Negative SEO results when too many links of poor quality are linked to your website. What’s more, some less than scrupulous individuals have attempted to threaten sending thousands of bad links to a website in order to harm that website’s SEO. This may come across as quite confusing, since many individuals still hold on to the notion that having lots of links to your website can only be a good thing. This could not be further from the truth.
Years ago, it is true that having many poor quality links to your website would not be harmful. In fact, it would have been beneficial. Previously, it had been a wise practice to simply get as many inbound links to your site as possible, no matter the relevance or quality of those links. An entire industry sprouted as a result that was dedicated to providing massive amounts of spam-based links.
What resulted from this is that a massive influx of spam-based content began to circulate around the Web, and Google’s search results started to be negatively affected as a result. Unsurprisingly, many users started complaining to Google about the poor search results that they were receiving. Google, to their credit, took swift action to remedy these problems. This is when Google released their Penguin algorithm. This algorithm was, naturally, designed at targeting spam on the Web.
What resulted was that Google effectively turned SEO practices on its head. Now, having a massive influx of shoddy links would not help SEO rankings. Instead, they would do the opposite. Google, in short, rendered the effectiveness of quantity-based linking obsolete.
This change, while largely effective, has not come without cost or its fair share of negatives. The biggest negative, pun intended, is negative SEO. Since it is now possible to negatively affect a competitor by spamming their website with shoddy links, a new practice of negative SEO was born. Indeed, entire companies have arisen that are devoted to this harmful SEO tactic and practice.
At issue, then, is whether Google is aware of the problem and whether they are doing something to combat the problem. The answer to both of these questions is an emphatic yes. In fact, Google has been aware of the problem going as far back as 2012, when a Google Webmaster video talked about the issues associated with negative SEO. Stating that they had been aware of this potential problem for years, they built in algorithms that are designed to prevent harming competitors through spam-based linking schemes.
While being aware of the problem, Google is steadfast in maintaining that these tactics should not negatively impact small businesses or smaller websites. The head of Google’s webspam team, Matt Cutts, stated that in his experience there are “a lot of peole who talk about negative SEO, but very few people who actually try it, and fewer still who actually succeed.” Cutts continued, “I know that there’s been a lot of people stressed about this. Whenever we dig into what’s actually going on, there’s been a lot of discussion but very little in ways of people actually trying to do attacks.”
Clearly, Google has made it very clear via its employees in charge of webspam that negative SEO is not as rampant as many make it out to be. Still, it is an issue that they take seriously even if they are adamant that small websites will not be affected. In truth, this does make sense, since the targets of negative SEO attacks would likely be those that are truly competitors in the fullest sense of the word. Small websites are likely not big enough to be targets of this kind of attack. In any event, Google has introduced a tool called the disavow tool, which is an easy way for webmasters to protect themselves from negative SEO attacks.
In order to combat these unwanted SEO attacks, Google wanted to provide webmasters with a simple and efficient way to notify Google. The disavow tool is Google’s answer for having an efficient conversation about negative SEO. With this tool, website owners are allowed to send Google a list of links or domain names that should be ignored where their site link profile is concerned. Better still, this tool is easily available within the Google Webmaster tools.
Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team, has stated what the main intended purpose for this tool is. According to Cutts, Google has always maintained that the disavow tool was primarily intended for webmasters who had done bad SEO and had manual action taken against them by Google in the search results. For these webmasters, once they had done their best to clean up their link profile, they could use this tool to clean up their profile if spam-based links still existed after these initial efforts. Still, webmasters do not have to wait until manual action is taken against them and their site to use the tool. Indeed, webmasters that are concerned about their profile are encouraged by Google to use the tool at will.
If you have the suspicion that a negative SEO campaign has been launched against you, then the first step taken should be to log in to your Google Webmaster account. If manual action has been taken, you will receive a message which informs you that “some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google Webmaster’s guidelines.” If, by contrast, no manual action has been taken, then just use the disavow tool to inform Google that they should ignore these links.
Cutts has also suggested that the disavow tool can be used preemptively as well. “If you are at all worried about someone trying to do negative SEO or it looks like there’s some weird bot that’s building up a bunch of links to your site and you have no idea where it came from, that’s the perfect time to use disavow as well.”
The next logical question, then, is how does a webmaster use the tool? First, you should sign in to your Google Webmaster account. Then, under the ‘Search Traffic’ feature, find the ‘Links to Your Site’ icon and click it. Next, click ‘More’ under the ‘Who links the most’ section, and then click ‘Download more sample links’. As a result, you should have a complete listing of the links to your website, and this can be used to pick and choose which ones should be ignored by Google. These links that should be ignored should then be saved to a .txt file and uploaded to the Disavow links page within your Google Webmaster account.
In short, if you find yourself to be a victim of negative SEO, the first thing you should do is use Google’s disavow tool! While some critics suggest this is just doing the work for Google that they should be doing already, the disavow tool is certainly an effective way to combat negative SEO attacks. As a result, any webmaster would be wise to use this essential tool in order to ensure that search results are where they ought to be.