The first thing you may associate SEO (Search Engine Optimization) with, is website traffic! So while everyone is scrambling to learn more how to optimize for search engines to move up rankings in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), there’s perhaps Tim sitting somewhere scheming on how to use his SEO knowledge to take down competitors’ rankings.
Sad but true. The faster you accept the darker and uglier side of SEO, the better equipped you will be to see the signs and prevent traffic drops from negative SEO.
What is Negative SEO and where did it come from?
Think of it this way, positive SEO is associated with organic session growth that is seen in your website’s traffic graph. Negative SEO is exactly the opposite; it’s a technique to reduce a website’s organic session. As for who are equipped to do such damages? I will be completely honest that the same people who know how to grow your organic traffic are the same people who can take down your organic traffic. In other words, digital marketers with SEO knowledge.
So why would someone invest time and effort on negative SEO? Quite obviously, there are just a few positions in Google’s search results (namely the 1st page) that search users are clicking on, and millions if not billions of websites competing for those 10 spots on the first page. Google’s algorithm decides who gets to appear on the first 10 spots by presumably some weighted scoring mechanism. So, if you’re not able to do SEO better than some keyword competitors, whether it’s due to budget restrictions or any other means, you can lower competitor’s SEO score by hurting them. Yes, negative SEO doesn’t sound very ethical. But it does exist and many website owners do get attacked unknowingly. In fact most people who engage in negative SEO, may prefer to go undetected and slowly (as oppose to drastically) take down competitor websites.
Apparently, it was Google Penguin algorithm in 2012 that gave birth to negative SEO. While the intention is to improve user experience with Google’s search, it opened up an opportunity for less ethical digital marketers to take down competitors.
Let’s take a look at 3 of the most common Negative SEO attacks.
Link farms were originally created for the purpose to boost SEO rankings prior to the launch of Google’s Penguin algorithm. Penguin basically was developed to battle link farms and black-hat SEO whereby website owners attempt to manipulate their link profile and link power in order to rank higher. Link farms are more or less a hub of websites that link to each other to increase the link metrics of each other’s web pages. Website owners are able to purchase links from link farms to manipulate their PageRank. Another term used quite commonly are PBNs (private blog networks).
When Penguin was launched in 2012, Google took down lots of websites (issued penalties) that have low quality content but were ranking high due to optimization boost from the use of link farms and PBNs. Quite naturally, this opened up a whole new army of SEO marketers. From the term black and white hat SEO, negative SEO was born. Because Penguin gauge external SEO factor, aka backlinks, website owners cannot really control this factor and it easily became one way to attack websites who are ranking well.
Exhausting Server Bandwidth
Before Google is able to decide how to rank your website in the search results, Googlebot must first visit and crawl your website. Now think of this scenario. If your website takes a very long time to load its content, the server isn’t responding or Googlebot isn’t able to tap into your website at all, there would be no data in Google’s database to decide how to rank your website. Google would eventually start to remove your webpages from the Google index as old data becomes stale and it’s not possible to access your website to cache new data.
If you notice that your website is taking much longer to load or there are some problems or anomalies in your server log, it’s best to start troubleshooting early.
To maintain high user experience for search users, Google would want to serve only high quality and unique content on the first page of the search results. One other way, that negative SEO can hurt your website without having to have access to your site is by scraping massive amount of content from your site and re-posting it at community forums that may have higher authority. When it comes to choosing which content to show to search users, most likely the website with the higher authority will show up first. Over time, if a high percentage of your website content is exactly the same with content from multiple website, it will lower your trust and authority score, leading to lower rankings and lower traffic.
These are probably the most common Negative SEO you may come across. Taking note that there are many more ways that a website’s traffic may suffer from Negative SEO. If you want to know more, please feel free to connect with us or follow us on Facebook. We will let you know when we schedule meetups and knowledge sharing sessions.