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?

Kate Morris

Kate Morris

Kate joined us after a year running her own search marketing consultancy in Austin, Texas. She brings with her a wealth of experience having worked in-house and agency-side in SEO and PPC. Kateh264 // A native Texan by birth, Kate got her BBA...   read more

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  1. I was a little skeptical when I started reading this - a feeling that only increased when I got to:

    And there are things you can (and perhaps should) be doing to prevent negative SEO attacks.

    It's really unlikely,, I thought, that I'm going to have to deal with this. Of course, then you went on immediately to say:

    Let me just make it clear that the likelihood of your site being targeted with Negative SEO is slim.

    which made me think a little harder. If I know it's unlikely and she knows it's unlikely, what can she possibly be coming to next?.

    What followed, however, had me nodding away like a life-sized Iain bobblehead doll, right through to the end. I think the advice here is not just strong, it's so simple to do that regardless of the fact that any individual is unlikely to face any threat from negative SEO, it's worth the little effort required.

    You certainly caught my attention and I think that was done quite cleverly, which I like. Good stuff.

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  2. I too was a bit skeptical about reading this article...

    Once I dove in and starting reading; I found that this wasn't another "cookie cutter" negative SEO post. This contains some really invaluable advice that is simple to implement for preventative measures.

    +1 Kate and here is a gold star for exceptional performance today. :)

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  3. Thanks for the tips Kate. Is this Negative Seo http://www.modamusic.com/london-hot-desi-girl-sex/

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  4. Hey Brad,

    Looks like it could be a hack of your wordpress site. It's very possible Negative SEO, but I doubt it. More likely just a hacker. Negative SEO to me is more hidden, but this would hurt you in the long run. You know how to deal with that?

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    • Its not my domain. I have notified the owner who has not taken this down.

    • Kate

      Not really sure how to deal with this as i've never had to before. I did use the new tool in Bing WMT for disavowing incoming links. Only wish Google offered this as well.

      I have notified the domain owner, host and domain manager but the domain is still linking to my sire with a copy of my entire homepage.

      The owner hasn't taken it down in a timely manner which is really poor as i notified him last week.

      Haven't been very impressed with Google in this respect and noticed some of the big SEO blogs writing about this also.

      I have written a post about here of anyone is interested. http://wpsites.net/links/how-to-remove-bad-links-pointing-to-your-site/

      You comments are welcome and thanks for the ideas in this post.

  5. Nice post and thanks for the ideas. You mentioned used only one tool to monitor your backlnks, I would actually do things a little bit differently and use BOTH Majestic SEO and Ahrefs to monitor my backlinks.

    I find Ahrefs to have a really clean interface and it's easier to spot dodgy links through their Anchors tab, as those links usually have really spammy anchor texts. As for MajesticSEO, they just have powerful crawlers that indexes links quicker than any tool out there. This is very important when the earlier you spot that someone is trying to negativeSEO you, the easier it is for you to put up counter-measures.

    reply >
    • Valid point. That was more meant as don't pull numbers one month and compare to another the next month. They are going to be different so it's best to compare numbers from the same tool.

  6. OK, so I have it all set up and I find out I am under attack. What do I do then?

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  7. This article is great, thanks Kate! Very easy to do steps that probably everyone should follow, not only the ones worried about negative SEO.

    But I think the title is not really fit. The article contains steps to identify negative SEO. Not to combat it.

    In order to make it perfect I think it's missing the part on "what to do when you identify negative SEO".

    reply >
    • The best offense is a good defense. I linked to a few articles that talk about what to do, including Rand's whiteboard Friday post. I didn't want to bore everyone with the same data found elsewhere, but since there is so much interest, I might do a followup post but I'd recommend checking out the links in this post for more information.

  8. If you have a wordpress site or blog check out the tool Rank Reporter, I use it all the time when checking my rankings, keywords and overall looking at SEO data.

    Good read!

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  9. I have to agree with a previous comment, the title is a bit misleading - I expected it to be a post on actually combatting negative SEO. However, I suppose the first step in combatting negative SEO is identifying it :) And afterall, the 5 tips are good advice and in most peoples case I believe they are easily integrated into their existing SEO montoring.

    You mentioned the chance of getting targeted by negative SEO is small. I agree, but are there any stats on how unlikely it is? Or what kinds of websites are more likely to be targeted?

    Thanks for the post.

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  10. Great tips Kate and a lot of very valid points, however I would title this article "5 Easy Steps to Identify Negative SEO Attemps" as it says nothing about actually combating it in case it happens and you see it happening. On the other hand, many of the same tips could be useful not only for identifying negative SEO attempts but also for identifying site hacks like the example in Brad Dalton's comment (along with a few other like site: search performed every now and then).

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  11. Great article Kate and really good ideas to keep a check on all of your back links. Besides the Opensiteexplorer, Majestic SEO, I feel linkStant is another tool that can help someone keep track of all the links pointing to their websites.

    Came across this tool recently and have heard that it is a very good tool. Didn't know it was developed by Tom. :)

    Will definitely give it a try now.

    Thanks again for the post.

    reply >
    • Yes, Linkstant is an awesome tool, but actually was developed by Rob Ousbey in association with Tom. What can we say, our VPs are awesome.

  12. Hi Kate,

    Excellent work. This is what i have been looking for and i think you have provided the great information for getting back from negative SEO. Most of the haters are now doing negative SEO to hurt our rankings.



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  13. Many thanks for this post. I like the way you have worked out the change in referral sites. It was easy to do in Excel.

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  14. I'm glad I've read this thanks kate. Although I have been aware of the use of negative SEO for a whileI have never actually checked for it in any detail, so I'm happy to say that you've prompted me, so I'm off over to Majestic now to have a "Butchers."

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  15. Gina

    I was waiting for the "seo, i.e. search engine optimization" part of this and what it should have been was "5 steps to combat negative back-links". What's covered isn't SEO, it's back-linking.

    Linking from or to a bad neigborhood has always been on the table, check articles from the 90's. It's simply common sense to not want your church site linked to porn queens of where ever land.

    Like others, knowing what to do after you find one and amount of time it will take to eliminate the threat (money, time, manpower) would have been most helpful.

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  16. Do we really think that Google would "open the door" on negative SEO?

    Penguin, which looks like negative SEO was really a recalculation of the linking profile with all non-relevant influences removed and a penalty added based on the anchor text used on non-relevant pages.

    Rand Fishkin (of SEOMoz), issued an invitation for negative SEO to be done against SEOMoz.
    The only thing that happened was a warning letter. No degradation of pages or site was seen.

    If we analyze what Google has done regarding links, we will see that they have turned off link's influence on SERPs. They have also turned off the predictive function of anchor text.

    This should mean that neither positive or negative links will affect a site's SERPs.

    reply >
    • Not sure what you mean Reg. Are you saying that you think that Google isn't counting links at all anymore? I can't agree with that, but you are right that Negative SEO in most cases will not work to take down a site. Can it? Yes. Will it always? Nope.

  17. Negative SEO should be given much attention by site owners of sites sitting at the top pages of Google results. Thanks for the nice insights. You have extensively covered this subject matter Kate.

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  18. Nice article.
    Also can you tell me what to do once I have already been attacked?

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  19. Great recommendation. Is there any alternative if my site got hit by search engine updates?

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  20. Jeremiah and Sarthak,

    There are a few links in the post of other articles that talk about what to do about Negative SEO.

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  21. If you are on page one for a money term, it is HIGHLY likely you will be attacked, as this makes SEO companies seem like they ranked you, when your competitor falls. Don't be fooled by the "highly unlikely" mantra. BS. Google can end all this right now, by making the algo have a neutral buoyancy for spammy links, instead of tanking sites. This is all about forcing PPC and creating an environment or fear, uncertainty and doubt based upon what experts tell me behind the scenes.

    reply >
    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks for the comment. I disagree though that this is about forcing PPC and creating an environment of fear. There is nothing to fear when it comes to marketing on the web. It's purely a matter of not looking for shortcuts and running your business as a well rounded business. Neither Google nor Bing are ever after a specific company. They sometimes make cases of specific big companies but for the most part they are really trying to just produce the best results for people.

      Have a great week.

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