Although by no means a new process, negative SEO is currently the talk of many forums at the moment after claims that the SEO sites run by Dan Thies and used car sales site Just Good Cars, among others, have been successfully moved down Google’s rankings by outsiders.
What is negative SEO?
Every now and then Google updates its algorithm in order to create a better ranking system, one that supposedly discourages unwanted, spammy practises. Each update encourages webmasters to instead focus on adding something of value to their campaigns, encouragement which is backed up by ranking penalties if they don’t comply. The problem is that as people become more aware of what not to do to their own site, it gives them a weapon to attack their competitors. If Google will mark you down for using link farms, it will also mark down your competition for the same thing regardless of who put the links there.
Google’s guidelines has gone from saying “There’s nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index” to “There’s almost nothing…”. The most recent wording of this statement is “Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index”, an indication that they’re aware of the problem.
Companies have sprung up that will perform negative SEO attacks on your competitors, disgruntled SEO firms will use the practise on clients who leave in the hope that they come back, while others will attack competitors’ client lists and then suggest their services to improve any problems a site might be having.
How can you protect yourself from negative SEO?
The obvious answer, and one that Google will surely approve of, is to take out more ads. No matter what someone does to your organic SEO work, there’s nothing they can do to remove you from AdWords listings. If, however, you’d like to protect your natural rankings, there are a few steps that you can take.
– Own your brand
Even if your website has been penalised, people need a way to find you online and this is even more important if you have competitors bidding on your brand. It’s important, not just for NSEO, to dominate the rankings for your brand name – as well as your own site, think about external options like a blog and social media properties. While someone may be able to make your homepage drop down the rankings, they’re going to have a harder time getting rid of Twitter accounts and Facebook pages from the SERPs.
– Cover as many bases as possible
As well as site-wide drops, Google also penalises at page and keyphrase level. To cover yourself for these possibilities, it’s best to spread your SEO work. Homepages are often the first to be hit with penalties, so try to get as many other pages as you can to rank for your main keyphrases. It’s also important to spread your attention to long tail keyphrases that can keep giving you traffic if you’re penalised in other areas. The more of your pages that rank well for as many keyphrases as you can think of, the harder it is for anyone else to damage all your work.
– Have a strong, natural link base
One of Google’s most recent changes was to penalise sites that look “over-optimised”. If the majority of your links have been built with SEO and specific anchor text in mind, it’s very easy for someone to push well-optimised to over-optimised. To get around this you need natural links, and for that you need a reason for people to link to your page. Whether you do that through link bait, regular press releases or something else that appeals to users en masse is up to you.
– Depend less on Google’s main page
There’s more to Google than its front page: with Pinterest you can still do well in its image search; with a news section on your site you can show up in that section of Google; videos on YouTube can rank as well. Without a ranking website, you can still put yourself out there.
As well as Google, though, you should aim for platform-specific SEO. What’s the use of a Vimeo account if your video isn’t high up the search results on that site. Similarly, you should work on increasing your presence on Facebook, Flickr and any other site you use with a search function.
For sites with blogs, articles or guides, readers are likely to return because they know to go straight to your site without a search engine.
What it all points to: content marketing
While it appears that your competitors can influence your external SEO work quite easily, there’s no way they can change what you’ve got on your site.
• If you want Google to rank you for your chosen keyphrases, you need great content.
• If you want readers to return without Google’s suggestions, you need great content.
• If you want news releases to get picked up, you need great content.
• If you want webmasters to link to your pages, you need great content.
• If you want to succeed online, you need great content.
Oliver Gaywood, online editor at King Content