

If you start getting messages on Google Webmaster Tools indicating that your SEO practices may be harmful, it’s time you sit down and figure which links may be hurting your search engine results. It looks like this:

Google Unnatural Links Warning

If you notice some weird links in your backlink profile, chances are they weren’t purposely created by competitors to penalize you. Some of these reasons include:

  • Hiring “black hat” search engine optimizers: A previous SEO who employed bad linking practices
  • Submitting your site to spammy directories: If you purchased a package to submit your site to multiple directories in the past, some of these links may be duplicated and can hurt your SEO.
  • Poor comment spam filtering: Some sites take little precautions to avoid receiving comment spam. Most of the time, these comments were automatically generated and spread throughout the web by bots. Some sites have hundreds of these comments, and they all link back to some nasty sites.

Google’s search algorithm is in constant evolution, and their web spam team has adapted it to make sure websites who follow its guidelines are not affected by unusual linking practices. Chasing unnatural links from your website can be a tricky witch hunt. You may believe a link has negative impact on your site for a given reason, while Google doesn’t consider it harmful. Things aren’t always what they seem.

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