SEO and Content Marketing Blog

Negative SEO: Understanding the Dark Side of SEO

the dark side of seo

Black hat SEO tactics acquired their name from the dark-brimmed villains of old Westerns. Thing is, most of us see ourselves as the triumphant hero, ready to save the day with fantastic content and masterful optimization.

But even the greatest SEO white hat heroes among us can be victims of black hat tactics. That’s right, on occasion, the old West can suddenly become Invasion of the Body Snatchers as your site is hijacked and harmed with black hat tactics.

This is what’s often called “negative SEO,” and you should add it to your SEO vocabulary.  While this can refer to competitors pushing negative news stories about your brand up in search results, there’s much more to negative SEO.

What are we talking about here and how can you defend yourself?

Link Spamming: Planting a Murder Weapon

Link spamming

Perhaps the most prominent example of using black hat tactics for negative SEO is link spamming. Because Google’s algorithm puts a lot of weight on the quality and quantity of incoming links, they have to punish sites that pay for links or use other black hat tactics to acquire them in huge batches instead of earning them.

But the flip side to that very reasonable Google strategy for rewarding useful and popular sites is that it’s possible to plant those spammy links to punish your competitors. This is occasionally called “Google bowling” and is akin to planting a murder weapon and calling the tip line.

It’s important to bear in mind that Google is constantly battling to make these tactics more difficult (or, as it claims, impossible) to implement. Still, if we’re to believe many black hat SEO professionals, Google overstates its ability to prevent Google bowling from being effective.

Google Insulation: The Potential Double-Agent
insulation pages

This is an interesting tactic which, in its most basic form, you overwhelm a page by creating thousands of competing pages. This can be used to bury a competitor, or alternatively, to bury negative information about a brand.

For the latter reason, this tactic is becoming increasingly reputable as a tool for companies like ReputationDefender. They use it to help their well-funded clients banish negative press to the deepest reaches of a particular Google search. On the one hand, this can be genuinely useful for anyone who’s been the victim of fraud or unfair press.

But of course, it can be exploited.

In other cases, Google insulation can simply bury your pages for no other reason than to give your competitors an advantage.

Fake Takedown Notices: Impersonating an Officer

fake takedown email seo

A key part of any SEO recovery from spammy links is e-mailing the sites which host those links, asking them to be removed. Well, some black hat SEO purveyors have realized that you can do this for legitimate links as well.

Making threats and accusations will get most sites to take down a link without doing much digging into who’s making the request. If you figure out what’s going on, those links are replaceable, but it’s going to require plenty of work on your part.

Copyright Takedown Notices: The Nuclear Option
copyright takedown fake

This truly is the nuclear option of black hat negative SEO tactics. It involves filing an accusation of a copyright violation with a search engine. The search engine then has to take down the site for 10 days while the accuser decides if they want to take legal action.

Now if you’re doing this simply to bring down a site, there’s a decent chance you could bring about a lawsuit. But, it has been done.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

There are two basic things you need to be prepared for anything. The first is to monitor your SEO closely. For larger sites, allowing a problem to fester for even a few hours can have disastrous results.

It all comes down to being diligent, whether that’s keeping close tabs yourself or hiring a professional to do it for you (of course, we at Hop Online are more than happy to help). Just remember, if you’re heading off to hike some remote wilderness for a few weeks: leave someone in charge.

The second preventative measure to keep in mind is familiarizing yourself with the tactics mentioned here as well as the numerous others hiding in the dark corners of the internet. You don’t want to lose time simply trying to understand what tactics you’re being attacked with, so knowing what to look out for ahead of time can save critical hours when they really count.

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Eric Halsey

Eric is an American, living in Sofia, Bulgaria. A digital marketing enthusiast and creator of the Bulgarian History Podcast, he is currently putting his skills towards a variety of new projects involving creative writing and history. Eric is also a self taught musician and songwriter, playing original songs in the tradition of American Folk Music on the guitar, mandolin, “banjitar” and harmonica.


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