Building links to your website is absolutely crucial for getting it ranked. Competitors can use this same technique to hurt your site by building links of their own outside of your control to your website. It may seem counter intuitive but you aren’t the only person who can build links to your website and Google has no idea how to tell the difference on who/how that links came to exist. Even if you’re cautious about the kind of links you build, someone else can build some purposely bad links to your site. This is where Negative SEO begins to rear its ugly head.
Negative SEO refers to a deliberate attempt to hurt your website rankings via the use of unethical practices like building spam links. It is a very real problem when you consider that organic search rankings account for a majority of businesses, negative SEO is something every webmaster should know about. Until a few years ago, many websites suffered because their competitors built links to their website with spam content. So, if you can’t control your backlink profile, how do you combat negative SEO?
In 2012, Google finally addressed the link spam problem with its Disavow Links Tool, which gave webmasters the ability to acknowledge or deny a particular link to their sites. By coming out with this tool, Google indirectly admitted that negative SEO was a major problem.
Google Webmaster Tools lets you know if it detects any unnatural linking activity to your websites. This is a powerful tool to understanding possible linking threats to your website. If Google discovers enough of these types of links it may suggest that you use the disavow tool on them.
Which links should you disavow?
It’s natural for you to be nervous if Webmaster Tools indicates something suspicious is happening. But if you pull the trigger too early, you might disavow a link that might be helping you. Although Google might be trying to help it can never fully understand your site and what links might be legitimate but to Google might seem untrustworthy.
Let us consider an example. Webmaster Tools detects some suspicious link activity. You decide to go through all of the links you’ve built, one by one. Now, since Google won’t tell you which one of the links it thinks is suspicious, you have to exercise your own judgment. Does the anchor text look unnatural? Is the content of low quality? This will be up to you to decide because you understand your site and industry better than others.
What should I do to protect my website?
Negative SEO is an extremely subjective topic. If you wait for Google to warn you before you start monitoring your backlinks, it might be too late. Keep monitoring the websites that link to yours. If you notice a steep drop in rankings coinciding with the presence of several new links, or a series of links coming from similar sites you need to take action to disavow them.
Negative SEO is usually done by other webmasters, competitors, possibly former employees or clients that have become disgruntled or just bored hackers who have nothing better to do with their time. It is important to understand that some of their actions can harm your website rankings. You can take this task on yourself of monitoring your links or you can use available sites (Moz’s Open Site Explorer, AHrefs, Majestic SEO etc.) or you can utilize an SEO Company to help make sure you are not maliciously attacked with negative links.