Different Types of Attacks
SEO attacks come in many forms, all of them relating back to black hat SEO. Back in the day, these were tactics marketers used to do to manipulate Google to boost their rankings unfairly. Since then though, Google has learned and now penalizes these practices. Below are some ways people can abuse this system and use black hat tactics to hurt your site.
Bad Link Building
A major factor in Google’s ranking algorithms is how many and what kind of links your site has pointing to it. In the past, black hat tactics would spam thousands of links for terrible sites to boost their rankings. Now Google penalizes this practice by analyzing where links come from and whether they are legitimate or spam.
Now, people can purchase thousands of links from bad, spammy links that Google know are part of link building schemes for just a few dollars. They can pick a target site (your website) and result in it getting penalized in rankings, possibly even completely removed from Google searches.
False Bad Reviews
People pay attention to reviews when making decisions. In fact, 90% of consumers say they are influenced on buying a product because of reviews. Competitors know that and try to take advantage of it. Since many review sites accept reviews from anyone without proof they did business with your company, it can quickly become a serious problem. Another problem is proving a competitor wrote the review and that it isn’t just an angry customer.
Remember how aggravating it was when you were a child and your grade school rival would mock you by copying everything you say over and over? Well, your competitors can do the same thing with the content on your site, especially if you run a blog.
Duplicate content is bad because Google dislikes it. They try to identify which content is the original and then penalize the copy cat, but sometimes they can’t. So, if a site steals your work quickly enough and gets catalogued first, then Google might identify their work as the original and you the plagiarizer.
Fake Social Media Profiles
Your reputation is important, and your social media is a big part of that. The problem is that competitors could produce imposter accounts and pretend to be your business. While they might not fool everybody, if they get a few followers or trick some consumers, they can do some real damage to your brand. They could do anything like misleading customers to straight up offending them.
Recognizing An Attack
The sooner you can notice that you're under attack, the quicker you can start fixing it. The biggest warning sign you can get is a notice from Google or other search engines that your site is being penalized for bad practices. But hopefully, long before that happens, you’ve noticed that something is wrong.
First things first, enable Google Webmaster alerts and notifications. This is a direct line where Google can alert you to anything suspicious, and tell you if you have been penalized. If you don’t do this, you could get removed from their index without ever knowing. But, the real problem is that they only will notify you when you’re in the thick of trouble, not at the first sign of an attack.
If you aren’t already doing this, get regular back link reports for your site. This will give you a good indication of how your site is doing and can alert you if you are being attacked. Look at each link one by one and the URL they are attached to.
A healthy, normal, link report will have a smattering of different links. Some will be from directory pages, a few other sites, maybe a few places you’ve guest posted, and a few spammy sites. These are pretty normal. It’s when you have a large majority of links coming from really scummy sites that there is a problem. Links from places like gambling, pornography, bad directories, or pages just filled with hyperlinks are all sites you want to avoid.
Another sign you’re being attacked is a sudden loss of rankings on searches you are normally very strong for. True, this could happen if several sites step up their SEO efforts, but this usually takes a long time to make an impact. But, if you are ranking in the top 5 and then a month later are no longer on the first page for the same search, something is seriously wrong.
Fixing The Damage
So you’ve been attacked. The damage has been done. Just like after a natural disaster, there is nothing else to do but get to work fixing the damage. Each different type of attack requires a specific way to repair it.
Removing Bad Links
If you’re the target of a black hat link building attack, cleaning up the links can be a long task. The simplest approach is to reach out directly to the webmasters who run the sites and ask them to remove the links. They might go ahead and remove it, or they just ignore your request.
The next step is to use Google’s disavow tool. It’s very effective, but takes more time to do. Also, it only affects Google search results, while getting the links removed on the site will affect all of them. The disavow tool is free and pretty easy to use, plus it gives you the control to stopping bad links.
Responding to False Bad Reviews
It’s extremely hard to fix the damage from real bad reviews, but it can be incredibly frustrating when the reviews are false. Unless the review breaks the site’s Terms of Service agreements, you really can’t get them deleted. The most you can do is reach out to the reviewer and ask them to change, or delete the review.
Instead, you can reply to the posts to help mitigate the damage. If you can ensure that this person has never done business with you, you can reply saying so. If you can’t, you should respond like they are a bad review to show people you are professional and responsive.
If you’ve come across somebody who stole/using your content without giving credit, there are a few avenues you can take. First, you can ask them to give you credit for the work and to link back to your site. When confronted, many will cave and link to your site, along with placing a canonical tag in it indicating your content is the original. You just have to tell them that stealing your content is illegal, something most people don’t know.
If they aren’t willing to do that, you can issue a DMCA to Google about a site stealing your content. It’s a bit complex to do and doesn’t guarantee it will work, as it’s up to Google to determine if they are stealing, but if they do, it can do a lot to hurt the site. They’ll remove the entire site from searches and if they use Google Adwords, they’ll remove their account and ban them from the service.
Reporting False Accounts
Every social media platform has a way to report imposter accounts along with things like harassment and other violations of service agreements. The best practice is to take a screenshot of the imposter account, along with their URL and contact the support staff of the network. Be sure the gather evidence of what they are doing and state your cause of why the account should be deleted. This can include things like using a trademarked logo or name without permission.
Another good practice is to inform your followers that there is an imposter account out there and that you didn’t create it. The imposters might try to pull them away by saying the original account has been hacked/shutdown and they are the new page. The sooner you can inform them about the misdirection, the less damage they can do to your brand.
What do you think? Have you been on the receiving end of an SEO attack? Any tips that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!