Parasite hosting. Backdoor hacking codes. Infected website plugins and WordPress themes.
None of that sounds good, and all those items have something in common: they represent negative search engine optimization (SEO), or “negative SEO.”
Negative SEO is essentially the use of unethical techniques to sabotage competitors’ rankings in search engines. It’s a “black hat” method for improving a website’s search engine ranking by influencing sites that outrank it with any number of nefarious means. So, instead of improving the way a search engine sees your site, you end up lowering the status of your competitors. It’s not a good thing to do, and Google is penalizing anyone it catches engaging in black hat tactics by flagging culprit sites.
What should you do if you’re the victim of negative SEO? How will you know if negative SEO tactics have been used against your site?
Well, honestly, if you have been attacked with negative SEO, or you think it’s possible, it’s time to take action.
How to Fix a Website Riddled with Negative SEO
First, let’s understand the problem before we figure out how to fix it. This is a common scenario during the last few years:
WordPress has become the most used platform for website creation and hosting. Therefore attackers created infected WordPress plugins or WordPress themes available for public download. Thousands of people and companies were installing those items, including the “backdoor” codes attached by the attackers, and every one of their websites was infected with negative SEO.
This created a kind of botnet, what Google defines as a network of private computers infected with malicious software and controlled as a group without the owners’ knowledge.
A good example of a botnet would be anytime you’ve ever opened a spam email and it instantly sent itself to everyone in your email contacts list. Or, think of the times the ridiculously spammy messages on Facebook traveled like wildfire through all of your friends’ timelines. These messages post on their own, without your approval, at the will of an outside source.
One example of negative SEO is as follows: If someone wants to negatively impact their competitors, they might find or create really “spammy” websites and link from them to the competitors’ websites. They might even do aggressive link building to create backlinks. Because the search engine algorithm will see the poor links and think that the legitimate owner is trying to scam the algorithm for a better search rank position, as a result it will penalize them.
A famous example over a decade ago was when a search for “miserable failure” resulted with a White House page of George W. Bush. Eventually, Google fixed this problem.
These aren’t only way negative SEO is done. Unfortunately, black hat tactics are always evolving, and different types of threats are emerging all the time. As a result, that’s why it’s important to know how to prevent or fix negative SEO if it happens to you.
Now that we know what it is, let’s fix negative SEO.
9 Ways to Counter or Undo Negative SEO
We worked with a renewable energy installer recently that was a victim of negative SEO. In this company’s case, it did not update some parts of its WordPress site leading to a third party accessing the backend of its system. That third party then created pages on renewable energy sites promoting various unofficial products. The main problem was that those pages were not visible in the regular WordPress dashboard. A Google search finally found those pages—making it nearly impossible to know about the issue.
Here’s what we advised the company to do to fix its problem:
Keep your website updated
1.) Always install updates as new versions of your content management software (CMS) become available. Your CMS is updated regularly to protect against new malware and botnets. Installing updates as they become available will keep you protected against the most recent types of threats.
2.) Use antivirus plugins and online scanners to find possible threats. This is age-old wisdom that still applies today. Antivirus plugins and scanners search for threats and notify you if any are present in your computer or website. These searches will help you get a handle on any potential threats before they are full-blown infections.
3.) Avoid plugins and themes from unknown sources. Would you purchase meat from a random person on the street, or ask an unknown person on public transportation to give you a medical exam? No. Therefore don’t trust your website to items and content from unauthorized sources.
4.) Always make a backup. This includes any website files and information databases your company owns. If you publish a lot of content, or have updates going out on an almost daily basis, you should set this backup to happen at least twice a week.
Take some time to monitor your website and links
5.) Check your backlinks regularly. Backlinks are the links that you have on your site that go to places outside of your site, like links to partners, valuable resources, blog fact sources, and more. Use Google Search Console, Moz, Majestic, Ahrefs or other backlink checker tools to scan your backlinks for any possible treachery.
6.) Check your pages and posts regularly. Some negative SEO methods create new pages on your website without your knowledge. This is done to build outbound links and is obviously super shady. Use your website’s Sitemap to double check the material you have posted is only what you intended to post. Also, search for your website on your favorite search engine and go through the search results. You may have a problem if you find that your site is promoting “shady” sunglasses or fake purses.
Practice the right online security hygiene
7.) Passwords and login generators are a must. In an age where we need to remember a password for everything, many people use the same passwords for multiple sources (which isn’t safe). Using password and login generators to create randomized passwords will make your login credentials infinitely more difficult to hack. Change the default account on WordPress from Admin to something else. Do not use “password” as your password.
Don’t be cavalier with your links
8.) Use Google’s Disavow tool. If you find bad backlinks pointing to your website, there’s no need to panic. Remedy the situation with the Google Disavow tool, a Webmasters option that allows you to monitor search results data and protect your digital property. Just follow the steps in the tool. Use this as a final measure. Here is what Matt Cutts said about negative SEO.
9.) Lastly, avoid submitting your website to unknown web directories and automatic link building tools. You really have no idea what automated tools do with your information. In addition, Google does pay attention to the “velocity of links”, which means how quickly they’re created. It’s best to save the link building to your marketing team, and keep your information submissions confined to well-known, trusted directories.
Do you have questions about negative SEO and whether it’s negatively impacted your site? We would love to talk to you! Contact us today and we’ll set up a free 30-minute consultation to talk about your current marketing needs.
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