Is Negative SEO Haunting Your Online Presence?

Apr 7, 2016 | 212 Articles, Advertising, Content Marketing, Google, Inbound Marketing, Marketing, SEO

You’ve heard about search engine optimization (SEO), even though you might not consider yourself a guru. It’s exactly what it sounds like: optimizing your website so that search engines like Google rank it higher when people query your keywords/keyphrases.

For instance, if someone Googles “harp lessons Phoenix” and you just happen to own the best (okay, only) harp studio in the city, there’s a reason you come up first in the results. It’s due to SEO and the fact that you have a pretty niche keyphrase.

The broader your keywords are, the tougher the SEO. For example, “discount shoes” will be incredibly competitive, and a small shoe boutique will probably never rank first in Google for this keyphrase.

However, some shady SEO agencies and so-called experts might promise you the moon—or at least the number-one ranking for competitive keywords. Steer clear! Nobody can make these promises—and if they do, they’re either being deceptive and/or operating in negative SEO.

Why So Negative?

Negative SEO temporarily tricks search engines into falsely ranking websites higher than they should. Temporary is the important term here. Search engines have incredibly sophisticated algorithms that constantly crawl through websites to make sure everyone follows SEO best practices. There are no standardized rules for SEO, but in general, websites in the U.S. follow Google’s example.

And yet, Google is notoriously secretive about its SEO algorithm specifics—they don’t want it copied. But on Google’s official blog, employees and SEO experts regularly post tips, suggestions, and best practices based on Google updates, announcements, and general experiences.

Google Panda is the official shift in Google’s ranking algorithm that kick-started in 2011. Panda updates are now pretty routine (about every quarter), so website owners need to be sure their sites please Panda at all times.

Black Hat: Not a Good Look for Anyone

There are two types of negative SEO: interior and exterior. Both can have elements of “black-hat tricks,” which is when a site, intentionally or not, manipulates Google to rank it differently. (Sometimes a site can use black hat by mistake.) Some of the most common black-hat tricks from the inside include:

  • Keyword stuffing: If you want to rank well for “harp lessons,” you need to include this phrase and its variants throughout your original, organic web content. However, more isn’t necessarily better. You should aim for a “keyword density” of 2 to 4 percent. Some owners go keyword crazy, with sentences like, “Looking for harp lessons, lessons on harp, harp teaching, and other harp lesson activities? Harp lessons and lessons on harps are great for harp students!” As you can see, this is so stuffed with keywords that it’s nonsensical, poor quality—and Panda will catch you.
  • Duplicate content: If one high-quality site with the right keyword density is good, two (or more) must be better, right? Wrong. If you have two or more websites (e.g. example.com and example.org) with the exact same content, you’ll get caught. It’s fairly easy for SEO algorithms to check for this. The only time duplicate content is acceptable is when you have websites with different languages that are professionally translated.
  • Poor-quality link addicts: Links, both inbound and outbound, can be a great boost to your SEO. However, low-quality links are worse than no links. Regularly check links featured on your page to make sure they’re from authority sites. You’ll know them when you see them. They often have .edu, .org, or .gov URLs and are from reputable sources. Dead links, broken links, or ones that lead to spam-riddled sites won’t do you any good.

If Google catches you practicing black-hat tricks, you might get slapped with a penalty. If it’s severe enough, it can send you to the bottom of search results, or even remove your website from the list completely.

Attack of the Negative SEO

You’re not the only one in charge of your SEO content. Others can impact your rankings, too. Maybe a competitor is getting worried about your prowess, or you have an enemy who is SEO-savvy. Here are a few ways outsiders can destroy your good SEO strategies:

  • Review bombing: It seems great at first glance, but bombarding review sites with unreasonably glowing feedback can backfire. Savvy SEO strategists know this. It looks like you’re writing the reviews yourself or hiring people to do so. Too many outlandishly positive reviews, or “review bombing,” can hinder your SEO.
  • Bad reviews: On the other hand, a smattering of negative reviews that aren’t legitimate can also hurt your SEO. Sometimes review sites appear in results before your website or social media presence. If the first things people see are bad reviews, you’ll lose customers. Fortunately, most review sites have a process to request removal of false posts.
  • Dummy sites: This is basically duplicate content from someone else. A competitor might create a site with a very similar URL as yours and fill it with matching content, spam, or a slew of ads. If you spot these sites, notify Google immediately at support.google.com.

Negative SEO can destroy your business and online reputation at lightning speed, but you can prevent it. Regularly practice online reputation management, run website analytics, and evaluate your web presence from an outsider’s perspective. The earlier negative SEO is caught and addressed by a pro, the simpler it is to correct.

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