Business owners today spend the majority of their marketing dollars and countless hours working to boost their business’s online presence. Many sites have spent years building killer content that grabs attention and delights the audience.
A website, whether for personal or business use, is a labor of love in today’s digital environment. It makes sense that business owners and webmasters want to make the fruits of their labor as visible as possible, not only for marketing purposes, but also because of a feeling of pride in the work they have produced. Thus, search engine optimization was born.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a way of communicating your website’s purpose and message to search engines in order to increase visibility in the results that are produced when the average user searches for keywords and phrases. There are a number of factors that contribute to the overall SEO process, including what is known as link building.
For years, link building has been used to generate as many inbound links as possible. Over time, however, the links that were being used became a new kind of spam and evolved into a sort of digital debris that was causing congestion of search engine results. This was the reason for the development of Google’s Penguin algorithm, which is Google’s way of preserving the integrity of its search results by penalizing websites that have too many manipulative inbound links published around the web.
Since the emergence of the Penguin algorithm, internet mercenaries and highly competitive businesses have developed ways of using this system to target (and essentially, destroy) competitor’s websites. This type of campaign has the potential to do irreparable damage, so it is important that business owners understand how it works and how to protect themselves.
The name of this underhanded practice is “negative SEO”, and it involves a number of various tactics. For example, villains may hack a website to hamper years’ worth of organic SEO efforts. They may also buy spammy links and direct them toward your site so that you will be punished by Google.
In social media and on review sites, they may cause comment or review bombing, which makes it look like the business paid for reviews or social media activity. There really is no limit to the things that can happen to your business website if it falls under a negative SEO attack.
Negative SEO is a very real threat and should be taken seriously. As with anything else, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This trend does not offer the promise of ending anytime soon, so you should take the necessary steps to prevent attacks before they occur.
Here are some ideas that will help you keep your business and online presence safe:
- Inbound links to your site are a very sensitive component of your SEO. Always keep an eye on where your traffic is coming from, and pay special attention if you start to see a pattern of online visitors coming from sources that you are not familiar with. You can monitor this by using the “search traffic” feature in Google’s webmaster tools.
- If yours is a small business, maintain an ongoing relationship with the owner of any sites that hold a link back to yours. One of the key tactics used by internet villains is to contact these site owners and request that they remove the link (while pretending to be YOU). If this happens, the site owner should know that you were not actually the person requesting removal. By maintaining a close working relationship with these individuals, you can be sure that they will reach out to you if they ever receive such a message.
- Most online review sites have features to protect businesses from review bombing. Make sure that your account is set to notify you by email as soon as your business receives a new review. Always keep an eye on reviews as they come in and address any problems as soon as you notice them. If you see that there has been an influx of numerous reviews, contact the administrators of the site right away. You can also use features such as “report a problem” or “flag post for removal”, but it really is in your best interest to have direct contact with the site itself.
- To protect your social media presence, set your account to request approval for any new posts or comments. Again, if you notice that there is heightened activity on your page, contact site administrators right away.
Negative SEO can have a huge impact, but you can do a lot to prevent destruction of the site and reputation that you have worked so hard to build. Monitor and control are useful components to any online strategy, so these are things you are likely already doing on a regular basis. With the right amount of attention and persistence, your business can remain successful in today’s digital environment.