What is Negative SEO and How to Bounce Back After an Attack

Searching for Success in SEO Measurements

Negative SEO is scary.

Did you know that Google might penalize your website’s rankings for actions that a malicious competitor takes against you?

Though you strive to be a good and responsible webmaster, steering clear of low-quality backlinks and avoiding keyword over use, you still might fall prey to a malicious site using the unethical practices of negative SEO.

What exactly is negative SEO? Negative SEO refers to a set of techniques used to sabotage a competitor’s search engine ranking. It involves activities that deliberately violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, such as adding low quality links or overusing keywords.

These tactics worked for increasing your search engine rank 6 years ago, but since Google launched Penguin back in 2012, many of these spammy tactics now penalize website owners.

For a business which depends heavily on organic traffic, negative SEO can hurt your sales because it basically kills your ranking, making you invisible in SERPs.

In order to protect your site and your ranking from negative SEO, you need to know exactly how it is done.

Common Negative SEO Techniques

Negative SEO involves blackhat techniques to inflict harm on a competitor’s ranking, which include:

  • Producing a massive amount of low-quality backlinks using the same set of keywords
  • Pointing to your site using keywords from shady industries such as pornography, Viagra, loans, and gambling sites
  • Redirecting penalized sites to yours
  • Spamming blogs and forums while repeatedly using your link and anchor text
  • Content scraping, or duplicating your content and posting it on multiple sites
  • Direct attack on your reputation, such as fake press releases and negative reviews

So what can you do?

While there isn’t something you can do to stop someone from attacking your website with negative SEO, there are a few measures you can observe to spot the attempt early and minimize its effects.

Set Up Google Alerts

It’s quite easier to deal with negative SEO when you detect it as soon as it happens. Because negative SEO comes in many forms, you’d want to monitor your site’s health status and and fix the problem before it even affects your ranking. Using Google Alerts is one of the most effective ways to stay informed of any changes to your website.

By using Google Alerts, you will get notified when:

  • Your pages are not indexed
  • You have server issues
  • Your website suffers a malware attack
  • Your site gets penalized by Google

If you need help setting up your alerts, you can find a more detailed tutorial from the Kissmetric Blog.

Track Your Backlinks

Most negative SEO practitioners will point spammy links to your website or redirect penalized sites to yours. While you don’t need to worry about a few low-quality backlinks, you certainly should be alarmed when you notice a sudden influx of hundreds or thousands of links.

You can use a tool like Ahref to monitor the links that are pointing to your website. Simply go to Site Explorer and type your website’s domain to get an overview of the links pointing to your site.

You should also protect your best backlinks in the event that your competitors attack them as well. Usually, they will pretend to be you, and then contact the webmaster of the site containing your link, asking them to remove it. If this happens, communicate your concerns with the webmasters. Be sure that you are using an email associated with your domain to verify that it’s you.

If all of these methods fail, you can use Google’s Disavow tool, which allows webmasters to ask Google not to count specific backlinks when ranking their websites. However, be sure to only use this as a last resort, because Google wants you to contact webmasters first before using this tool.

In this video, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, further explains when to use the Disavow tool.

Watch For Customer Reviews and Complaints

Some competitors will go to great lengths to put your business down, even if it involves spreading defamatory customer reviews and complaints. The first step is to try and get false reviews removed.

To do this, you’ll need to: 1. Catch complaints early and 2. Prove the customer complaint was fake. If you have proof then you can reach out to the review site and request that they remove that review. This isn’t always an option.

While it’s not always easy to remove negative results once they appear in search engines, you should still work to cover those blemishes on your reputation and come off as a trusted provider to your target audience.

Take for instance this hotel review from Hissing Kitty, a popular consumer complaints website. It’s highly doubtful that a hotel chain as big as Marriott wouldn’treplace a linen that was filled with blood stains, or leave trash on the floor deliberately. It’s entirely possible that this was a fake review crafted by one angry customer who’s exaggerating or potentially a competitor in the area.

Either way, it’s important to leave a response in a calm and professional tone. Acknowledging the review, even if it’s fake, will give your future customers the impression that you take matters seriously and that you are dedicated to keeping them satisfied.

Also, keeping the communication open with your clients after the initial sale will allow you to ask a small favor later on, such as leaving you a review. Earning more favorable reviews will not remove the negative ones, but publishing up-to-date, positive content regularly will give your future customers a clearer picture of how your business truly operates. That is something that not even the most devious attack on your SEO can take away from your business.

Optimize Your Marketing Funnel to Prevent Negative SEO

All too often, many SEO marketers focus entirely on driving traffic to their website.

While traffic generally helps boost sales, simple SEO alone does not influence the buying process. What you may not know is that your online reputation might be turning your prospects off before they even decide to do business with you.

It’s important to look at the full buyer journey and how your sales funnel interacts with customers at each step. Wherever you see negative SEO in the customer’s buying journey make sure to address it with an appropriate response.

Marketing Funnel Step 1: Traffic

Begin with the search terms your customer searches. Examples of phrases your potential customers might be looking for include:

  • YourBusiness Reviews
  • YourBusiness vs. Competitors
  • YourBusiness Alternatives

It is therefore important to consider the early buyer journey as the beginning of your marketing funnel. This will help you optimize your funnel so that it answers customer queries.

Here are a few example queries to think about at this step:

  • What do other customers think about your product or service?
  • How does your product or service compare to others?
  • What are the possible alternatives to your product or service?

Your answer to these questions should begin to introduce a customer to your company, product, or brand. Remember it often takes 7 touches on a customer to get that final sale.

Marketing Funnel Step 2: Content

One of the best ways you can combat negative SEO is by bringing the customer into your own sales funnel. That way you get to drive the narrative, not an angry customer or unethical competitor.

This leads us to the importance of creating your own content that’s aligned to your customer buying journey. Ask yourself what content your customer is searching for at various stages of their buying journey. Then target blog posts and social media posts around your customer’s journey.

Marketing Funnel Step 3: Get their E-Mail

The next step and most important step in driving the narrative about your business is to get your lead’s email.

You can easily insert a free give-away or a raffle in order to grab a lead on any page. This is key because after you have someone’s email you can market to them for free. Specifically, it’s helpful to setup an automatic series of emails leading up to the final sales pitch. Each email will tell the customers how awesome your company and product is and no negative SEO will be able to get in your way.

There’s a lot more to building out a full sales funnel than I can touch on here  However, if you’d like to learn more, Joseph Terndrup has a great post on his 5 step sales funnel that I highly recommend. He covers each step in more depth.

Reach Out to Review Sites

As times have changed, so do consumer buying habits. Customers these days rely heavily on other people’s opinions, which means you can’t let your business be put in a bad light anywhere.

If your competitors have played it dirty and have already created negative reviews about your business, you can dismiss those slowly by working with trusted third party review sites. Customers are more likely to believe reviews that are posted on third party reviewers because of their credibility.

One of the ways to get a fair review is to have the reviewers sample your product. Also, you may want to ask them to be totally impartial and highlight the pros and cons of your product. This will shed some light to many customer questions, which ultimately affects their buying decision.

Our company suggests that businesses work to get 20 strong customer reviews before any negative customer reviews come along. The best defense is a good offense.


There are people out there who would be more willing to spend their time, energy, and money to kill their competitor’s ranking rather than focus on improving their own. While this is a horrible practice that you have limited control over, you can protect your business from most of the attacks or at least minimize the damage that they do by being prepared and vigilant.