When you’re building your website, focus your SEO strategies around actions that will help increase your search rankings. Search engine optimization takes a great deal of maintenance, and even after you’ve reached the top of the search results pages you desire, there’s still work to be done. Part of the unseen effort is protecting your site from negative SEO, which can decrease your search rankings.
Negative SEO refers to certain practices—called “black hat” practices—that some people use in order to get a quick boost to their search rankings. However, these black hat tactics are frowned upon by Google and can result in penalties or, worse, having your site removed from search results altogether. Of course, if you’ve created a strong SEO strategy, you’re not using black hat SEO practices. However, that doesn’t mean someone else can’t use them against you with malicious intent.
To protect yourself from malicious negative SEO attacks, it’s important to monitor your site frequently. Someone who wants to destroy your SEO ranking may hack into your site and place a virus in your code, which can then affect users who visit your site. Obviously, Google wants its users to have a safe browsing experience, so it will either rank your site poorly on search results pages or remove it entirely. If you’re not monitoring your site properly, you may not even realize this has happened.
The best recommendation I can make is using Google Search Console to help monitor your website. It is the only way you can communicate directly with Google, so it’s vital to set it up so you’re prepared in case your website comes under attack.
Now that you’re on alert, here is what you can watch for in regard to malicious attacks on your site:
Adding Spammy Backlinks
This is one of the most common types of attacks and involves someone creating low-quality, spammy backlinks to your website from other sites. This tends to be done through automated software that places links anywhere it can on the internet, and sometimes those links will include text containing moderated content, such as pornographic content, which Google then associates with your site. While you can’t remove the links, you’ll want to act quickly and use Google’s disavow tool to dissociate your site from those links. Having a strong history of quality backlinks will also help to ensure attacks like this don’t destroy your ranking.
Removing Good Links
The opposite of adding spammy links, this attack takes the approach of trying to remove strong links you’ve built. An attacker might reach out to the website that hosts the backlink pretending to be you and ask that the link be taken down. It’s best to monitor your new and removed backlinks weekly or monthly. I recommend the online tool Ahrefs to accomplish this task.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) Attack
A DDOS attack involves flooding a website with traffic, causing the server to shut down because it isn’t built to handle the influx of visitors. These attacks can happen even to large websites. While the site is down, you’re not gaining any leads, resulting in lost potential revenue.
This type of attack is exactly what it sounds like—an attacker makes an exact replica of your site, causing all of your content to register as duplicated. Google’s algorithm is complex, and if it recognizes that your website has existed longer than the clone site, you will not be penalized. In order to get the website taken down, file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act complaint. You can monitor for duplicate content using a tool from dmca.com, which will also file a takedown request for you if it notices someone using your content without your permission.
An easy way for an attacker to create negative SEO is by posting fake negative reviews on your Google My Business listing or anywhere else you might have reviews. This will lower your business’s rating and could significantly affect your business, as reviews are often a major influencer in a prospect’s decision whether or not they want to work with you. You’ll have to work directly with Google or whatever platform the reviews are posted on to get them taken down. However, note that if a negative review is legitimate, there is nothing you’ll be able to do. Legitimate reviews are federally protected.
Click fraud is a type of attack that aims to cost your business a great deal of money by using bots to repeatedly click on your pay-per-click ads, which quickly racks up a great deal of advertising costs. While Google tries its best to block these type of attacks, it’s best to monitor your ad campaigns carefully and report any suspicious activity as soon as you notice it.
Gaining Access to Your Site
One of the worst types of attacks that can happen to you is if an attacker gains access to your website’s code. They can remove your site from Google’s index, so it doesn’t appear in search results at all. They can change the content of your site, steal important information, or employ practices that will cause you to be penalized by Google. They can even hold your website hostage for millions of dollars. These problems can be incredibly difficult and expensive to fix, so it’s best to implement proactive measures to prevent them.
- Use secure passwords and never reuse the same password on multiple sites. This helps prevent hackers from getting in as well as keeping disgruntled former employees from attacking your site. A password manager is a great way to keep track of passwords and make it easy to stay secure.
- Be careful with administrator privileges and ensure you can revoke anyone’s privilege at any time. For both your website and your server, you should be the only one with administrator privileges.
- Put a system in place to manage employee access whenever an employee joins or leaves the company. Whenever an employee leaves the company, they should no longer have access to your website or server. You can use a service like okta.com to make this easier by providing secure identity management with a single sign on.
- Hire a secure hosting company that has both automated and manual backups so your website can be restored quickly if needed.
While the scenarios listed above aren’t very common, as your website grows, you’ll become a more prominent target for malicious SEO attacks. Most often, it’s not your direct competitors who are using these kinds of tactics—it tends to be the agencies they hire, spammers, or lead generation companies. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to find whoever was behind an attack, and 98 percent of the time, they’re never caught.
In a world where web attacks are increasing in frequency as the population becomes more tech-savvy, it’s vital to stay on top of your security. By taking proactive measures to ensure these kinds of attacks don’t happen or can be caught quickly, you’re protecting your investment in your website and SEO.