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Standing Guard Against Negative SEO

by Pierre Zarokian

Negative SEO has been made a lot simpler by the recent Google Penguin update. Google doles out penalties to sites whose content violates its quality guidelines; the biggest being a dropped search engine ranking. Negative SEO is a "black hat" technique that targets websites with the goal of lowering their rankings. The goal is achieved through the generation of content that makes it appear as if a targeted website is violating Google's quality guidelines. Negative SEO is rare, but it's something site owners must be aware of in order to protect themselves from it.

Content manipulation, intrusions, and link spamming are all examples of the most typically encountered negative SEO techniques. In the case of content manipulation, a legitimate site's content is copied multiple times. The ill-effect of this action is that Google penalizes the original site for violating its policy against duplicate content. In essence, even though the site did not violate the guidelines itself, Google will punish it as if it had. Intrusions, another common negative SEO technique, involves website hacking or the introduction of malware. The third common means of negative SEO, link spamming, consists of the generation a big number of low-quality links that point to a targeted website. Google sometimes sends out spam alert messages after noticing unnatural links, which will tank that website's rankings.

Content Manipulation:

On the Web, duplicate content can be picked up by Google's algorithm. Usually one version of the content receives a good ranking while the others are conferred rankings that are significantly lower. Although the site that originally presented the content can be expected to receive the best ranking, it doesn't always happen that way. Sometimes, Google will index duplicate content before a legitimate site's new content get the same treatment. Also, websites with a comparatively higher PageRank may be favored. In other words, if your site has new content but lacks PageRank, then a site that duplicated your material, and that boasts a higher PageRank, might get indexed instead of your site. One last example of content manipulation is the heavy reposting of your content: the more copies of it there are, the more likely it will be bit with a rank penalization.

Here's what to do to avoid the heavy penalties of negative SEO. First, check frequently for duplicate content. offers one way to check, but you can also select a unique sentence from your site, one that's about five to fifteen words long, and search for it on Google (remember to put it in quotation marks). If the sentence appears on other sites, check if the rest of your content does also. If only one or two sentences have been copied, it probably won't be an issue for you.

If you can count on your hands the total number of sites that copied your content, reach out to each one to ask that they remove the copied material. A cease-and-desist letter can also be sent. If they don't budge, it may be necessary to file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaint. Remember that you can make use of Google's reporting tool for issues related to Web search and problematic material encountered on Google Plus pages, YouTube, and the like. When a large number of sites copy your content, having it all removed can be very difficult. In such circumstances, it may be best to rewrite all your content.

Affiliates have been known to "borrow" their partners' content. If you have an affiliate program make it clear in your terms that affiliates may not use your website content. It's helpful to have special content prepared for the use of your affiliates. If you want to steer clear of the effects of negative SEO, make it a habit to update your content regularly -- ideally at least monthly -- following Google's guidelines about producing quality contents.

Site Intrusion:

If you Web server is hacked, site intrusion has occurred. Malware installed into your HTML source code by hackers damages your rankings because Google easily detects the malicious code and subsequently delists your site. The best buttress against site intrusion is to keep your Web server up to date. That means installing the most recent patches and monitoring your site for foreign code. You can find free tools online to help you accomplish this. Once malicious code is removed from your site, it can take a few days or weeks before it's reindexed by Google. The popularity of your site will affect how long the reindexing takes.

Link Spamming:

Having a poor ratio of low-quality links to high-quality links can also get your site penalized. Google's Penguin algorithm checks this ratio on sites. Because the Penguin filter doesn't run in real time, once you've been penalized, even if you get straight to work on getting rid of the spam, it might still take weeks for your site to be back. To attack your site with link spamming, an attacker would need to create enough (hundreds) negative links to ruin your site's ratio of good links to bad links. That's why link spamming is a difficult, but not an impossible task.

Low-quality links include:

- Links from footers
- Links from blog and forum comments
- Links from link exchange-type pages
- Links from low-quality directories
- Links from pages with unrelated subject to your website
- Links from pages with too many consecutive links, like sponsored links
- Links from pages with too many outgoing links
- Links from low-quality blog networks
- An excessive number of sitewide links
- Links from pages with low Google PageRank
- Using a specific keyword too many times in a link anchor text
- Too many links from sites with similar IP addresses

Eschew manipulative link-building techniques to maintain a strong backlink profile. Link to quality sites, vary your anchor text, and have diverse links. It's good practice to go over your link profile periodically to identify and remove spam links. With the demise of Yahoo's Site Explorer, and Google's dearth of good backlink data, third-party tools prove useful. SEOMoz offers Majestic SEO and for backlink checking. These tools have free versions.

If you are not using Google's Webmaster Tools for your website, please make sure to enroll and check it on a regular basis. This is where Google might send you an email if your site has any problems that are considered spam.


Jun 26, 2012