Search engine optimization (SEO) takes a great deal of effort and there is nothing worse than finding out those efforts were in vain. Witnessing your website disappearing from search engine results suddenly is downright terrifying. Especially for businesses that rely on SEO as their major source of leads. Negative SEO attacks leave your site susceptible to deindexing by search engines.

If you live in fear that your website is vulnerable to this form of SEO sabotage, know that you aren’t defenseless. There are ways to recognize that your website is under a negative SEO attack, and you can set up measures that protect you from it.

What is negative SEO?

Negative SEO is when someone uses nefarious means in an attempt to lower a website’s search engine rankings. One might attempt to do this in many ways, but the more common tactic is link-based negative SEO. Other forms of negative SEO include:

  • Link Spamming
  • Hacking
  • Link redirecting
  • Content copying
  • Link Removal
  • Posting fake negative reviews
  • Removing backlinks

Google and Bing have multiple SEO best practices that are awarded high rankings when followed properly. But they also cite quality guidelines against practices they deem unprincipled or unethical. When a malicious party wants to ensure that you do not appear on the search engine rankings, they use these techniques to show Google that you’re a spammy website that deserves to be penalized.

Negative SEO attacks reduce the effectiveness of your SEO efforts. Unscrupulous people disable or alter your SEO properties but primarily use Black Hat SEO, which is heavily penalized by Google and leads to you losing your rankings.

Negative SEO can be bothersome because it’s tricky to point out bad links to your site. Negative SEO isn’t hacking. It doesn’t change your website’s layout, display or look and feel. SEO sabotage becomes clear when your rankings take a hit, and you can see the effect on incoming traffic and customer relationships.

Negative SEO is well and alive. Just like you may buy digital ads in advertising exchanges online, you can buy Negative SEO expertise online. It’s a threat to hardworking SEO professionals who work diligently within the search engine guidelines to rank high on search engine results. Here is a website offering 60 million backlinks for less than $1500.

negative seo example

Image Sourced from Ahrefs

Detecting and preventing negative SEO

The Google Webmaster Tools has an email alert that you can set up to inform you if your website isn’t indexed or it has received a manual penalty. If your SEO efforts have been consistent and you can confirm the error is not with you, it means your website is under attack. The only way to minimize and mitigate the damage is to act fast.

If the malicious acts are related to link spamming and redirecting, you can use Google’s disavow tool to remove those links from factoring into your rankings. Disavow all low-quality links so that they aren’t associated with your website.

Here are a few more ways to find out if you’re a victim of SEO sabotage:

1.   Track your backlinks

Track your backlinks every single day. Say you run a blog on enterprise communication solutions and have 20 backlinks for your call center management landing page. Suddenly, one fine day you have a 100, and you didn’t run a single backlink campaign. This is the most direct way of confirming negative SEO.

Indicators of Negative SEO that you need to be on the lookout for constantly are:

  1. Links from foreign websites like .ru, .cz, .cn, .pl, .au, etc.
  2. Links to blog posts that are utter nonsense.
  3. Links from questionable websites like gambling, porn, loans sites etc.

If you discover that you have backlinks such as these, disavow each link as soon as possible. You then need to submit your disavow files to Google and request reconsideration to get your SEO back on track. 

The Google algorithm is more robust than, say, the Tiktok algorithm or Instagram’s algorithm for organic reach. Google has a few secrets up its sleeve, and it isn’t easy to hoodwink the search engine. Google can tell if the unnatural links were self-made or planted by a competitor. It devalues spammy links instead of demoting sites. But since it’s possible to pass through Google’s stringent screening, negative SEO remains a legit concern.

2.   Monitor your website’s traffic and bounce rate

Before you build up defense, you first need to detect any sign of attack. The first indicator of this could be a sudden drop in organic traffic. You can constantly monitor your traffic and customer engagement if you have your customer lifecycle model analytics, website traffic, and Google analytics on a dashboard.

By doing so you can identify if a drop in traffic coincides with any specific changes to your website. For example, a site redesign or migration, seasonal changes, or problems with crawling and indexing your site. You will also be able to see if you have any notifications of manual action taken by Google, helping you to identify if this drop is due to external intervention. 

Another way a competitor can affect your search engine rankings is by toying with your bounce rate, i.e., the percentage of people leaving your website before even scrolling around. Bounce rate manipulation is an unethical practice where someone will send huge amounts of traffic to a website and then make them leave immediately.

Bounce rate is a key factor in Google rankings, which is why bounce rate manipulation is severely damaging. Sometimes Google identifies such threats, but sometimes it doesn’t, so you have to keep your eyes open and constantly monitor your traffic, bounce rate, and organic click-through rate (CTR).

3.   Search for duplicate content

Google is especially fierce about plagiarized content being used for SEO. It penalizes websites that take someone else’s work and post it as their own. Scraped content can be severely harmful to your rankings. If we’re all against plagiarism in principle, why is this a concern? This is important because website doppelgangers are created for Negative SEO.

Anyone can copy your content and publish it on another website. If they get it indexed before your website, Google has no way of finding out who is the original owner of the content. Google will assume you copied the content leading to you losing your ranking. Search the web for your content being duplicated and report it.

4.   Report negative reviews about your website

Your Google ranking factors in the reviews on your Google My Business listing. Fake negative reviews can be very damaging to your SEO, incoming organic traffic, and for your reputation. In the digital age, social proof is everything. Fake reviews can have long-lasting effects, so make it a point to review your My Business listing weekly at least.

Monitor your online reviews and report them as soon as you discover them.

Other best practices to prevent SEO sabotage

SEO sabotage is a real threat and before it kills your rankings, you need to prevent it from happening in the first place. It’s a cliché but prevention is better than a cure.

Migrating to HTTPS is one of the best ways to safeguard your website. The S at the end of HTTPS stands for “Secure.” This is the secured version of HTTP. It’s the first step in protecting your website. A secured protocol means that all information between your browser and the website is encrypted and can’t be accessed by even the most talented hackers.

Your website security software also needs to be updated at all times to ensure the bad guys stay out. Software has anti-hacking programs that reduce your vulnerability and protect the website against criminal intent.

Your honest SEO endeavors that follow the rules, and aren’t focused on bringing others down, need to be well-tested and should be routinely optimized to maximize incoming traffic. You need to check if your SEO strategy ticks all the boxes: website enabled for mobile browsers, no duplicate content, keyword targeting, and gaining backlinks for domain authority. 

Final thoughts

Your fight against negative SEO needs consistency and dedication. You need to detect bad links, fake reviews, and scraped content weekly, if not daily. Now that you know how people wage negative SEO attacks, you know what to watch out for. You can take precautions to ensure the least amount of damage is done, and even if your rankings are sabotaged, you can make a quick save before any real damage is done.

Stay alert and on your toes, and regularly monitor your site’s performance so that if there ever is a drop or a penalization, you can take the right actions to bring your site back to its deserved rankings.


Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered cloud communication platform for better and easier team collaboration that offers features like virtual business fax by Dialpad. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. Grace Lau also published articles for domains such as Causeartist and DivvyHQ.