One of the biggest headaches for digital marketing agencies is staying up to date with what is happening with Google’s search algorithms.
Lately I have seen a VERY disturbing trend, that it is easier to lower other people’s ranking than it is to increase your own. Due to recent updates by Google it has opened up a whole new world of black hat SEO that is called Negative SEO.
What is Negative SEO?
Negative SEO is the practice of intentionally trying to manipulate a site’s rankings in the search engines (in a negative way).
When you talk about negative SEO, most people will talk about very low quality link building, but there are many other techniques that unscrupulous people are using to harm your website’s rankings. I will go into a bit more detail on these other methods later in this article, although I don’t want to provide so much information as to make it easy for black hat (people that practice negative SEO techniques) to take advantage of them if they are not already aware of them.
Google has been very quiet on the topic. They opened the flood gates for this new negative SEO strategy with the Penguin and Panda updates. So, what have they said on the topic?
In 2003 Google had this to say
Now the page says
Apparently Google had to change the verbiage because they became aware (even if they won’t admit to it publicly) that their updates have opened the floodgates to negative SEO.
How about this post where Google responds to reports of negative SEO extortion emails going out to webmasters?
What Are Negative SEO Techniques?
As I stated, there are many different ways to attack someone with negative SEO. The thing you want to know about SEO is that you are dealing with people in this industry that would much rather automate than do hard work. Since the beginning of search engines, people have been trying to find ways to automate to make it easier to manipulate ranking algorithms in order to rank higher. Sadly we have reached a point since Google’s Penguin and Panda updates that make that automation easier to harm a competitor than to help yourself. Google is constantly trying to combat spammers that produce bulk process through automation. Many of their updates are aimed and combating this directly.
We’re a company that isn’t afraid to do hard work. That means manually optimize, manually create unique content, manually create high quality back-links, etc. Automation only makes sense on parts of a website that are too difficult to manually automate SEO on, such as Vehicle search results and vehicle details pages. The rest of a website is typically manually added and so should the SEO.
Today it’s not enough to be good at doing the hard work and trying to rank someone through white hat (good and solid SEO practices that are endorsed by search engines) techniques. We have found that being proactive in protecting and combating negative SEO has become just as time consuming and important and doing the actual SEO work itself.
How is your site being attacked by competitors?
There are two main methods currently being employed to harm your rankings.
- Low quality negative back linking.
- Destroying your site analytics
How to Fix Low Quality Negative Backlinks
Low quality back-links are easy to acquire and they can do significant damage to your organic rankings performance. Your digital agency needs to be doing monthly link reviews to scan for links that are pointing to your dealership website. If you want to see your back-links for yourself you can use sites like:
- Webmaster Tools (free tool)
- ahrefs.com (a paid tool)
- majesticseo.com (a paid tool, but it’s free for your own site if you verify your site)
- opensiteexplorer.org (This is Moz’s tool, and for most sites you can get a good number of your links for free provided you register an account with Moz. I would say though that I find that Open Site Explorer tends to pick up more of the good links and doesn’t catch as much as the overt spam as Ahrefs and Majestic.
The types of links that are potentially harmful include sites like:
- Domains from foreign countries
- Non-automotive related domains (especially porn and prescription related sites)
- Very low quality forum posts
- Very low quality comments on non-automotive related websites
Once new poor quality back-links have been identified you can simply disavow them (tell Google you did not want or attempt to acquire these links to your website) through the free Google Disavow back-links tool.
How to Fix Someone Trying to Destroy Your Site Analytics
This one is much more complicated and diabolical in nature. While I don’t want to give your competition a playbook they can follow to use against you, it’s important to understand the types of things that I have seen being done and how you can protect yourself in broad terms.
Google has over 500 individual factors that make up their proprietary ranking algorithm. Think about everything that goes into determining your site authority and organic rankings. Factors such as:
- Social signals
- On page elements (inner linking architecture, meta tags, image tags, hyperlink anchor text and tags, keyword saturation in copy percentages, etc.)
- Offsite link profile
- Inbound link profile
- Local citations
- Brand mentions
- User experience factors
- Slow Page Loads
Here is a list of ranking factors from last year published by Search Metrics:
The list can go on and on. Aside from hacking your site, your competitors will have any difficulty affecting most of the items listed above. One thing that can be manipulated however is the user experience factors.
What are user experience factors that Google takes into consideration?
- Click through ratio for highly competitive search terms
- Bounce rate once users visit your site
- Average pages per visit
- Average time on site per visit
- How quickly your pages load
These are all areas of vulnerability since as a website owner, you have limited control over someone who is exploiting these areas and trying to devalue your site analytics intentionally. I know that we have seen this type of exploitation happening more and more frequently over the last six months, and we are not the only ones.
Brian Pasch recently published an article on LinkedIn about an increase in referral website spam. His conclusion was that digital agencies are attempting to inflate the web traffic in order to make it look like they are doing a better job of increasing traffic. This is so blatantly obvious and easily caught I can’t imagine any digital agency would put their reputation in danger by doing something this bone headed.
When you take into account the obvious negative SEO signals of continuous negative back linking, and see this type of deliberate web spam coming into your site in conjunction with the back-links, it makes much more sense that competitors are sending incredibly destructive web traffic that will contribute to a degradation of your entire analytics profile.
Another new method to drop your dealership authority is to have bots do searches for your most competitive or performing keywords and NOT click on your site. This will give you very high impressions with very low click through rates, another ranking factor that Google weighs heavily in your overall authority.
Although there are even more ways that competitors can attack you, this gives you a good representation of the many vulnerabilities that black hat companies are taking advantage of every day to hurt your SEO performance, even if you have a great SEO company doing everything right on your behalf!
The popularity of advanced and beginning negative SEO tactics are increasing. Don’t be fooled into thinking bad backlinks are the end all of negative SEO. In my experience they are simply a first warning sign of a much deeper attack on your site. Linkless negative SEO is hard to catch, and difficult to fight for people that are not very technically savvy.
Linkless negative SEO geared toward destroying your user experience metrics are:
- Almost impossible to diagnose
- Based on a “bleed slowly” technique
After Penguin, SEOs have to play much more defense than offense. Your digital marketing agency MUST be extremely well versed on the inner workings of Google’s ranking algorithms. Finding bad back-links is time consuming, but fixing all the user experience issues is much more complicated and virtually undetectable. Unless you know what to look for I’m convinced that most people will have no idea what is happening to them.
Do you know if you’re not currently a victim of Negative SEO?
Do you have a plan for protecting and combating negative SEO?