Negative SEO can get companies penalized or entirely banned from Google. It can affect share price. It can even put companies out of business. It was recently reportedÂ that Expedia either was the victim of a â€œnegative SEOâ€ attack, or is in desperate need of hiring new people to handle its online marketing. Whatever the case, another article reports that Expedia lost 25% of its visibility on Google, and saw a 4% loss in the share price of its stock. In light of this incident, what can we learn about negative SEO, and what do you need to do about it?
What Is Negative SEO?
First, itâ€™s important to understand that while every website owner can do certain things from an SEO standpoint to help their site rank better and get more traffic, there are also things a website owner can do to harm their rankings and lose traffic. It would be a nice world for website owners if bad SEO merely delivered a neutral effect, but many companies have engaged in poor SEO tactics, only to see their traffic plummet and their sales dry up. These tactics often include building low quality incoming links or engaging in other forms of search engine spam.
Unfortunately, it occurs to some companies and SEO firms that if one can hurt their own rankings or those of their clients, they can also hurt the rankings of competitors. One need not have access to a competitorâ€™s website to do this. All you need to do is build a lot of low quality links to your competitorâ€™s website, and then wait for Google to do the dirty work for you. This can be done almost without leaving a trace, and so can provide a great temptation for the unscrupulous company that canâ€™t compete on fair terms. One might say that all is fair in love, war, and business, but negative SEO is not just a form of competition, itâ€™s more like a form of libel or false representation. Imagine if a hotel chain put up a billboard or bought a magazine ad advertising itâ€™s competitorâ€™s hotel chain, but the ad said â€œOnly 65% of our guests file complaints about bedbugs after staying with us.â€ That, in effect, is what negative SEO is.
Do I Need To Worry About Negative SEO?
It depends. As Eric Ward points out, itâ€™s fairly easy to engage in negative SEO. But most businesses are small businesses, and most small businesses donâ€™t have the time to worry about their own positive SEO, let alone take time or pay someone to attack their competitors. If there is any negative SEO small businesses need to worry about, itâ€™s more often the low quality SEO theyâ€™re doing for themselves. That said, itâ€™s also pretty easy to detect negative SEO, so thereâ€™s not a huge cost either in time or money in making sure youâ€™re safe, whether you have a small business or run a large enterprise.
How Do I Detect Negative SEO?
To find out if youâ€™re the victim of negative SEO, whether from your own efforts, those of a misguided SEO firm, or from a malicious party, here are some tools you can use to discover and analyze the links pointing to your own website.
- Google Webmaster Tools is free and lets you download your â€œlatest linksâ€ and is always a good place to start. Go to â€œSearch Trafficâ€ and â€œLinks to Your Siteâ€ and youâ€™ll be able to check all available links.
- Open Site Explorer has a newer feature called â€œJust discoveredâ€ where they show the most recently discovered links to your site. Hereâ€™s what that report looks like for Expedia.
- Fresh Web Explorer from Moz shows you recent mentions of any keyword you put in or links to a specific URL. They even have daily alerts.
- MajesticSEO gives you sophisticated link analysis tool and has a â€œnewâ€ links section that can be monitored.
- Link Research Tools can run a â€œdetoxâ€ analysis to check backlinks and score them to identify the links that have the highest likelihood of hurting your site.
â€œBy combining the exports into Excel and removing duplicates, you will have a thorough list to analyze,â€ says Andrew Pincock, CEO of Utah based online marketing firm Trafficado. â€œYou want to look for sites where you have a high volume of links coming from a single root domain. Often youâ€™ll find forums, blogrolls, or other site-wide links that can be doing some concentrated damage if they are coming from a low authority, non-relevant, or spammy site. If you find large numbers of links and you have no idea where they came from, you may be under a negative SEO attack.â€
How Do I Defend Myself From Negative SEO?
If you find yourself the victim of a negative SEO attack, or you just find a lot of low quality links, you have three options for addressing the problem:
- Link removal requests. The first, and most ideal solution, is to get the links removed. This also requires some manual labor since youâ€™ll have to contact the owner of each website where there is an offending link, and this isnâ€™t always an easy task. Some site owners will require you to pay a fee (generally between $25 and $50) to remove the link. When you contact a site owner, use an email address that has the same domain as your website so the site owner knows you are who you say you are, and send a customized email, rather than a form email. Form emails that are emailed to site owners in bulk requesting link removal are often ignored.
- Disavow links via Google Webmaster Tools. Google provides a way for you to tell them you donâ€™t like some of the links pointing to your website, but thereâ€™s nothing you can do about them and you therefore shouldnâ€™t be penalized for them. It is best to take this step only if you cannot get the links removed by contacting site owners. Instructions on using the disavow tool can be find here.
- Domain change. This is an extreme measure that would only apply in rare circumstances, but in cases where the number of low quality inbound links is simply too great to deal with or analyze properly, another option is to simply relaunch your website on a new domain. However, this is effectively starting over from scratch when it comes to SEO, and should only be done after careful consideration.
If you find these steps overwhelming, there are plenty of good SEO firms around who can help you. If you have been the victim of an attack or need other help cleaning up your inbound link profile you can expect to pay anywhere from a few to several thousand dollars to clean things up.
All of this leads us to ask how Expediaâ€™s SEO team(s) didnâ€™t detect what was going on a long time ago. Such a large company certainly has the resources to pay attention to the types of links that are pointing to their site, and should have noticed this in time to clean it up and not receive a penalty. In fact, analyzing inbound links on a monthly basis is a basic practice of even smaller SEO operations, let alone those of a large enterprise like Expedia, which should be using the most sophisticated methods. Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation, but it lends some credibility to the claim that Expedia itself is the source of these poor SEO tactics, rather than a competitor.
To summarize, chances are you donâ€™t need to worry about negative SEO at all. But itâ€™s easy to play it safe if you know what tools to use and where to look. Most importantly, focus on high quality SEO for your own site, and leave your competitors alone.