How To Handle Negative SEO Directed On Your Site

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Greetings friends!

I’m back after a bit of hiatus. I took some time off from both my actual work and my online business for the summer to recuperate a bit.

I’ve been focusing on my Wealthy Affiliate promoting Bootcamp site since beginning of this year like I shared in my last post way back in May.

Unfortunately my news aren't that good this time...

I published a post on it almost daily for the first part of the year. After a while my efforts were paying off and my results started to improve. That's what I shared in my last post.

But almost as fast as they had started to grow, they fell down.

I didn’t really know what was going on.

I felt like my site was Icaros who flew too close to the sun and came crashing down.

Did I get hit by an algorithm update or a manual penalty? Was I doing something fundamentally wrong in my SEO process?

Epiphany

So, during the beginning of June I went through all my content and tried to improve it in any way possible.

I reduced affiliate links, I removed Google ads, I did a ton of work like compressing all my media and adding lazy loading, minified css etc. to improve my PageSpeed score (I got them to decent level, but still not optimal for mobile).

I made sure there were no manual penalties for my site from Google in GSC and read up a lot about SEO and implemented what I could.

But all this didn’t do anything to improve my rankings. My traffic and performance remained low on GSC (Google search console).

I was also having a really busy time in work and I pretty much called it quits for most of June, July and beginning of August. I felt discouraged and needed a break.

Last week I started to post daily on the site again, but I’m definitely not seeing the rankings I was in May.

Now I’ve been looking at the problem with fresh eyes and finally it occurred to me to check my backlink profile.

Here’s a picture of my backlinks over time from March to August from Ubersuggest:


Before that I had pretty consistent 35 domains referring to my fairly fresh site. During the summer my referring domains grew to 193 and over 1000 backlinks.

Now this could have been a natural consequence of getting more rankings and visibility on Google but still seemed sketchy.

It seemed suspicious that the links really started to grow around April and May and that's exactly the same timeframe my well growing traffic started to deteriorate before coming crash down.

I then went to GSC to check backlinks there. I had indeed 215 referring domains. Once I started going through them it became obvious that most of them were extremely spammy and irrelevant to my niche.

Definitely not good for SEO and very likely the reason for my sudden drop in rankings.

I realized that my site was being targeted for negative SEO. Someone was pointing tons of low quality links to my site to drive down my rankings.

What Are Backlinks and Negative SEO?

In case you are not familiar with backlinks, they are simply links pointing at a URL on your domain. Google uses these as an important metric to asses how desirable your site is in the search results.

But because people abused building links in the past, these days unnatural links from spammy domains will very likely result in an algorithm "slap" or penalty and drop your authority and rankings.

Since I didn’t have one or two of these bad links, I realized that my site was very likely hit by a negative SEO campaign.

In case you are not familiar with negative SEO, it’s a process where you buy spammy backlinks to your competition or someone you want down from the SERPs.

Why would someone target your site with negative SEO? For competition obviously, or if they didn’t like your review for example and want it out of the SERPs.

My site was ranking first page for several keywords about a pyramid scheme that’s going around currently and driving huge amounts of traffic to many sites. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was targeted by someone in the scheme. I did get some heat from people advertising it.

My review wasn’t even rude or cheeky, I just presented facts what the authorities around the world had said about it.

But this is all just speculation. It’s also possible that I just got randomly picked by crawlers that looks for URLs for these spammy sites. Doesn’t really matter, because the solution is the same.

It's Not The End Of The World

As depressing it was to realize this, I was actually grateful and relieved. Now I had a clear problem to solve. And I think I found as solution.

So today I wanted to share with you guys how to counter negative SEO from bad backlinks.

I can’t say yet how well this works, because I just did this today, but I will keep this post updated with the results.

So you have a ton of links pointing to your website, what can you do?

Well Google recommends your first course of action is to try and contact the website owners and ask politely to remove the links pointing to your website.

The truth is that with spammy websites you will not find a contact address and even if you do, they will not reply to you. In a worst case scenario they will start spamming your email.

But what you can do is disavow these bad links in GSC. It means basically telling Google "please don’t take these links into account when deciding my rankings". Then it’s up to Google if they will respect that.

From what I’ve read, they generally will. It’s in Googles best interests to respect the wishes of legit webmasters that are trying their best to get their quality content in the SERPs.

The Process

WARNING: If you decide to follow my example, beware that it has the potential to cause more harm than benefit to your site. I have no knowledge if this will solve my issue or actually make it worse but in my case it's worth the shot.

So what I did I went through all the 215 domains pointing to my website through search console. You can find them under the links menu on your GSC property.

There were two kinds of websites that seemed especially suspicious. Coupon code websites, which there were dozens of URLs and identical looking private blog network sites which there were at least a dozen as well.

A short Google search proved that these coupon code networks are indeed used for negative SEO.

Here’s a screenshot of the URLs I picked from GSC. Anything that had the word coupon in it had to go but everything else was picked manually. A word of warning, don’t check them out, some of them are sketchy as f***.

There were total of 47 Domains I decided to disavow. Most of them were fairly obviously spammy, some I wasn’t completely sure but they were definitely not relevant to my niche.

Once I had the URLs listed it was time to head to the Google Disavow links tool: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main

Google warns you several times about the fact that if you don’t know what you are doing, you might be causing harm to your site. Well I wasn’t really concerned at this point as I was sure the URLs were spammy and my site wasn’t doing that great.

One last thing you need to do before disavowing links (besides going them over once more to make sure there’s nothing you want to lose) is to format the the disavow file.

The file needs to be in .txt format and if you want to disavow links on the domain level, you will include the prefix “domain:” in front of each domain. Like this:

Then you just submit the file and you’re done.

You can also include specific URLs if you don’t want to block the whole domain. Since my site was targeted by very spammy domains I went straight ahead and disavowed anything from those domains, in case they point new URLs to my site. Some of the domains had hundreds of links to my site so that’s another reason why it’s just easier to disavow them completely.

Conclusion

Well there you have. That’s how you deal with a negative SEO attack to your site. Or at least how I dealt with it for the time being.

It’s also wise to follow the links profile of your website routinely and disavow anything that seems suspicious if the webmasters won’t remove the link on your request.

Now I'm going to continue posting content on the site at least once a day. I'm on "vacation" till the beginning of November and I'm going to dedicate the rest of it to my online business.

And of course I'm going to keep my fingers crossed and hope that one Google disavows the bad links, my ranking will return (with interest). From what I've read it usually takes at least two weeks to see any change so wish me luck!

P.S. I'll update when/if I see any positive results. I would also love to hear if you've had any similar experiences and did you manage to resolve them?

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Recent Comments

32

Excellent post, Jukkah,

I have the sneaking suspicion that Google is one to many algorithm updates past that gold standard they proclaim.


Instead reverting to smashing sites with a hunk of 4 x 2.

Getting caught in the scoop net can be luck of the draw.

It can be disheartening losing traffic and even harder when there is no apparent reason. I note to that there are a number of software's launched recently that are dedicated to creating backlinks. The sales pitch, " organically", sure it is lol.

I admire your tenacity in addressing the issue that confronts you, do keep us updated, watching with interest.

Posts like yours Stem the tide of the slide into pop culture.

Thank you.

Alex

Thanks for the encouragement Alex! Yeah I think Google is sometimes unfair. Their official opinion seems to be that they are not your marketing department so it's your problem if you lose rankings. While this is partly true, many businesses rely on traffic from Google, which is of course not wise since you have all your eggs in a single basket. But the business model WA teaches is mainly about organic traffic that will mostly come from Google and that's what I'm after.

What I've learned during my online marketing career is that you should never buy links these days. You have no way of knowing if they will affect your site positively or negatively and if Google decided you tried to game the system it's bye bye baby!

That said, Google also claims that they don't give spammy links any value so you don't have to worry about negative SEO. But the truth is that there are a lot of case studies online from big SEO companies that show similar scenarios as mine. A sudden drop in rankings after a ton of new spammy backlinks.

Jukka

Hey Jukkah
Welcome back. Thanks for taking the trouble to explain this. I had received a couple of emails inviting me to pay for negative SEO services to knobble competing sites. That was the first I heard about it and was thinking of starting a thread here in WA to see if anyone knew anything about it as on the face of it, it sounds completely dishonorable and bad business practice. It will be very interesting to see if you have solved the problem. So please keep us posted over the next couple of weeks to see how it turns out.
Good luck!
Andy

Thanks Andy! I've received those emails as well on my websites contact emails. These are also available as gigs on Fiverr and many other places apparently.

Definitely dishonorable and probably illegal in many countries IF you got caught with it and someone went through the trouble of suing you. But many countries won't have clear legislation about this subject so it's very unlikely to get prosecuted. Almost impossible to prove someone did it to your site as well. Would require a ton of international investigation and the kinds of people who do stuff like this know how to cover their tracks.

I'll keep you guys posted. From what I've read I might see results in two weeks or it can take a few months. Or it might have no effect at all or even affect my site negatively. So I'm just hoping for the best right now and focusing on content creation.

Hi Jukkah
I guess you are right as to unlikelihood of anyone getting prosecuted at least for the moment. Good that you have adopted such a positive attitude to fixing this as another business challenge. Wishing you the best of luck.
Cheers
Andy

Wow, Crazy, Jukkah! It sounds like an internet Google soap opera! Makes me believe even more that video is the way to go!

Good information though, I had no idea this sort of nonsense occurs, though it shouldn't surprise me in the slightest in this day and age when everyone seems to have gone off the deep end on a great many things! Thanks for sharing!

Jeff

Yeah it's pretty Crazy Jeff! Now I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that my site recovers from this in a reasonable amount of time.

I've got faith in you, Jukkah!

Jeff

I have never seen this before. Wow. What an ordeal indeed. Glad you figured that out. I would have gone just ape crazy and not know what to do about that. Negative SEO is something I haven't seen or heard of before. This is exactly why it helps when other members blog about something like this. Thanks for letting us know.

An ordeal indeed. I suspect this happens a lot actually. Especially for review sites. But if site has enough of "good" links and authority, it will likely take a whole lot of bad spammy links to drive it down. Google might even ignore this type of links for well-established sites. But for us who have relatively young sites that are growing, it's possible that Google sees this as an attempt to manipulate rankings by the owner and gives a penalty. All this is speculation of course but I'm fairly certain this is what happened to my site because the links started growing a lot right at the same time I lost rankings.

I have had a lot of spammy emails coming through my WP email and a lot of the links are spam with scammer sites. My website is a review site also and if I am getting a lot of spam emails with those links, does that mean my site has a lot of negative spammy backlinks? Im even too scared to look. Yikes!

Wow!!! Jukka, you have undertaken some pretty intensive detective work there.

Your post would have to be up the top of the list for
relevance and importance.

Thank you my friend, you have definitely saved your fellow members a lot of time and effort.

This is one post that should be part of our training.

All the best. Jim



Thank you for the kind words Jim! I actually thought about making this into a training when it turned out to be a lot longer than I initially intended. But this ordeal already took my whole day, so I just wanted it over with, so I can focus on content tomorrow.

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