Although there are varying ways to destabilize the organic visibility of a website on Google, this article will focus on the most common attack: when a competitor buys and points low-quality links to website to diminish the rankings of the said website by causing it to be filtered or receive a manual action (penalty) from Google.
Let’s look at some common features and distinctions of link-based negative SEO attacks, illustrative examples, and preventative steps and ideas for what to do if your site is affected.
Although negative SEO is a well explored and controversial topic, there is some vagueness about low-quality link buying as a negative SEO tactic. The fact is, low-quality link buying to a competitor actually takes a number of different forms and there are several important distinctions to be aware of. Here are a few:
Some aggressive agents will only seek to take down a certain page. In this case they will build the low-quality links to a subpage. Generally speaking, subpages have historically had a greater tolerance for anchor text rich links, so generally more links are built into subpages to try to take them down.
Often times, spam attacks tend to be in the form of single attacks. A single attack occurs when a large number of low-quality backlinks with a single phrase as an anchor are pointed to a website on one day. However, multiple attacks also occur. These are cases where for about 3 – 6 months, a homepage or subpage gets thousands for backlinks for a single phrase as an anchor.
Is your website new and does it have just a few natural backlinks? Or is your website well-established and does it have a healthy backlink profile with thousands of natural links? More established website tend to have more established backlink profiles and are much harder to successfully target with a negative SEO attack than a new website.
Taking down a competitor website isn’t the only motive for building low-quality links to a website. Occasionally, spammers will build low-quality links to help boost the equity of links pointing to their site from your site.
Negative SEO link attacks that are focused on diminishing the organic search visibility of a website tend to be targeted to the homepage, low-quality backlinks tend to point to the homepage. Conversely, negative SEO link attacks that are targeted for boosting existing links on a page tend to appear deeper on a website, low-quality backlinks tend to point to deeper of a website, often areas where there is user-generated content.
In the interest of being comprehensive on our discussion of this topic, we would be amiss not discuss Google’s position on link-based negative SEO. Google’s position on negative SEO is that it is possible, but difficult, according to Matt Cutts, head of the Google webspam team:
Last year, Google revised its official wording about negative SEO, saying “Theres almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index” to “Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index.”
Understanding Link-Based Negative SEO