For better or worse, content marketing and SEO are inextricably linked. If you’re going to operate in content marketing, you have to grasp its relationship to SEO and how the former affects the latter (and vice versa).
Although your primary focus should stay on building your brand through thoughtful content strategies that satisfy search engines and engage the ideal human audience, you’ll find a darker underbelly to the industry. If your brand becomes sufficiently successful, you may experience the ill-effects firsthand.
What is Negative SEO?
A fully developed SEO strategy can be enormously positive for your brand, particularly when it’s accompanied by a strong content strategy that pumps relevant and authoritative backlinks to your web pages. But positive SEO has a flipside: negative SEO.
“Negative SEO refers to the practice of using black hat and unethical techniques to sabotage a competitor’s rankings in search engines. Negative SEO attacks can take a number of different forms,” explains Neil Patel, a leader in the digital marketing and SEO space.
Some examples of negative SEO include:
- The intentional creation of hundreds or thousands of spammy links directed toward a particular website
- Hacking a website in order to alter key SEO components for a negative effect
- Copying of content and re-publishing it over the Internet
- The creation of fake social profiles that paint a brand in a negative light
- The removal of positive backlinks
These are just some examples of negative SEO. New techniques are constantly being devised, and attacks can don a number of guises.
In essence, negative SEO entails the intentional and malicious breaking of Google’s rules and guidelines in an effort to hurt a business. Negative SEO is generally enacted by a competitor … or a third party who’s quietly been hired by a competitor.
It’s especially common when an emerging brand experiences quick success in an industry that’s been controlled by larger brands up to that point who wish to keep their competition to a minimum. Honest business owners and white-hat digital marketers would like to believe that outbreaks of negative SEO are few and far between, it’s fairer to say it happens on a fairly regular basis.
Signs You May Be Undergoing a Negative SEO Attack
You need to acknowledge that negative SEO occurs. But it’s not enough to possess a theoretical knowledge of it.
In order to protect your brand, you should know what negative SEO looks like in practice. Here are some common signs that you be may be experiencing an attack:
- Unfamiliar backlinks. It’s always nice when a random blogger or webmaster gives you an unsolicited backlink, but there may be more to it than meets the eye. If you start noticing a series of unfamiliar backlinks that stem from spammy websites — particularly private blog networks (PBNs) — this could be a sign that someone is trying to create the impressions that you’re breaking Google’s rules.
- Deleted backlinks. Organic backlinks on high authority websites are incredibly important and valuable for your SEO and content marketing effort. If you notice your backlinks are getting deleted across various sites and publishing platforms, someone might be pretending to represent your brand and requesting that webmasters remove your backlinks from their content.
- Red-flag keywords. Google dislikes certain industries, niches, and product categories. If too many backlinks appear from these sorts of websites — or if anchor text contains blacklisted keywords — that will have a negative impact on your rankings. Go on high alert if you notice backlinks related to such topics as gambling, pornography, or Viagra.
These are just a few examples of negative SEO attacks. The ones you encounter someday will not always be so obvious or blatant. If you notice odd backlinks, strange SEO, and other unexplainable issues, however, your internal alarm bell should sound.
How to Defend Your Brand
According to Patel, Google’s Matt Cutts, and other industry experts, it’s far more easy to prevent negative SEO attacks ahead of time than to fix them after they’ve hit you. So even if you haven’t been attacked, it’s worthwhile to think about how you can stay safe.
Here are some tips for defending your brand against negative SEO.
1. Set Up Alerts
In most cases, you have the power to identify negative SEO as it begins. You can make use of a variety of listening and monitoring tools to gain such insights.
For starters, set up Google Webmaster Tools alerts, which will send you an email whenever your pages aren’t indexed, your website is attacked by malware, server issues come up, or you get a penalty from Google.
2. Invest in Quality Links
It’s not enough to sit back and hope you don’t get spammed with negative SEO. You need to be proactive, which will involve creating your own white-hat backlinks through quality content marketing.
According to AudienceBloom, a leading link-building and content-marketing agency, this can be accomplished through the creation of “quality, contextual, in-content backlinks from the highest-profile websites, blogs, and news publishers.”
3. Track Your Backlinks
As you build out quality content and source honest backlinks from authoritative publishers, you’ll naturally want to track your progress. By tracking the backlinks, you’ll be able to keep tabs on what’s happening, good and bad. If you find any unwanted links, shift into action.
4. Remove Bad Backlinks
You can employ any number of tools to identify poor backlinks. If you find any, plug them into a spreadsheet and format it to a txt file. Then use the Disavow Links Tool that’s part of Google’s Search Console to fight these negative links.
Overcome Evil With Good
Many world religions encourage the concept of not meeting evil with evil, but prevailing over the bad with the good. In the arena of SEO and content marketing, you’ll benefit from holding to this policy.
The solution to negative SEO isn’t to launch your own negative attacks. Instead, you should focus on practicing positive SEO through proper site structure, effective link building, and quality content creation.
If you choose that course, you’ll maintain your SEO rankings and improve your online visibility.