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How vulnerable is your site to Negative SEO?

Recently I saw some research that literally shocked me and, working day by day to protect clients’ websites, that’s pretty hard to do.

A UK search engine optimisation company compiled a list of 84 local businesses consisting of plumbers, lawyers, carpenters, Locksmiths, IT service providers, builders, accountants, cleaning companies and even skip hire companies and e mailed them all using the name of Negative SEO Ltd. Via e mail an offer was made to bump competitor’s sites off the first page(s) of Google, which would bring the recipients site up in the mix accordingly.

They were interested to find out if Negative SEO is a real threat in the UK and how many recipients would be willing to sabotage the websites of their peer group. Staggeringly, almost 50% of the companies approached were happy to join the ‘dark side’ of internet marketing and accepted the offer, and a further 30% were happy to employ the services of the spoof company pending more information.

It’s a much bigger problem than I previously thought and some pundits are also suggesting that negative SEO is no longer the exclusive practice of the ‘Black Hats’ (the bad guys of the internet) but that some ‘White Hat’ companies (the internet good guys who follow best practice) are also tempted to employ nefarious means to bump the competition off the top of the log pile.

Personally, I think it’s a problem that particularly affects small to medium size companies who are not employing the necessary hygiene practices needed to keep their sites safe, and  that probably amounts to 75% of the people reading this article.

So, what can you do to make sure that you protect your site against the wrong kind of SEO? Here are 5 practical steps that should make it hard for the ‘Black Hats’ to cripple your site.

Monitor your backlinks. Use tools such as Open Site Explorer, or even Google Webmaster tools. A sudden spike in backlinks is cause for concern. Beware links filled with words like Viagra or online poker and large numbers of links from overseas.

Set up email alerts. Google can send you an email alert if it manually penalizes your site, if your site is attacked by malware, or is suffering other problems. Go to Google Webmaster Tools Preferences and enable email notifications.

Protect your strong backlinks. Negative SEO players can impersonate you to request webmasters to remove links to your site. To prevent this, always use an email from your domain, not an email address from a Gmail, Yahoo or other free service, when communicating with webmasters.

Watch for duplication. Black Hat SEO players can ‘scrape’ your content and repost it on hundreds of different sites to hurt your rankings. Use to monitor the Internet for unapproved duplicate content. You can add either your website or the text an article to CopyScape to find where your content is being published.

Monitor social media mentions. Black Hats can create fake social media accounts that impersonate your organization and damage its reputation. You must spot the activity before any damage is done and then report them to the social media network as frauds. Use a tool like CyberAlertBuzz that can immediately inform you of mentions of your organization or brand in social media

Disavow links. Disavow spammy backlinks with the Disavow Tool in your Google Webmaster account. Some digital experts recommend disavowing links only if you’ve received a penalty or email warning from Google.

Clearly, attempting Negative SEO is alive and well and has plenty of people willing to use it as a weapon to disable the effectiveness of competitors’ sites. Hopefully, if you follow the advice above, or even better have a trusted partner to conduct regular hygiene checks,  your site will survive unscathed.

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