If you generate leads from people who visit your company’s website, you’re probably familiar with SEO — which stands for Search Engine Optimization. The problem is, the SEO tactics that work today won’t work tomorrow (and vice versa). In fact, SEO efforts that worked well as recently as 2015 may prove completely ineffective in 2019. For example, do you know how negative SEO tactics or unintentional mistakes may hurt your business? If not, it’s time to learn.

While a competitor ruining your website’s online search rank or stealing your organic traffic isn’t unlikely, it is possible. So, it’s smart to understand what signs tell you when such a devastating attack happens. Read on for a quick primer on what negative SEO is and how to deal with it if it happens to your business.

How Competitors Can Use Negative SEO Tactics Against You

Negative SEO tactics have one goal: to lower a competitor’s visibility and rankings in online search results. We’ll list some examples showing you what negative SEO tactics may look like, plus suggestions to prevent or counteract them.

Negative SEO Tactic #1: Link Farms

This is when competitors build spammy blog sites and link back to yours using anchor-text phrases like “free porn.” If this happens to you, you’ll see your online search and SEO keyword ranks fall drastically, almost overnight.

How to fix it: To respond to an attack like this, your webmaster can disavow spammy backlinks directly in Google Search Console. (In fact, you’ll sometimes receive a manual penalty alert in Google Search Console before you notice this activity yourself.) But unless you disavow these links quickly and ask Google to re-index your website, it may take months to recover.

Negative SEO Tactic #2: Hacking/Spam Injection Attacks

This kind of attack rarely involves direct competitors, but has similar consequences to #1 above. If a competitor (or malicious bot program) hacks your site and changes content, it can undo your careful SEO efforts. A hacker can do things like redirect your page’s visitors to  a competitor’s website. Another popular trick is a spam injection attack, which inserts invisible website links into your site’s footer or header code. Google’s web crawlers find thousands of links to free movie and software downloads in countries like Poland, Russia or China. But humans won’t see them — so you’re much less likely to realize it’s happening until the damage is done.

How to fix it: To counteract this threat, conduct regular site audits using subscription SEO-monitoring tools like Hrefs or SEMrush. If you have access to your site’s Google Search Console, you can also look for any suspicious activity there. Once you find where the attacker injected malicious code, follow these steps:

1. Remove the malicious text and backlinks (look in your footer, header or custom CSS files). If nothing’s amiss there, does your website allow visitors to comment? We don’t recommend enabling this feature on any corporate website, since it’s an easy target for spam injection attacks.

2. Disable everyone’s login except your admin account and password. Once you’ve done this, watch and wait. Does the attack happen again within 24 hours, or exactly seven days later? If not, the hackers likely got in through someone’s individual login. Once that’s resolved, go to step 3.

3. Update your website’s active plugins and disable or delete anything not in use. Change all site passwords before letting anyone but the admin log back in. If your site uses a traditional CMS like Joomla, learn more about fixing this attack here.

Negative SEO Tactic #3: Content Scraping

Competitors might copy and paste your content on their sites (or set up blogs just to host scraped content). This can hurt your site’s rankings in a few different ways. When Google finds content that’s duplicated across multiple sites, they pick just one version to show in online search results. If your competitor’s using negative SEO tactics to steal potential clients, your site may not appear in any online searches.

How to fix it: If this happens to you, report it using Google’s copyright infringement report page. One way to prevent this attack (or make it less attractive) is showing the publication date on every content post. If you’re a law firm that blogs to attract new clients, for example, list the author’s name and publication date. You can also serve a DMCA takedown notice to sites hosting your scraped content showing you’re the original copyright holder.

Negative SEO Tactic #4: Site-Crawler Attack

In this attack, a competitor uses web-crawling tools to slow down your site’s page-load time during business hours. If Bing, Google or Yahoo struggles to index your site, your pages show up much lower in search results. And that’s not all — Yahoo Business found 1-2 extra seconds added to your site’s page-load times lowered online conversions 10%.

How to fix it: If this happens to you, contact your web hosting company.

Accidental Mistakes That Act like Negative SEO Tactics

While we’re talking about negative SEO tactics, it’s important to note they’re not all malicious attacks from outsiders. If you’re unfamiliar with managing websites, you can accidentally hurt your business with basic SEO mistakes. For example: Moving your WordPress blog from “http” to “https” without implementing 301 redirects can seriously hurt your site rank.

Another common mistake is guest-posting on another site without doing your due diligence. Guest posts can help quickly build your online authority and reputation . But that’s only if your name or linked business appears on a respected site that regularly posts unique, high-quality content.

A third accidental mistake? Having too many broken outgoing links on your site. This annoys visitors and hurts your rankings, since search engines waste time crawling links that don’t load.

Outsource Client Acquisitions So Negative SEO Tactics Can’t Cost You Clientele

Keeping up with SEO tactics — both positive and negative — as well as common mistakes is a full-time job in itself. Add social media and online marketing, and who has time for clients anymore? If this sounds like too much to handle, it’s time to let the experts manage your client acquisition efforts.

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