negative seo

Here’s how to monitor for negative SEO

Soccer great Mia Hamm said, “It is more difficult to stay on top than to get there.” True in sports, that sentiment also can be true in SEO. Any website in the top-ranking position has a target on it – because that’s where every organization wants their website to be.

There are times your competitors may resort to “negative SEO” to try to knock you out of your hard-earned position. Negative SEO is the purposeful act, typically by a competitor, to attempt to get your site penalized or reduce its authority. While competitors can’t control the on-page SEO of your site, they do have other methods to negatively impact it.

Spammy inbound links

Spammy inbound links are probably the most common form of negative SEO I see on a regular basis. In part, you can understand why this option is a popular approach. Spammy inbound links are typically easy inbound links to build on terrible sites, like link farm sites. The barrier to achieving these links for someone practicing negative SEO is low. However, the payoff for the negative SEO can be high for them – just a few really spammy inbound links can affect your site, driving down your rankings without you even possibly knowing what’s going on.

Be sure to regularly check your inbound link profile. There are many great link tools available. I personally use AHREFS and filter the report regularly to see what the new links it has found are and where they are coming from. If any look suspicious or spammy, I immediately disavow them.

Duplicate content/scraping content

While I find this to be a less common situation, it’s certainly a technique I’ve seen employed. Sometimes others steal your site content simply because they want your good stuff – your great content – to help them rank better. But that can obviously create duplicate content issues and, more importantly, your content is copywritten material and is not their property. Duplicate content on other sites can be more difficult to monitor than inbound links, but there are some monitoring tools available. CopyScape offers a plagiarism monitoring tool, CopySentry, for a low cost.

Affiliate hijacking

A few years back, I was working on a proposal for a maternity clothing maker based in the UK. As I was performing a preliminary review of the site, I performed a typical Google search to see how the brand was presenting in search results. The brand’s website ranked at the top, but when I clicked on the search result, a very fast redirect ensued that took me to a URL with affiliate tracking parameters. Using a series of Javascript redirects, the affiliate was able to hijack the organic search listing and thereby ensure that the affiliate’s code was tracking for all of the organic search purchases. Here’s what the final home page URL redirected to:

https://www.domain.com/us?utm_source=LinkshareUS&utm_medium=Affiliate&utm_campaign=10&utm_content=1&_$ja=tsid:35426|kw:je6NUbpObpQ|cgn:je6NUbpObpQ&siteID=je6NUbpObpQ-KYZsvI723uwNs5eT26NFUg

This means that every purchase at the time that came through organic search was being credited to the affiliate ID identified in the URL. The retailer owed $1/transaction to the affiliate, and this retailer had over 10,000 organic search visits per month, which could equate to thousands of dollars in affiliate fees that were illegitmate!

To monitor for this type of negative SEO effort, keep a close eye on both your analytics and your affiliate tracking measurement. In most cases, you likely would not have affiliate links coming from organic search. If you see that in your analytics, that’s a red flag something may be wrong.

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