SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the practice of optimising your website to get more people to find your web site via search engines. This uses a wide variety of techniques, including:-
- Choosing the best keywords
- Using those keywords in many places on the site, even in URLs
- Organising links from other good websites
- Good website design conforming to Google design standards
- Creating and regularly publishing good quality original content
- Correct use of headers, paragraphs etc.
- Use of social media to publicise the website etc.
Negative SEO means sabotaging a competitor’s rankings in search engines, by reversing some of the same techniques as listed above but also using other underhanded or even criminal methods.
It is a set of activities aimed at lowering a competitor’s rankings in search results and typically includes one or more of the following:-
- Creating lots of links from bad web sites
- Copying content from the website to bad web sites
- Adding negative reviews of the business
- Hacking the web site
Adding a few links from bad websites won’t have a big effect but there are ‘link farms’ where large numbers of computers and/or people will create a lot of bad links which can then downgrade the search engines ranking of the website. A link farm can also be part of a group of web sites that all hyperlink to every other site in the group and these can be spotted by the search engines and any members correspondingly downgraded.
If a hacker can get into your website, they can cause a lot of damage but in the case of trying to sabotage a web sites ranking, it is more likely the hackers will be more subtle in their activities so as to not draw attention to what they have done.
They can for example add links to bad sites but make them hidden links so only the search engines see them. They could add hidden content that makes the site look like it is copying other sites.
If they want to be more direct, they could redirect the site so that people trying to get to the site end up at a site of their choice instead. This is done by changing the DNS server settings that point to the web site.
Another method is to change a file called robots.txt on the web site which tells search engines which sections of a web site to ignore and if set to disallow: / then the whole web site will be ignored.
If someone can copy your content onto other lower ranked web sites then that can affect your web site’s ranking. This takes some expertise to make the copied content look original and your site the copier.
How to Stay Safe
It is difficult to prevent a negative SEO attack, but make sure your web site security is fully implemented and up to date. Then you need to keep an eye on web site statistics and take notice if there is a noticeable drop off in visitors from search engines.
If there appears to be a problem then investigate the links to your website and rom your web site and invest in software tools that can identify what’s going on e.g. Spyglass.
If you have any experience with SEO turned against your business – do let me know, by email.