Negative SEO: why it exists and how you can protect yourself from it

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a brilliant way to increase the visibility of your brand and company. It is the practice of marketing a website for improving search engine friendly features. No matter what budget you are working on, the goal of your SEO campaign should be the same. It demands good online marketing skills and creativity to boost the visibility of any brand across several channels uniformly in this age of competition. It is about being friendly and enhancing the relevance of a website to a target audience. Research shows that 81% of online shoppers start their journey with search engines. Unless you are targeting the popular search engines in the eastern market like Baidu, your SEO techniques should be in line with optimizing your site for the king of search engines – Google.

What is the truth about negative SEO?

What most marketers shy away from saying is that SEO does not have to be 100% good all the time. Negative SEO exists, and it costs several websites millions concerning CTR, rankings, and sales every month. It is usually any practice that affects the ranking, host domain, and URL negatively. It happens when unscrupulous marketers decide to manipulate variables within the content, links and user signals. Positive SEO and negative SEO are the two sides of the marketing coin that you can get to see at the Dev Chatterjee Digital Marketing website.

You might have heard Google’s opinion on negative SEO already. Over the last couple of years, Google spokespersons have maintained their dialog on the topic – “Negative SEO does not exist.” Sadly, the search engine giant is not completely honest here. It might be one of their ways of keeping a lid on issues to prevent them from blowing over. Think of this – it is possible for any person to hurt their ranking and traffic by making an accidental change in the factors that contribute to SEO. If an external entity gains access to your website and makes the same changes that can potentially cause the corresponding decrease in traffic and plummeting of ranks. Till date, Google has never admitted to this fact, but the Google Webmaster Blog does state a possibility of such an attack and the immediate action a webmaster should take during such an event. That automatically opens up the windows of speculation.

Experts, who have been working with influencer marketing and spam marketing, state that negative SEO is a part of the game. If you have a website, you have experienced it at least once. Just like positive SEO, not all negative marketing techniques are successful. However, since they promise better returns than regular marketing techniques, most spammers are likely to attempt these tactics on a regular basis. In fact, for product platforms like Amazon, Alibaba, and eBay, marketers have developed unique positive and negative campaigns to maximize their benefits. It is understandable that the categories and subcategories on these platforms that attract intense competition are more likely to experience negative SEO as well.

Black vs. White: the endless battle of SEO techniques

Several webmasters and CEOs make the mistake of thinking that all negative SEO techniques are black-hat. For understanding the classification of this marketing tactics, we must first visit the definition of white-hat SEO. White Hat SEO includes all practices that are by the book. In a world of perfect white-hat, no one would ever engage in link farming, and no one would rewrite content from a single source or use frequent keyword placement in their content to increase ranking possibilities. As you read these clauses, you can understand how far the ideal conditions are from the truth.

Quite a few SEO techniques survive today that lie somewhere in the grey area, between black-hat and white-hat techniques. In fact, many of the SEO tactics that are part of negative SEO marketing campaigns are not even black-hat by nature. For example – you can approach a website to replace its existing reference links that point to your competitor websites with your website links. That would be kind of unethical, but not black-hat. At the same time, you would be gunning for improving your site ranks, while negatively affecting the ranking of your competitor. It is a form of negative SEO marketing, but that is not uncommon or penalty worthy.

While we are talking about the distinction between black hat and white hat SEO, we should also mention that once upon a time, methods like cloaking were part of the black hat. They were strictly the domains of hackers and spammers. However, with the adoption of more “harmless” monikers like “internet protocol delivery,” these practices have now become a legit part of white-hat optimization techniques. The laws vary considerably from one country to another. While one country has banned Facebook, another country has made it legal to browse gambling websites. It depends on the culture as well as the law of the state the user is in. Just like Piracy laws, the definition of legal and white-hat changes across the national borders.

Is there any way you can save your site from negative SEO?

Sadly, preventing the attack of negative SEO is still not under the control of a website owner or a marketer. One way to understand if someone is trying to usurp your ranking and traffic is by regularly monitoring the link profile curve. Any unusual fluctuation can signify unusual activities on the website. Similarly, run plagiarism checks periodically, run speed tests and conduct complete website audits at least once in two months. These methods will not help you build a firewall or prevent the attack of negative marketing, but they will help you spot the discrepancies early enough before they can cause significant damage. At the same time, you should work towards boosting the site security to prevent malware attacks that can take over your site and push the rankings down with unwanted content. Working on your website firewalls may help you reduce the instances of negative SEO attacks on your site to some degree.

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