How SEO Spam is Costing Your Business and 5 Ways to Effectively Combat It
Negative SEO is a real threat. If you own a website and haven’t been paying attention to its effects, you’ll thank yourself for getting acquainted with a very nasty and daunting subject.
Every website is a potential target for SEO spam – The act of a rival competitor or hacker sending back low ranked backlinks to sabotage your website.
Google webmaster then begins to track these backlinks back to your site and deem your site unworthy to be ranked in the top search results.
THE A-Z GUIDE YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SEO SPAM
What is SEO Spam?
Figuratively, let’s say a stranger rang your doorbell and asked for a name you didn’t recognize, you’d then explain their mistake and close the door.
Now imagine, the exact same scenario with thousands of strangers knocking on your door except instead of your home, it’s your website.
Negative SEO or Black Hat SEO is the act of harming a business website by poisoning their rankings with fake and illegal backlinks that causes notoriety.
To understand Black Hat SEO attacks, imagine you had an online store that dealt with frozen meat.
Obviously, your main audience are people that consume meat.
But what if you realized a large amount of traffic was coming from referrals by pornographic sites, online poker, and other distasteful webpages?
You’d undoubtedly panic and begin a web search only to acquaint yourself with SEO spam.
Being unfairly punished by Google because of actions beyond your control causes your website to lose valuable search spots and rank lower.
Negative SEO is a real threat to businesses that are either popular or beginning to grow.
Attackers utilize many methods to defame your website. This is done in hopes of providing their own website with a search rank boost.
If your website shows up under an offensive anchor text like “porn”, you’ve undoubtedly been a victim of Negative SEO spam. In the following section, learn more about the various types of attacks that are used by SEO spammers.
VARIOUS TYPES OF SEO SPAM
If White Hat SEO is considered the gates of heaven for SEO terminology, then Black Hat SEO relates to SEO Hell.
Negative SEO techniques cost a severe penalty when offering your website as a potential search result to a customer looking to do business with you.
Manipulation is something that Google excessively frowns upon and manipulation is what Negative SEO is all about.
Here are some of the top ways for SEO spam to be distributed across the cyberspace.
1. Link Farms
Unlike the other types of SEO Spam in the list, Link farms were considered a White Hat SEO technique in the past. It was used to quickly gain an audience in no time.
Link farms, as you guessed by the latter half of the name (farm) translates to several websites linking back to one webpage in order to establish an audience.
Let’s understand link farming with an example – Imagine you had “Website A” as your primary domain page. Website A generates about 100 new customers every month. You decide that this isn’t nearly enough traffic to your website. You proceed to buy 3 more domains – “Website B, Website C, and Website D. Now these 3 websites are programmed to link back to Website A. These 3 websites are called link farms as they simply link back to your primary website to draw an audience and serve no other purpose.
Popular search engines like Google or Bing no longer recognize link farms as a legal way for businesses to generate traffic.
Hence link farming is a blacklisted technique.
Moreover, Google penalizes doorway pages that simply act as a marketing technique to boost traffic.
Here are the reasons why a link farm is a bad idea for boosting your traffic.
1. They trick your customers into entering your web page. Annoyed visitors are never returning customers. Loyalty is out the door.
2. Link farms overpopulate the internet with landing pages and lock the domain name out for an actual business to use. Google Webmaster immediately rates these doorway domains as well as your primary domain at a lower search rank.
3. Link farms are not part of credible directories on the internet. Almost every reputed website will blacklist your primary domain and harm your website’s reputation.
4. Due to Link Farms causing a major clutter on the cyberspace, Google and other popular search engines have categorized most landing pages as “Spam”. The primary domain isn’t spared either.
So, the next time your SEO specialist discusses about link farming as an effective way to build your brand, fire him.
2. Forceful Crawlers
Forceful Crawling is the act of causing a website to crash under severe load.
A server load is a natural occurrence to a website when high amounts of incoming traffic enter a website.
However, hackers or rival competitors usually force crawl your website to slow it down.
Googlebot is then unable to access your website causing it to be delisted from the search directories.
When a customer searches for your website, they will be greeted with your competitor’s website as their options instead of yours.
This is essentially a way for your competitor to gain business from forcefully crawling your website.
Still, don’t get the idea?
Here’s a quick example to get you initiated with forceful crawling – Imagine you’re on a boat that can carry 5 people. If you were to increase the number of people beyond 5, your boat will sink. Once your boat sinks, imagine a rescue helicopter comes along and finds no one to rescue and simply flies away.
In this scenario, the boat = webpage, the people = traffic, and Googlebot = rescue helicopter trying to search for your website when it’s down. Google simply delists your website as it’s unable to find it.
So how does forceful crawling occur?
All it takes is a jealous competitor or a hacker to crawl your website via different IPs (Internet Protocol). Most of the attack is done by loading large files on your websites such as image files.
This causes the website to become slow due to the stress of handling tons of calculations caused by the various IPs.
After your website becomes slow, the attacker increases the magnitude of the attack with more IPs and when your website is unable to handle the load, it simply crashes and goes offline.
A case study conducted by Bartosz Goralewicz describes how his 12-year blog was suddenly de-ranked by Google due to forceful crawling conducted by his competitors.
He lost a considerable number of viewers due to Google delisting his website from the search ranking and this caused a massive jolt to his online revenue.
3. Content Scraping
When someone steals your content without your permission and posts it as their own causing a breach in copyright infringement, it’s generally known as scraping.
While search engines like Google automatically fish out duplicate content, scrapers often find ingenious ways to repost content while staying invisible to Google’s evolving detection methods.
Imagine if someone tried to sell you an artwork claiming it was from the famous Renaissance artist – Leonardo da Vinci at a throwaway price? You’d immediately know you were being taken for a ride. Unfortunately, with several million blogs being posted every day, how do you verify whether the blog you’re reading is written by the original author or a sham?
Content scraping is done in several ways, the most common way is the copy-paste method. CTRL+C to copy the original blog and paste it with CTRL+V.
Today copy scrapers utilize advanced methods such as DOM parsing and HTTP programmed bots to automatically detect new content that’s being posted on the internet and simply post it on their own blog instantly.
If you’re worried about being a victim for copy scraping, utilize the following methods to protect yourself.
1. Anti-Bot Applications
Scrapers utilize the help of bots that enter your website and detect any new content and automatically steal it.
They also provide live reports sent to your email and inform of any attacks that have been prevented.
2. Content Duplication Detectors
If you ever wished for a magical software to automatically detect and send you an email report of your content being stolen, then look no further.
Content duplication detectors are created to help original content owners to conduct either a manual search for all keywords and entries made by you or an automatic surveillance that notifies you when your content is being republished on the cyberspace.
Think of content duplication detectors as a fire alarm installed in your home.
They only notify you when your content is being used elsewhere and not otherwise.
The following software performs various services such as – Domain authority checking, word count check, backlinks check, paraphrasing, format check, keyword positioning, images check, and other plagiarism related security checks.
As you can see, Black Hat SEO techniques plague the internet, and these are some of the more primary threats.
With the evolution of White Hat SEO techniques, more advanced forms of Negative SEO are being created as you read.
While some of the dangers of Negative SEO are temporary, others are irreversible and cause the death of your website and business.
THE IRREVERSIBLE DANGERS OF NEGATIVE SEO TO YOUR WEBSITE AND BUSINESS
Many unethical businesses don’t use reputed means to push their competitors out. Instead, they depend on Black Hat SEO techniques to ruin their competitor’s reputation and manipulate their customers.
While Google and Yahoo! have done their bit in supervising strict punishments to those that involve in such tactics.
The dangers are real and once you’ve been attacked by SEO spam, there’s always permanent damage.
Here are the types of damage you’ll likely face in an SEO attack.
1. Search Engines Deindexing
While 1 or 2 instances of Negative SEO is unlikely to hurt your search engine’s ranking, repeated attacks will undoubtedly cause your website to rank lower than its intended position.
Let’s say an online business brings close to 100,000 hits every month.
Being deindexed by a search engine wipes out 65-70% of the website’s traffic and brings down your monthly revenue.
Being on the top of search results is every business’s digital dream.
Every customer that searches for products and services usually makes his or her choice within the first 3 results of a search page.
That’s why it’s such a key strategy to rank well in search engines and a shift in this ranking hurts the revenue of the business forever.
Ranking high on search engines such as Google takes years of work and commitment. All it takes is a few SEO attacks to bring your efforts down to nothing.
As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to monitor every little change that happens to your website such as –
- If your website is running slow, enable website caching for your returning visitors
- If your website is drawing in a ton of traffic at unusual hours, set up security parameters, you are likely being attacked
- Utilize Google Analytics to gain various information on the types of traffic that visit your site as well as the geographical regions
- Always have a backup of your website data to restore it to a previous time. E.g. Before an attack
These are some simple ways to keep your website secure and safe and it hardly takes a few minutes every day.
2. Leaking Valuable Information
When your website is vulnerable to content modification and other sources of Negative SEO, you’ll lose sensitive data linked to your website to hackers.
Further, this information can be data mined by your competitors to counter your ideas.
Having your most unique ideas out on the internet for your competitors to take advantage of isn’t exactly something you’d want.
Hackers specializing in Black Hat techniques generally gain information of a targeted website and leak the information on various blogs and other news sites.
This is done to ensure your idea is stolen by the public. Even if the perpetrators are caught, the damage done is significant and irreversible causing your business to take a full hit.
Apart from losing your website information, hackers gain access to your private information such as payment portals, customer credit cards, and gateways. Your financial data is at risk as well.
One specialized way of hacking your website is called – Cloaking. This Black Hat technique utilizes your own web page to link back to your competitor’s webpage.
When Googlebot detects this suspicious behavior, they immediately delist and drop the search ranking of your website permanently.
The worst-case scenario is your entire website is banned. That’s why cybersecurity is a booming business. With new-age Negative SEO tactics being launched, the cybersecurity business is coming into the forefront.
HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE ATTACKED BY SEO SPAM
- Malware is usually the first signs of SEO Spam.
- Your website being removed from Google Search Console
- Search traffic being redirected from another country that isn’t part of your targeted traffic
- Redirecting to a competitor’s site
- Fake traffic being redirected back to your site
- Spamming duplicated content over cyberspace to delist your website
4 WAYS FOR YOU TO EFFICIENTLY FIGHT BACK SEO SPAM
To understand just how deep Negative SEO runs, a simple search on popular freelancing sites such as Fiverr will demonstrate thousands of hackers willing to damage the reputation of credible websites for a mere $5.
Unfortunately, Google has its hands full by rolling out various updates to combat these tricksters.
That’s why it’s up to us to come up with ways to combat these sneaky cyberattacks and safeguard our website’s reputation.
Here are 4 impeccable ways to ensure your website remains clear of hackers and Negative SEO.
1. Tracking & Disavowing Fake Backlinks
The concept is simple – if you have a track record of all the backlinks created by you, then you’ll simply fish out the fake backlinks that you haven’t created.
But is it that simple when you’ve got thousands and thousands of backlinks traced back to years of effort?
No, it isn’t.
So, the solution is to utilize a smart software to solve the problem.
When you have information about the type of backlinks that you create, you’ll have an easier time managing fake backlinks.
Tools such as MonitorBacklinks actively scout the internet for keywords or phrases matching your content, if there is a match, you’ll receive email alerts.
Depending on your instructions – the software will then disavow all the fake backlinks and defend your website from receiving a negative backlash.
Google has its own disavow tool. Before we talk about it, let’s get you updated on what disavowing sites really do.
When you disavow a website, it prevents the bad website from sending traffic back to your site.
To disavow a link using Google’s Disavow tool. Here are the following steps.
Step 1. Compile the list of all the bad backlinks by using your site explorer for information. You could also use a private site explorer to provide you the information such as Majestic.
Step 2. Once you’ve created the list of all the backlinks. It’s time to identify the bad backlinks and referrals. To save time, utilize online tools like PageRank and WorthofWeb to identify the grade of a site.
Step 3. Great! You’ve created a list of all the backlinks. You’ve got two choices, either to disavow the site or to contact the website owner and ask them to stop sending backlinks. The former is used when you’re 100% convinced the websites are spam and the latter is used if you feel the website owner deserves a chance to explain himself first.
Step 4. To disavow, login to Google’s disavow tool website. Select your website and then click the option ‘Disavow Links’. Next upload the file of bad backlinks. Now simply wait for Google to send you a positive response and you’re done.
And that’s how to completely block Negative SEO utilizing the Disavowing method.
2. Utilize Google Search Console for Security
Imagine having a bodyguard that protects your website 24/7 and 365 days a year without breaking a sweat.
What is the ideal price you’re willing to pay for such an invaluable function? $1000 a year? $2000 a year? How about nothing?
Yes, you aren’t dreaming, it’s a free tool by Google that was rolled out to eliminate Negative SEO. It was originally called ‘Google Webmaster Tools’ but has since changed the name to Google Search Console.
So, what does the Search Console by Google do for your website?
- It provides you with a plethora of tools and various reports to understand your website and its performance
- Automatically submits the entire sitemap for optimized crawling by Googlebot
- Any issue pertaining to your site is immediately alerted to the owner
- Complete data related to backlinks can be exported to Google sheets for analysis
- Website impressions are tracked via clicks. Various ways to monitor user interactions
- Structured data elements of over 10,000 pages
And these are simply the advantages that are linked to the protection of your site, the Google Search Console offers various other integrated features that aren’t the highlight of the article.
If you aren’t using Google Search Console for your website, you’re vulnerable to a host of cyber attacks.
Let’s find out how to activate this invaluable tool and utilize it for blocking SEO spam.
- Begin by heading over to the homepage of Google’s Search Console.
- Add your website by selecting the option. Once you’ve added your website, you can access the dashboard of your website by clicking your website’s name.
- On the ‘Site Dashboard’ menu, click on ‘Search Traffic’ and click on ‘Links to Your Site’. This will open a page with the entire information of backlinks and websites that link back to you. You’ll see your referrals and traffic sent back by sites.
- In this page, proceed to select ‘Download Latest Links’ to get a copy of all the links that have linked back to you and either save it in Google Docs format or Microsoft Excel format for easy viewing.
- Google Search Console provides you with backlink data that can be searched by ‘First Discovered’ or ‘Links’. Utilize the ‘First Discovered’ setting as Negative SEO utilizes low-quality links of new websites and this setting will group all the new spam sites into a nice list. The newer the date, the higher the chance of a spam link.
- Google Search Console is a great way to keep track of your backlinks profile. From here head over to the ‘Tools Preferences’ menu and check the ‘Enable Email Notifications’ settings and set the type to ‘All Issues’.
- Congratulations! You’ve set up a treasured tool to reduce SEO spam by a large margin. You’ll now receive detailed reports via emails by Google Search Console if there are any discrepancies detected.
With Google’s newest updates being launched, Google Search Console is constantly being updated to fight off attackers that seek to sabotage reputed websites.
The combination of the Google Disavow Tool and Google Search Console is a match made in heaven for digital enthusiasts.
3. Supervise Social Media Platforms
Facebook. Instagram. Twitter.
What are these websites famous for apart from the socializing scene?
Social media platforms are a hunting ground for hackers to create negative publicity for your business. Social media is a hand that reaches far into the lives of independent men and women.
It’s no longer just a place for people to communicate but it’s now a modern marketplace for brands to build a reputation and sell their products and services.
Unfortunately, the ugly side of reputation is that it’s harder to build and it’s easier to lose.
Try and relate with this example – A hacker creates a social media page with your business name and starts to send out pornographic or advertising links to all your followers. What do you think will be their immediate reaction? To unfollow your ‘fake’ page and stop using your services. Your customers aren’t going to be bothered by the nuances of checking if the social media page is official or not.
Fortunately, there are ways to tackle this social media problem.
#1 – Create a Tenacious Social-media Presence
As a business, it doesn’t matter if you want to advertise through the digital medium or not.
By creating a social media presence before your rivals can, you’ll prevent any defaming tactics from ever taking place.
Many of the popular social media platforms provide a symbol next to the brand name to identify authenticity.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter provide a blue tick next to the page name when it’s verified. With this, your followers will know that they are directly communicating with your brand and not be led away to disreputable sources.
#2 – Report Fake Reviews & Hire Moderators
Social media platforms provide customers with a place to share their experience with the product and service.
Competitors employ tricky methods such as hiring people to post fake reviews of your brand and cause new customers to stay away due to these negative reviews.
As a brand owner, it’s your job to report such issues to the powers that be.
While it’s impossible to monitor every review from every social-media platform, it’s a good idea to hire a social media moderator that posts beneficial posts of your brand while also tackling issues relating to negative spam of your brand.
#3 – Google Alerts to Weed Out
Google is back again and by now, we are convinced they are doing everything in their power to ensure originality wins. Google Alerts is a simple tool where by entering the brand name or keyword, you’ll receive a list of search results targeting the keyword entered.
Let’s say you enter ‘Microsoft’, you’ll receive all the current and past results of Microsoft in the search results.
So, if you were to search for your business, you’ll see several search results linking back to your brand and you can utilize this information to identify any false profiles or information being represented on your behalf.
4. Supervise Your Website Regularly
Sometimes the truth isn’t further away from our eyes. Website owners look everywhere to find a solution to their SEO spam but fail to search at the most critical location – their website.
Jonathan Verrall, Associate SEO Director of Jellyfish UK, recalls a time when their site was hit with a series of cyber-attacks to disrupt their traffic.
The attack caused a severe fall in organic traffic. Soon after, Jonathan and his team sensed an alarming spike in unnatural links linking back to their site.
They traced the traffic back to a fake website page with their brand name. Jonathan claimed that these attacks made Google take notice of their website and sent them a warning email.
With the addition of Google’s 2012 update – Penguin, websites have become easier to recover from Negative SEO attacks but the initial phase of the attack itself causes a host of problems that can be minimized if website owners paid attention to the warning signs.
Every website provides warning signs of hackers and SEO spam, these signs come as –
- One of the biggest tell-tale signs is when your website suddenly drops in search traffic. Clearly, an action by an outside source has triggered a fall in traffic rather than your site going bust on its own.
- Keep an eye on your inbox, Google sends a warning email when your site has breached the guidelines.
- SEO ranking sites such as Ahrefs provide comprehensive reports on top ranking websites. If your site falls in rank, SEO spam might be the cause
- A competitor sends a request to your website to have your content taken down. If you are constantly receiving such requests, it’s certainly a Negative SEO tactic
- The speed of your website is one of the quickest ways to tell if you’re being attacked by hackers or if there is suspicious activity happening. Google’s Pagespeed Insights is your answer
- Comment spam on your blog post is another way for spammers to redirect traffic. CAPTCHA software like Akismet is a good defense
- Hackers inject URLs into your website to redirect traffic. Always pay attention to your server logs to track incoming IPs
- Utilize anti-plagiarism software like Copyscape to look up duplicate content stolen from your website
- txt file is like a ‘Do-Not-Disturb’ sign on your website. Changes to this file could affect the way search bots visit your website
A SHORTENED SUMMARY OF THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN DEALING WITH SEO SPAM
While the bad news is that negative SEO is only getting advanced and there is no immediate and permanent solution.
However, the good news is there are solutions as demonstrated above.
Now the great news is – you can carry a printable checklist of the entire article with the core points highlighted to keep you informed.
- Link farms were originally conceived as a positive SEO tactic. These days they are frowned upon
- Forceful crawling leads websites to crash. Crashed websites are deindexed by search engines
- Google Search Console is an absolute necessity to have for any website to defend against attacks
- Content Scrappers use bots to monitor and steal content. Utilize Anti-bot technology
- Anti-plagiarism software is the answer to copyright infringement
- Google’s Disavow tool allows you to report websites by uploading a list of fake backlinks to Google
- Create a social media presence to avoid fake profiles and pages
- Google Alerts provide instant-search on keywords related to your business
- A sudden drop in traffic is a sure way to tell of a Negative SEO attack
- Keep plugins and apps updated to secure your website from incoming attacks
- txt file is an extremely crucial file for search bots
- Maintain a backup of Backlinks via Google Docs or Microsoft Excel
- Google Analytics displays information about websites and traffic linking to your site
WRAPPING THINGS OFF
And finally, if you’re thinking about utilizing Negative SEO to build your brand and beat your competitor, know that your hard work will end up in the trash when the cover’s blown.
And if you are the victim of Negative SEO, we hope you’ve found plenty of information through this carefully articulated guide.
In this guide, we explore what is the recruitment and hiring process, what are the 7 steps of …