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Negative SEO Campaigns: How to Detect, Defend Against and Recover From SEO Sneak Attacks

If you think about it, SEO is like an athletic competition.

There are winners and losers in the game of SEO.

Some revel on the top of search results for their target keywords as they fend off the competition challenging them for the crown. Others lick their wounds and regroup after unsuccessfully trying to rank at position #1. The cycle repeats itself in this war of attrition.

However, there are disruptive forces that break the rules of the game. Instead of focusing on making their own sites better to rank higher, they damage the SEO of competitors to make them rank lower.

Sore losers pull out the steel chairs under the ring and smash everybody in sight. If they can’t get on top of search results, then no one else will!

The steel chair that these losers use comes in the form of negative SEO campaigns.

The more successful you are, the more you’ll need to watch out for this.

Negative SEO Campaigns: Detect, Defend and Recover

The Anatomy of a Negative SEO Campaign

Negative SEO is the implementation of black hat and unethical SEO practices on a competitor site.

In the implementation of these practices, Google will pick up the activity going into the site and prevent it from appearing in SERPs for their keywords. As a result, the website will lose organic traffic and potentially see a decrease in sales.

People in the industry frown upon this practice and with good reason. Negative SEO drags down websites with good standing records into the mud because someone can’t outrank them.

One of the main tactics that comprise a negative SEO campaign is the creation of low-quality backlinks pointing to a victim site. Spencer Haws, owner of Niche Pursuits, shares how his niche site got hit by negative SEO.


The sudden increase of backlinks as seen above is abnormal for all sites.

And this is the reason why Google banned his site from SERPs.

It took nine months of diligent work to gain back some steam on his site. Even then, the site is no longer the same.

Automatically generating backlinks for negative SEO may have been done using the black hat tools in this list. Some of them have properties that can be used for good. However, a tool’s true value depends on how people use it. Simply put, these tools have come to be associated with negative SEO campaigns, regardless of what else they can do.

Luckily, the right SEO tools can easily help you track down those spammy links and disavow them.

There’s also a possibility of negative SEO campaigns being carried out without any backlinks. Without links, it’ll be more difficult to trace the reasons why your site suffered from negative SEO. Factors such as sabotaged servers and low CTR (click-through rate) can negatively affect your organic search performance without your knowledge.

How to Detect and Avoid a Negative SEO Campaign

There’s no foolproof way to prevent a negative SEO campaign from damaging your site. However, below are preventive measures that will help you keep negative SEO as far away from your site as possible.

Review your links regularly

Check if there are any spikes in your backlinks over time.

Also, monitor the backlinks that you acquire and determine the quality of each.

It’s important that you keep an eye on your link profile so you can make the necessary actions to counter anything strange. If not, you’ll find yourself cleaning up the mess, which will eat up loads of your time, just like what Spencer did.


At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, our own Monitor Backlinks tool will give you regular reports about your backlinks. Its SEO AutoDiscover feature notifies you via email when there are any updates like new or lost backlinks to your site. It’s perhaps the best way to keep track of what’s going on with your backlink profile at any given time.

Curious to see what your backlink profile looks like right now? Take Monitor Backlinks for a spin with a free one-month trial—it’s on us.

If you received an email saying that hundreds or thousands of sites have just linked to yours, then you know something’s wrong. You can immediately take action by disavowing those links to minimize the damage that these links will do to your site.

Deny scraped content

Content scraping refers to the process of publishing someone else’s content and passing it off as their own. In the context of negative SEO, stealing content seconds after publication allows the scraper site to rank for your content. If you enabled the RSS feed of your site, people can steal your feed and auto-publish your content. Therefore, scraper sites get all the love from search engines and your site, the actual creator and owner of the content, doesn’t.

Another possible effect of content scraping is plugging your feed on spammy sites. If you enabled a link back to your site from your RSS feed, they’ll set the feed to auto-publish on low-quality sites. For every post you publish, you’ll be building bad backlinks to your site that will have a negative effect on your SEO.

To control the potential damage that content scraping can do to your SEO, turn off your RSS feed for WordPress users. Also, you can take up the technical advice provided on this page to get rid of scrapers that are harming your site.

Monitor your keyword CTR

Google’s search algorithm is smart enough to determine unlawful activities of any website. However, there are still grey areas that black hat SEO practitioners take advantage of, such as CTR.

Ideally, when people click on a site and leave immediately, Google assumes that the site isn’t relevant to the search term and will remove the page from SERPs. However, some gamify the system by unleashing bots that click the victim site after finding it in the search results and leave it immediately. The CTR of that page drops. Google will count this against the website, even though it shouldn’t, and penalize it so it doesn’t appear as readily in organic search.

To avoid this from happening, you need to keep track of your CTR by going to Google Search Console and clicking on Search Traffic > Search Analytics. Make sure that you check the CTR box to show you the percentage of clicks on the table below.


If you spot a sudden decrease in the CTR of your pages, then you need to report this activity to Google.

Upgrade your security

Site security has been an SEO factor since 2014. It’s only in this current year that experts are strongly encouraging people to migrate their sites from HTTP to HTTPS.

As part of your user experience, you’ll want to make your site safe for visitors to browse your content and fill out your forms with confidence. By not installing an SSL certificate, you tell users that your site isn’t trustworthy enough. As a result, your visitors will bounce away from your site and look for more secure alternatives.

Also, you’ll want to use a security tool to keep your site safe from hackers. While not a negative SEO attack in the strictest sense, hackers can mess up your files and destroy your content. Not only will your site drop from organic search rankings, you’ll also be hard-pressed to recover your content.

Before this even happens, use any of the tools featured in this Indusface post so you can protect your site from unwanted attacks.

What to Do If You’ve Been Hit by a Negative SEO Campaign

If you weren’t able to take the necessary precautions and your site got penalized, then you’ll need to take action immediately. Ideally, you’d want to use Monitor Backlinks to help you audit your site’s backlinks and disavow unnatural links. Assuming that the penalty stems from the creation of low-quality links, we’re pretty confident that using our tool is the easiest way to deal with this issue.

To give you an idea on how to manually recover your site from negative SEO, here’s an excellent piece on Moz. It teaches you how to perform a backlink audit using Google Search Console and filter the backlinks in a spreadsheet.

As great as this guide is, the process is time-consuming. You may need to hire an assistant to help you identify the links that need to be disavowed. If you don’t have time to spend for this task, then you might want to go with Monitor Backlinks to help you manage your backlinks.

If backlinks don’t have anything to do with the penalization, then it may be a security-related issue. Once your site loads slower than usual, contact your hosting provider for assistance. Another option still is to consult website protection services to get the correct solution for your problem.

Wrapping It Up

Make no bones about it—negative SEO is a pain in the ass. Unfortunately, you can’t control how people act.

What you can control is keeping your website safe from any negative SEO campaign that may come its way.

By following the steps mentioned above, you can be sure that your site is negative SEO-proof. And if you do get hit by a negative SEO campaign, there’s no need to worry.

Recovering from a penalty can be troublesome, but it shouldn’t be if you do it fast and right.


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