Negative search engine optimization (SEO) is a mischievous business strategy against competitors that sabotages or alters their website's rankings in search engine results. While it is not technically considered a cybercrime yet due to a lack of specific policies defining it as a criminal offense, it is a practice that deliberately harms a website’s organic traffic and in turn, can lead to revenue loss.
Website attacks using negative SEO come in different forms. While they are intended to sabotage a website, their effects still vary in severity. Here are some threats of negative SEO:
Link farms, which are spammy links that use the same anchor link text, are utilized to build links from interrelated web pages. Anchor link texts may be unrelated to the content but are intended to redirect users to a different website or a website meant to tarnish a company's reputation, e.g., pornographic websites.
Backlink sabotage is a different but related negative SEO tactic meant to alter legitimate backlinks. Backlinks are auxiliary website links that redirect a user from a partner or affiliated company's website back to their main website. In backlink sabotage, they are being altered to direct to a different website to make it seem that it is the company affiliated with the source of the backlink.
Website content plagiarism is done where contents of a website are being duplicated to create multiple versions of web pages. In effect, website visits will be spread out to those versions rendering the visits to the legitimate website seem fewer.
Speed creepers are being used to infiltrate a website to interfere with its speed, which causes heavy server loading time or significant lag in navigating elements like URLs and tabs.
Content modification may be a combination of the aforementioned tactics. Modification may include links that are not originally on the website but are meant to spam users. Attackers may also alter subtle details in web pages to redirect users to their intended website.
De-indexing is being done to directly affect a website's ranking in search engines. Modification in the coding of robots.txt or disallow rule being enabled can be grounds for a website to either be bumped off in the latter result pages or be completely unsearchable to users.
Website hack is the worst negative SEO strategy. In an overall website hack, the presence of all of the aforementioned threats is possible with the addition of malware and viruses.
One of the most common forms of negative SEO is interfering with a website's bandwidth to make its loading time slower than usual. When this problem arises, the best way to cope is to contact the website domain provider, the webmaster, or the hosting company. In addition, server logs should be checked to identify and eliminate bandwidth creepers.
An effective approach against negative SEO is to proactively safeguard IT systems from hackers.
Backlinks are best protected when using e-mails from the company's local domain. To contact webmasters or hosting companies to remove malicious backlinks and prove the legitimacy of a website, do not use third-party e-mail providers like Gmail or Yahoo! Mail.
Search engines like Google can send e-mail alerts whenever there are potential instances of hacking and de-indexing, the presence of malware, and connectivity issues. These notifications help address website problems and recover from security breaches more efficiently.
While A/B testing is meant to let users compare two versions of a website, in an event of a website attack, it can also be an effective strategy by using the unused version when the used version is hacked beyond immediate and permanent repair.
Monitoring and identifying these attacks can be challenging when done manually. Depending on the kind of attack, various tools like Google Webmaster Tools, Ahrefs, Open Site Explorer, SEO SpyGlass, Monitor Backlinks, Copyscape, WebSite Auditor, and Rank Tracker can be utilized to address specific needs.
In summary, watch out for these red flags: drastic and significant drop in website speed, unsearchable website or website pages, and website search result being bumped off or transferred in the next result page. Maintaining your websites by ensuring they are free from alteration is vital to keeping them visible in search engines.