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Negative SEO: Separating the Facts From the Fiction

Negative SEO: Separating the Facts From the Fiction

Ranking on Google’s first page for any moderately competitive keyword isn’t easy. You’ll have to build authority, create relevant content for that keyword, attract backlinks and ensure that visitors have a positive experience. Even then, your website may not rank if it’s the target of negative search engine optimization or negative SEO.

The Basics of Negative SEO

Negative SEO is the process of sabotaging a website’s search rankings. It’s typically performed by nefarious competitors. If your website currently outranks a competitor’s site, he or she may target it with negative SEO. A successful negative SEO attack can cause your website to rank lower, or it may cause your site to be deindexed.

Types of Negative SEO Attacks

There are several types of negative SEO attacks. While they all have the shared goal of sabotaging a website’s search rankings, they are performed differently.

The most common type of negative SEO attack is backlink spam. Also known as Google Bowling, it centers around the creation of backlinks from poor-quality, spam websites. The general belief is that backlink spam will compel Google to demote the targeted website. After all, Google released the Penguin update to its algorithm in 2014, which specifically demoted websites that participated in backlink schemes.

Content theft is another type of SEO attack. Search engines won’t rank duplicate content. If two pages feature the exact same content, search engines may index both pages, but they’ll only rank one of the pages. Therefore, a competitor may perform negative SEO by stealing content from your website and publishing it on his or her site.

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While not as common as backlink spam and content theft, distributed denial of service (DDoS) server attacks are sometimes used for negative SEO. A DDoS server attack can overwhelm the server that hosts your website. It involves the use of thousands of devices — the devices are typically hijacked with malware — to spam a server with data packets. As your website’s hosting server struggles to process all of these data packets, it may slow down to a crawl or go offline.

Is Negative SEO Real?

Negative SEO is absolutely real. Whether it’s backlink spam, content theft or a DDoS server attack, it’s a concern that you shouldn’t just dismiss. With that said, not all negative SEO attacks are successful. Some of them may cause your website to fall from the top of the search results, whereas others may have no direct impact.

Most instances of backlink spam won’t impact your website’s rankings. Google acknowledges the fact webmasters can’t control which websites link to their sites. According to the search engine’s leading trends analyst, Google ignores backlink spam. It will still take into account high-quality backlinks. When it encounters poor-quality or spammy backlinks, though, Google will try to filter them.

Regarding content theft, it’s only a concern if search engines find the copied content on the competitor’s website before finding it on your site. They’ll rank the website where they first discovered the content. As long as search engines crawl the content on your website first, the competitor won’t succeed with his or her negative SEO attack.

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DDoS server attacks are more problematic. There’s no such thing as a DDoS-proof server. Servers are used to host websites on a public network, the internet, so they don’t block incoming traffic. With a DDoS server attack, visitors may not be able to load your website. Alternatively, it may take them significantly longer than usual to load it. If the DDoS server attack persists, search engines may remove your website from its organic indexes.

How to Protect Your Website From Negative SEO

If you’re worried about negative SEO, set up your website on Search Console. Search Console won’t prevent your website from being targeted, but it can help you spot these attacks during the early stages.

Search Console is Google’s SEO analytics platform. It’s located at After setting up your website on Search Console, Google will use this platform to send you important notifications. Some of these notifications may involve negative SEO attacks.

In cases of backlink spam, you may receive a manual action notification in Search Console. Google will try to filter backlink spam. Unfortunately, its algorithm may wrongfully identify the backlink spam as part of a backlink scheme that was directly orchestrated by your website. You can find manual action notifications for backlink spam such as this in Search Console.

If you’ve received a manual action notification for backlink spam, you can fix it by disavowing the problematic backlinks. Disavowing is designed to help website operators neutralize the impact of backlink spam. You can disavow spammy backlinks that are potentially hurting your website, in which case Google will ignore them.

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Keep in mind that disavowing has the same effect on all types of backlinks. Whether good or bad, disavowed backlinks are ignored by Google. Only disavow backlinks that are obviously spammy. If you disavow good and high-quality backlinks, Google will ignore them as well.

To protect your website from content theft-related negative SEO, you just need to ensure that search engines immediately crawl your site’s new content. You can use the URL Inspection Tool in Search Console for this purpose. After publishing a new piece of content, go to the URL Inspection to enter its address. Google will then inspect the address by crawling it, which in turn forces Google to identify the content.

You can protect your website from DDoS-related negative SEO by upgrading its hosting service. Not all hosting services are the same. Some of them offer access to faster servers and more resources than others. You’ll have to pay to upgrade your website’s hosting service, but it can mitigate the risk of a DDoS server attack.

Negative SEO can pose a direct threat to the credibility of your website and its ability to rank. Most negative SEO attacks consist of backlink spam, content theft or a DDoS server attack. Visitors may question your website’s credibility if it’s targeted, and search engines may deindex or rank your site lower.

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