Like pretty much everything on the internet, there’s a dark underbelly of SEO. There are still plenty of people out there who haven’t caught up to Google, and others who just don’t care about link quality as long as people pay.
Just because you don’t make use of those services, doesn’t mean you are immune to them. Most folks are content to ethically beat their competitors in search, but not everyone is on the up-and-up. An unscrupulous competitor might don their black hats, jump onto Fiverr, and give you an unfriendly gift:
This is a screenshot from a Fiverr seller who will generate, count ’em, five-and-a-half thousand links in five days, for $10. Those kinds of links are highly likely to get flagged as manipulative. So a competitor spends $10, plugs in your website, and all of a sudden you’ve got over 5,000 spam links pointing to you.
Google is getting better at preventing legitimate businesses from becoming victims of negative SEO targeted at them by competitors. However, it’s still a very good idea to keep track of your backlink profile, remain aware of the health of your link network, and be able to disavow spammy links quickly when they occur.
What’s the Deal With Backlinks?
Article spinning and bulk backlink generation are throwbacks to wilder days of SEO. The true intentions of the people who still offer these services are a mystery, but at one point in time they were relatively standard practice.
Google’s algorithm has always been built on links. The kinds of links that Google prioritizes, however, is in a constant state of change. The general gist of the current situation is that links need to be natural and user friendly. We don’t know all the details, but what we do know is that the algorithm is being designed to, as closely as possible, evaluate links the way a human being would.
So the best way to get backlinks, and ensure that they’re helpful, is to create content that people naturally share, reference, and enjoy. The worst way to gain links is to spin articles and create links in bulk.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
Luckily, Google becomes quickly savvy to all sorts of manipulative practices. At first these types of low quality backlinks would seriously harm your site, but the algorithm doesn’t necessarily punish an entire site for poor links anymore. It does, however, continue to de-value spammy links. Many SEO industry pros are also skeptical, considering that the “problem” created by negative SEO is one that Google created with the Penguin algorithm.
On the other hand, with updates and tools, most folks agree that negative SEO is a rare problem.
In a competitive niche, it’s still an issue to look out for. The best defense against negative SEO is to maintain good linking practices yourself and to keep an eye on your backlinks. Sudden drops in traffic, sudden spikes in the volume of backlinks, and sudden losses in keyword rankings can indicate a negative SEO attack.
The tools to fight all but the most sophisticated attacks are quite simple, thanks to the “disavow” tool that Google added in with Penguin. It’s a tool that lets you tell the crawlers that you are concerned about a link, and you would rather it doesn’t get counted.
It’s probably not necessary or particularly helpful to go and disavow every link that looks weird or comes from a low domain authority site. Really, you need to watch out for a spike in referring domains that indicates someone linking to you in bulk. In your Google Webmaster Tools, it’s a simple process to view, export, and analyze your backlinks, as well as disavow them. This handy blog post from Page One Power goes over the process of combating negative SEO in great detail.
In Summary: No Algorithm is Perfect, Keep Track Manually
Even with Google’s best intentions, it’s likely that they won’t be able to stop negative SEO tactics one hundred percent of the time. The algorithmic updates are an ongoing process, and in the meantime, an accidental hit to your website can cause all sorts of trouble, and be difficult to recover from. So keep an eye on your links in Webmaster Tools, and be ready to catch bulk shady links before they can do damage.
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