What is Negative SEO? Protect Your Site from SEO Attacks

Aaron Haynes
Feb 22, 2024
what is negative seo

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Search engine optimization has long had a shadowy underbelly—negative SEO.

The intent behind negative SEO practices? To tarnish a competitor site’s reputation and tank its search engine ranking.

If you suspect you’re a victim of a negative SEO attack or want to learn how to put preventative measures in place, you’re in the right place because, in this guide, we

  1. answer the question, “What is negative SEO?”
  2. break down the most commonly employed negative SEO techniques,
  3. and explore Google’s stance on negative SEO practices.

What is Negative SEO?

Contrary to search engine optimization (SEO) best practices that adhere to Google’s guidelines and focus on enhancing a website’s visibility in search results, negative SEO uses a slew of nefarious tactics. Crafted by black hat SEO practitioners, the primary objective is to deliberately damage the health of a competitor’s website, undermine their hard work, and flatline their progress in search engine rankings.

In other words, instead of taking the time and effort to refine and perfect their own white hat SEO strategies—those that comply with search engine guidelines—the emphasis is on harming the health of competitor websites.

Such attacks are carried out in-house, or, as is often the case, a third-party team of “professionals” specializing in negative SEO is hired to carry out the negative SEO attacks.

Think of it like this: if Loganix plays the hero, the protagonist, championing your rise in rankings and attracting organic traffic, then negative SEO practitioners are the villain, the antagonist, lurking in the shadows, plotting to hamper your website’s successes.

Learn more: Interested in broadening your SEO knowledge even further? Check out our SEO glossary, where we’ve explained over 250+ terms.

Google’s Stance on Negative SEO

Since the search engine first broke onto the scene, Google has long been committed to delivering relevant and trustworthy search results to its users. As part of this commitment, Google has gone to extreme lengths to detect and combat negative SEO tactics.

John Mueller, a prominent figure at Google, has previously gone on record, stating:

“…this is certainly something that our systems work really hard on to make sure that any kind of negative SEO or any kind of irrelevant backlinks, unnatural backlinks that as much as possible we’re able to ignore them completely.”

This quote leaves little room for interpretation: Google condemns negative SEO techniques, takes action against those who employ them, and works diligently to counteract any malicious SEO effects.

The Evolution of Negative SEO

The dawn of search engines… *Cue dramatic flair, setting-the-scene hands 🙌, and the distant whisper of “incredible.”*

As exciting as this new age in the digital journey was, it was the Wild West—unchartered, unpredictable, and rife with opportunists looking for quick wins. As search engines began to gain prominence, so did the strategies to game their algorithms, marking the birth of negative SEO.

Initially, negative SEO was fairly rudimentary. The most common tactic involved inundating a competitor’s website with low-quality, spammy backlinks. The idea was simple: flood a site with enough toxic backlinks, and search engines would penalize it, causing its rankings to plummet. This was when search engines like Google were still in the infancy of refining their algorithms, and they often struggled to differentiate between natural and unnatural link-building activities.

A note-worthy case was Ginger Software’s struggles with negative SEO practitioners.

As detailed in a Moz case study, Ginger Software was hit with a manual Google penalty due to an influx of unnatural or bad links. Despite being a legitimate company with a genuine product, they fell victim to a negative SEO attack that saw a surge of over 44,000 spammy backlinks pointing to their site in just a month.

A real-world example that underscores the vulnerabilities websites faced during the early days of SEO (the Ginger Software saga occurring back in 2014), where malicious actors could easily manipulate rankings to their advantage.

Because of cases like Ginger Software’s troubles, search engines started to adapt, becoming more sophisticated over time. Although unfortunately, as search engine algorithms improved, of course, so too did the tactics of those determined to inflict digital damage.

No longer was it just about spammy links—negative SEO began to encompass a broader range of tactics, from content scraping (copying a website’s content and republishing it elsewhere) to creating fake negative reviews aimed at tarnishing a brand’s reputation.

The rise of social media platforms and local SEO also opened new avenues for negative SEO attacks. Fake profiles, malicious mentions, and even false location listings became tools in the negative SEO arsenal.

Today, negative SEO is a multifaceted beast, with black hat practitioners employing a mix of old-school tactics and cutting-edge methods to undermine competitors. While search engines like Google have taken measures to minimize the impact of such attacks, the threat remains, making it crucial for website owners to stay vigilant and informed.

Types of Negative SEO Attacks

“Positive” SEO strategies can be broadly categorized into three main areas: off-page SEO, on-page SEO, and technical SEO. And just as there are best practices for each of these areas to boost your site’s performance, there are also malicious tactics that can be used against you.

Let’s explore the dark side of each category.

Off-Page Attacks

Off-page SEO typically involves tactics that boost your site’s reputation off-page, meaning actions taken outside of your own website, like building high-quality backlinks, social media marketing, and influencer partnerships.

Negative SEO takes these tactics and twists them to harm rather than help:

  1. Spammy backlinks: One of the most common negative SEO tactics. Here, a flood of low-quality, irrelevant backlinks are directed toward a site, aiming to reduce its credibility.
  2. Content scraping: This involves copying a website’s content and pasting it elsewhere on the web, often without attribution. The goal? To dilute the uniqueness of the content and potentially lead to duplicate content penalties.
  3. Fake negative reviews: Attackers harm a site’s online reputation and deter potential customers by spreading false negative reviews about a business or website.

On-Page Attacks

On-page SEO focuses on optimizing on-page elements, like internal linking, meta tags, content quality, keyword placement, and page structure, to ensure that each page is search engine-friendly and provides a seamless user experience.

Negative SEO attacks in this category are more insidious, as they tamper directly with your site’s content and structure:

  1. Altering meta tags: Attackers change meta titles and descriptions to make pages appear irrelevant or spammy to search engines.
  2. Modifying redirects: Nefarious actors redirect legitimate traffic to spammy or malicious sites, harming user experience and a site’s reputation.
  3. Inserting malicious codes: Negative SEO orchestrated embed harmful codes or scripts to compromise a site’s and its visitors’ security.

Technical Attacks

Technical SEO ensures that a website’s backend structure is optimized for search engines. But, when it comes to negative SEO, technical SEO tactics are used to harm, not help:

  1. Heavy crawling: Forcefully crawling a website, attackers slow it down, leading to a poor user experience and potential ranking drops.
  2. Website hacking: Breaking into a website’s backend to cause harm, be it through content alteration, redirect setups, or other malicious activities.
  3. Malware injections: Embedding malicious software into a site, which spreads to its visitors, leading to potential blacklisting by search engines.

Conclusion: Staying Ahead of Negative SEO

Don’t simply play the game and leave your site vulnerable to attackstay ahead of it.

🚀 With help from our link audit and bad backlink removal service, you’re gaining a shield against the dark arts of negative SEO. 🚀

Hand off the toughest tasks in SEO, PPC, and content without compromising quality

Explore Services

Written by Aaron Haynes on February 22, 2024

CEO and partner at Loganix, I believe in taking what you do best and sharing it with the world in the most transparent and powerful way possible. If I am not running the business, I am neck deep in client SEO.