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Negative SEO: don’t be a victim

How does negative SEO currently look? Does it really exist or is it just a myth? How can we recognize that we’ve fallen victim to a negative SEO attack, and how can we deal with this? These are the most important questions that I’ve heard over the last few months. In this article, I will share some popular opinions and real examples I’ve come across recently in my work, as well as information on how I usually resolve the problem.

Let’s answer for the first question above “How does the problem begin?”

There are two possibilities:

The first one is receiving an email directly from the “spammer” saying that either we make a payment or he will hit us with thousands of spammy links from unique domains pointing directly to our site. Usually, the payment demanded in those emails is around a couple hundred bucks, but some exceptionally greedy blackmailers have the nerve to ask for over 2 thousands U.S. dollars for not doing negative SEO to our site.

The second possibility can be that we do not get any sort of email containing threats like the ones I mentioned above; instead, extremely spammy link building simply takes place behind your back. Usually, you won’t even know about anything at all until you finally check your link profile in some tool, or worst yet: you get a manual penalty for all of the  “unnatural links pointing to your site” from Google.

Emails demanding payment usually come from freelance spammers  who want to scare you and make some easy money. On the other hand, the second type of spam action I mentioned mainly comes from the competition in your niche, and is done deliberately to lower a site’s rankings in the Google search results.

What we should do next ?

The moment we receive a threatening email or figure out that something is wrong with our site, we should start to closely monitor all of our appearing backlinks. The most basic way to go about this is to check our most important backlinks in Google Webmaster tools (remember: those links are usually only samples of the links that are the most important for Google) and review them (Excel should help). If you would like to know more details on how to get more backlinks from Google WMT, you should read this article: http://www.linkresearchtools.com/case-studies/get-more-links-google-webmaster-tools-gwt/

If this is not enough for you, and you want to be even more accurate,  you can receive a whole lot more data by using tools like: Link Research Tools, by starting a DTOX report (remember to add all of the links from Google WMT to get more accurate results), Ahrefs or Majesticseo (both are helpful tools for finding extra backlinks). Moreover, if you find some patterns or suspiciously similar footprints, you can use additional tools, like ScrapeBox, to harvest all of the backlinks pointing to your site at a given moment. You can read an interesting article about how this tool in particular can help you here https://www.elephate.com/blog/guide-white-hat-seo-scrapebox/ .

How to deal with a large amount of backlinks

If after conducting all of these checks  you do not actually have all that many backlinks, you can breathe a sigh of relief. However, if you do find hundreds or even thousands of them, you should probably start worrying about the situation. Reviewing many potentially spammy links is usually time-consuming and can get annoying due to errors during the link audit. Because of this, I prefer to merge all of the backlinks, de-duplicate them in Scrapebox , upload them to Link Reasearch tools DTOX and start the report. This is a really fast and convenient way to put all the backlinks in one place and to ensure you have full control over  them during the Link Audit. You can even add your latest disavow files if you have any.

After the report is done, we can see our full backlink profile with the many different metrics that have been measured and proceed to check the links. Of course, you can chose other tools to do that, or even just the Seoquake seobar would be helpful.

But let’s go back to uploaded links for a moment. We found 2,194 links pointing to our site! For some big industries that would be normal, but our example is a small/medium business. After sending a quick email to the site owner, I received a reply saying that the that last time he’d checked his backlinks, he’d only got around two hundred, and that no large-scale link building campaign had taken place since then. So maybe he’d been doing something wrong?

No! After sifting through the first 100 links everything was clear to me. He had been hit by Negative SEO attack.
I figured that someone from India was working for the competition and wanted to hurt my customer’s company. This “blackhat knight” was creating multiple spammy catalogs pointing to our well-made site.

There were so many of them that only about 250 healthy links remained after the link audit. Fifty new natural backlinks definitely do not make up for almost two thousand toxic backlinks.

What to do with our toxic backlinks

If we prepare a list (in LRT we just need to click on “Google Disavow Links”) containing all of the harmful backlinks again, we have two different options.

The most likely action to be required by Google in order to lift the penalty is to try to remove all of the bad links pointing to our site. Unfortunately, most of the “webmasters” of harmful domains want some extra money from us for removing the links (like our Indian spammer from the picture above). Moreover, a link removal campaign also takes a lot of time and work what with sending and answering all of the emails, not to mention that it’s not so easy to convince anyone to help us. Therefore, if we are not able to do this, we have to use the disavow tool option, and to do that, we need to have our disavow tool file prepared. It should look something like picture below.

Then, we upload it to the Google Disavow Links Tool

Select the domain that you believe has been attacked, upload it, send it and done! Now none of the toxic backlinks contained in the disavowed file will be taken into account by Google bots.

Is it over?

Yes and no. Even though now it looks like everything is fine, just remember that our enemy will still be constantly working hard to make our life a nightmare. The “spammy” backlinks creator might never stop working to create new links to our website to try and terrorize us with. It’s good to disavow those links on the domain level, because if more sitewide backlinks are ever formed, they won’t be counted by Google.

Remember that from now on, you need to focus on checking your backlink profile, and conduct some Link Audits once a month on average, at least at the beginning . Later, you will be able to figure out how fast the toxic links are coming in, and when exactly the best moment to review them is.

During your next Link Audits, you have to reject all of the already proven backlinks and leave only the new ones. To do that, you can remove the old ones manually, de-duplicate them using ScrapeBox or ignore them in Link Research Tools (you can read about the ignore option in my case study about evaluating recent link building efforts http://www.linkresearchtools.com/case-studies/link-building-evaluation/ ).

If you find some new, harmful backlinks, you definitely have to update the latest disavow file and resend it to the Google Disavow Links Tool, or try to remove them as I demonstrated earlier.

Summary

Fighting Negative SEO attacks is not easy work, as it takes quite a bit of time and can at times make you feel like you’re tilting at windmills. Google is constantly at work trying to keep us safe from Negative SEO actions, but in my opinion, their algorithm can’t protect us 100% of the time. Therefore, it’s best to disavow every harmful link to our site personally, even if we didn’t create them.

I didn’t want to focus on all of the aspects of Negative SEO, such as getting hacked or receiving manual spam action, but rather on my own experiences and real example with I’ve dealt with. If you have something to add or know other interesting ways to combat Negative SEO, please let me know in the comments below.

Published
  • 24 September 2014
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Łukasz

See all articles by Łukasz Kalus

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