What is the definition of negative SEO?
Before we launch into a detailed explanation of negative SEO, let’s first distinguish negative SEO from SEO in general. SEO has an established definition of being any strategy used to boost a certain webpage’s uniform resource locator (URL) by making targeted changes such as modifying links or restructuring the content.
Negative SEO is used for the opposite function: to decrease a webpage’s rank in search engines. The first possible sign of a negative SEO attack is a sudden surge in the number of links directing to your site, ones that you are not prepared to receive (for instance, you didn’t recently pay for SEO services). Your stats could look something like this, although of course, having a sudden surge of links doesn’t immediately mean that you’re under a negative SEO attack.
Source: Elite Strategies (https://elite-strategies.com/learn-seo/negative-seo)
Distinguishing negative SEO from abnormal links
Not every link directed at your site that comes from a strange source is a negative SEO move. There are a couple of common sites that send weird links to many websites, like askives.com and m.biz sites. Other times, it could turn out that you’re actually getting some help from a well-meaning friend who’s trying to help you boost your SEO ranking.
There are instances when you receive a flood of unnatural links with dubious, unrelated keyword anchors – these could be the signs of a hack. Hacks are a different beast altogether, as we’ll go over later.
What counts as negative SEO then? The highly suspicious sources would be foreign websites (Russian websites are infamous for negative SEO) and shady, underground-dealing sites like pornographic or gambling sites. Another way to detect negative SEO would be to look at the anchor text – receiving a large number of links from various sources, all with detailed keyword anchors could be a sign of trouble.
Different Negative SEO Tactics
Negative SEO has a bad reputation – it has been equated to hacking by some. Different countries interpret hacking differently and hence impose different legal constraints. Here’s an analytical breakdown of the most common negative SEO tactics:
Amassing a large number of bad links and sending them to a specific site is a common tactic that doesn’t work as often these days as Google ignores some spam. Also, purchasing links from Russian link networks such as SAPE (a collection of blacklisted websites) is another common tactic.
Inserting bad content into a site’s URL, done by exploiting weaknesses in the content management system, can be considered hacking because of the fact that content was directly inserted into the target URL.
Keyword spam and hotlinking a site’s largest rich media files can generally not be considered as acts of hacking, unless the keyword spam is done very extensively. Hotlinking a site’s media, like images, can consume the bandwidth and cause network slowdown. If done with negative intentions in mind, this act may lean more towards the definition of hacking.
Disrupting user service
Unleashing distributed denial-of-service (Ddos) attacks on a target computer means flooding the computer with so many notifications that it crashes. This is done by causing the target computer to ping all the computers in its network – the simultaneous replies it receives from all of them is what causes the crash. This can be considered a hack because of the invasive nature of the attack, although some would consider it a take down.
What the biggest search engine has to say
While Google itself doesn’t acknowledge the success of negative SEO, they are open about their usage of tactics to protect domain owners from having their page rankings sabotaged by other webmasters. John Mueller and Matt Cutts of Google have made many statements affirming that Google protects your sites from the harmful intentions of negative SEO, through a variety of measures (while making a stand that it’s highly unusual for negative SEO to succeed). Trust them or not, these are the points they had to say about Google’s stance.
Algorithms for defence
Google claims to have tailored their algorithms to be able to detect if bad links directed to your site are internally or externally made, so that actions by third parties can be ruled out.
The disavow tool
In 2012, this tool was made so that website creators could put a disclaimer to bad links and request for these to not be counted in Google’s assessment of their sites. This allows web owners to take matters into their own hands and defend against these negative SEOs, although of course this could be a tedious process.
Ethical and legal issues
You might also be wondering if negative SEOs are considered “black hat” tactics. If we define “black hat” tactics as those used by a person who does not strictly obey the terms of service (TOS) stated by search engines, and “white hat” tactics as the opposite, the answer would be yes… and no. While Google would consider most of these SEO techniques as black hat, not all are. In fact, some positive SEO tactics can be considered black hat when they are too pervasive in nature.
As for the law side of this issue, it’s still a gray area. One thing that’s more certain is that in the eyes of the law, tactics that have similar nature or intentions to hacking are more likely to be perceived as illegal.