5 Easy Steps to Identify and Prevent Negative SEO

Negative SEOThere’s been a lot of talk recently about negative SEO—we’ve actually been throwing around the idea of writing a post like this since a first draft appeared on April 8th, 2011! The post actually started in the same way back then, but it was more about reputation management. But my point—Negative SEO is not something new. Not now, not a year ago. Shady tactics have been around as long as there have been people to use them, in business and on the internet. And there are things you can (and perhaps should) be doing to prevent negative SEO attacks.

Let me just make it clear that the likelihood of your site being targeted with Negative SEO is slim. Negative SEO takes time, dedication and money to really work. Pointing thousands of low quality sites will not hurt your site in the long run if you have everything else right. That last statement is crucial. If you’ve done, or anyone else in your employ has done anything unsavory in the past, Negative SEO can hurt you. If you’ve taken time to build up your brand and site in an organic way, it is unlikely a few links will hurt you.

This post is not about what kinds of negative things can happen and what to do about it. I want to tell you how to spot it, how to combat it, and how to prevent it. Rand did a Whiteboard Friday post on Negative SEO as well, I’m hoping to expand a little more and give you five easy things to help you in the watch for possible negative SEO attacks. 

The Five Steps

  1. Get Emails: Set up Google Webmaster Tools email forwarding and update your profile in Bing Webmaster Center to get emails when you have messages. I prefer weekly, but daily and monthly are choices as well. This will allow both engines to tell you immediately when they believe something is wrong with your site. 
  2. Set up Alerts:
    1. Google
      1. Your site name
      2. Your domain name
      3. site:yourdomain.com viagra (and a few other spam terms)
        [note: this won’t work if you actually sell Viagra or talk about it, but you get the point]
    2. Analytics - Check out this GA Alerts Guide for those of you on GA. You’ll have to set the boundaries that work for your site. 
      1. Sudden drop in traffic
      2. Decrease in conversions
      3. Increase in bounce rate
  3. Check your Site: Hand check the site, or get someone new to check it each time. Get a volunteer outside of your organization to search one of your terms you rank well for and have them browse the site. Get their feedback while you’re at it. Give them $5 to Starbucks. This process gives you peace of mind that the site is working right and also gives you some information about usability. 
  4. Track Your Links: Track link metrics from OpenSiteExplorer, Majestic SEO, or AHREFs. Choose one and stay with it. Keep an eye on the total number of links and root domains. Any major changes should be investigated. I can’t tell you explicitly what to look for, but you’ll start seeing trends. Look for things that stray from trends. 
  5. Identify New Referring Domains: This is trickier, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy and can help with link building. Download a list of referrering sites in your analytics package—from 2 months ago and last month. Take out any sites that are mentioned twice, what is left over are the new referring domains. Look for oddities. Also, if there are new domains referring traffic and they look awesome (hello New York Times!), dig deeper, check what page is getting traffic, the anchor text, etc. And thank the person/company that linked to you. 

Start with these five things and you should be well on your way to keeping tabs on your site. The best way though to combat Negative SEO is to build a site that is untouchable. Take the time to ensure your backlink profile is well developed and focus on relationships, not ranking #1 for any specific term. You may not like the idea of doing what Google or Bing recommend, but in the end it’s their index. 

Anyone else have a great report or alert to warn a webmaster about a potential attack?