Last year JellyFish, a digital marketing agency, notice an influx of backlinks to their website in October and November. Almost 1,700 new links to their website were flagged as unnatural or suspect by their website analytics software. With the latest Google Penguin 3.0 updates that penalized websites with low-quality backlinks, the JellyFish website took a hit in their search engine results.
Nick Fettiplace, SEO at JellyFish, has a good handle on the site’s analytics, and he checks them regularly, so he was able to notice the changes immediately and take action.
Welcome to the ugly world of a negative SEO attack. While JellyFish probably wasn’t targeted specifically, blackhat webmasters took advantage of some prime keywords on their website to create the spammy backlinks for their own financial gain.
What is negative SEO?
Negative SEO is a practice used by black hat webmasters to sabotage a website’s rankings with search engines. Attacks can take several forms, such as copying your content and distributing it, pointing links to your site using controversial keywords, or creating spammy backlinks to it from low-quality websites (like what happened to JellyFish.)
Is it real?
There have been reports of negative SEO blackmail threats being sent to website owners; however it’s unclear if the threat is real. Google takes all reports of threats such as this seriously, and while they’ve done an investigation into this particular series of threats, they have been unable to determine how “credible (the) threat really is.”
Seriously, is it a real threat to B2B website owners?
It certainly is. Sure, Google’s put out their Disavow Tool to help you combat some of these tactics, but you may be unable to save your website from the barrage of ways available to the black hat webmaster. A quick look on a few job sites and message forums shows thousands of posts from people willing to engage in negative SEO tactics for a (very small) nominal fee, or boastful posts from people who’ve already done it.
While the odds of a B2B website owner being the target of an attack are very slim, the chances are still there, just as JellyFish found out.
How to prevent a negative SEO attack
These seven tips will help you ensure your B2B website can survive a negative SEO attack.
1. Make sure your site is secure
Use a security tool to prevent users from logging in to your website if you’re using WordPress or any other CMS platform, and use other website security tools to prevent unauthorized access to your site (your web host or webmaster can help you choose the right one for you.)
2. Set up Google Webmaster Tools email alerts
Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) is free to use, and come with a lot of functionality. The email alerts is a good tool to use for website owners, especially if you’re not in the habit of checking in on your site’s health regularly.
Once you’ve set up the email alerts under Webmaster Tools Preferences, Google will alert you when:
- it finds evidence of malware on your site,
- someone hacks it, or
- it applies any manual link penalties, and more.
These alerts give you a heads-up on any suspicious activities, so you can investigate further and take any corrective action immediately.
3. Keep track of your backlinks
Backlinks are external links to your site, and generally speaking, are good from an SEO-perspective. This is why guest blogging on other, high-quality sites is a good thing. Google rewards your site with a little love because you’ve got a backlink from that other site. It’s “love by association.”
On the flip side, being associated with a low-quality, spammy website can have the opposite effect. Black hat webmasters will use this tactic to attack a website by creating all sorts of spammy links from a low-quality site to your site. Google sees this low-quality, and subsequently penalizes your site for being associated with it. The bad website gets the love, while you get dropped in the search engine results pages by Google.
Tracking all of your backlinks can be a challenge however, as you may have many legitimate and positive backlinks that you want to keep. Using a backlink tracking tool like MonitorBacklinks, BacklinkWatch, RankSignals or CognitiveSEO can help alert you quickly to any backlinks that you think may have a negative impact on your website.
4. Protect your strong backlinks
At the same time you’re monitoring for bad backlinks, you also want to be able to protect your good ones. Black hat webmasters have been known to contact a website that has a good backlink for you and then request that the backlink be removed – thus reducing the amount of “love” Google shows you.
To prevent this, always use an email address from your website domain (email@example.com) instead of one from a free web-based email account like Gmail. Anyone can sign up with an email address on those sites posing as you, while they can’t get an account on your domain.
Another way to protect your good backlinks is to keep track of them, so you’ll notice right away if any are removed.
5. Watch for duplicate content
Duplicate content is a no-no for Google, as it thinks that one of you copied from the other, and so penalizes both of you. Set up a Google Alert to watch for mentions of your authors’ names’, company/brand name, so you’ll find out right away. Also do a quick, period search of a sentence or two from your website, to see if it shows up elsewhere, placing the search terms within quotes. You’ll need to open a private browsing session in your web browser to do this; otherwise it’ll pull your profile/cookie information from your current session and show you skewed results. You can also run a quick check through a site like Copyscape too, which does the same thing.
6. Check your website’s speed
This one is a very simple check: if your site suddenly takes forever to load, and you know it’s been optimized for speed, which could be a signal that there’s a problem. There are both free and paid options here, such as UptimeRobot, and Pingdom. Choose the option that’s right for you.
7. Get out of your own way
If you’ve been doing SEO on your B2B website for a while now, you know the search engine content rules that’ll help you get higher rankings in the SERPs, right? So now’s the time to make sure that you’re not doing anything that’s off-side with Google and hurting yourself. Some of the things to avoid include:
- Buying links for SEO
- Publishing low-quality guest posts on other websites
- Selling links on your website without the “nofollow” attribute
- Linking to penalized websites
While the odds of falling victim to a negative SEO attack are small, the fact remains that it’s a possibility. Understanding how negative SEO can affect your B2B website is important, so you can plan a positive, great strategy that maximizes your online presence, and also protects you from any negative SEO tactics, intentional or otherwise, that you may experience.
Interested in SEO? Read this post on the 5 SEO mistakes you can avoid
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