What You Need to Know About Negative SEO? (And Tips How to Avoid That)

SEO is a zero-sum game. 

For someone to rank #1 on Google, someone else has to drop in rank.

But what if a competitor wanted to take you down? Not by one-upping your SEO effort, but by attacking you in an unethical way?

That’s Negative SEO. And it can be a powerful weapon to SEOs don’t mind playing dirty. 

It doesn’t even take much work: just one link (from a trashy, low-quality website) to your site’s homepage is enough to make Google drop you from #1 in no time. 

Negative SEO isn’t new, but it is something that all brands should take seriously, especially when you consider a few people have been outed for using it in the past. 

What’s Negative SEO? 

Negative SEO is the unethical practice of sabotaging your competitors’ ranking by attacking them with unnatural or low-quality links. 

(There’s also the ethical version of this, where you try to outrank your competitor with better or more relevant content.)

An Example Of Negative SEO

Let’s go with John Doe, the owner of Site A. 

Site B is threatening to take Site A’s #1 spot, so John Doe hires a blackhat SEO firm to take Site B down a few pegs. 

The SEO firm creates many spammy links pointing to Site B’s homepage. Another one buys toxic links on low-quality websites that don’t have much in common with Site B. Within weeks, Site A retains their #1 spot, and Site B drops down a few notches.

A Real-time Example of Negative SEO

Jacob King outlines everything that happened when someone attacked his blog (jacobking.com) and site (wpbacon.com) with negative SEO. 

He even shows us where his “attackers” got their links from.


Imagine seeing your site linked to an adult webcam or porn site. 


Negative SEO Isn’t Just Limited to Backlinks

Negative SEO can take many forms:

  • Getting your site hacked 
  • Creating fake social accounts to ruin your reputation.
  • Removing the best backlinks your site has
  • Pointing links to your site using keywords such as adult movies, poker online, Viagra, Buy and Sell Links, etc. 
  • Copying your website content and distributing it all over the internet
  • Blackhat forum links to tie your domain name with illegal activities
  • Linking your website to adult content websites 
  • Impersonating you and submitting fake link removal requests for some of the high-quality backlinks you have
  • Leaving negative reviews online

Many perpetrators of negative SEOs only target your website’s performance in the SERPs, but some might try to cause as much damage as possible. A competitor may make it their mission to bury you and leave you deader – and their weapon of choice, all the forms of negative SEO.

The Six Types of Negative SEO to Watch in 2022

Negative SEO can take so many forms. As we’ve already established, it can come in the form of a toxic backlink, an impersonator, or a cyber attack instigated by one of your competitors.

So, to better define negative SEO, we can say it’s anything unethical that a competitor does to sabotage your online presence or bring you down completely. 

That said, let’s look at six types of negative SEO that you should be wary of in the coming years:

1) Link Farms

One or two spammy links won’t hurt you. 

But imagine 10,000 links coming to your site with the same anchor text?

It’d look like you’re getting spammed, and Google would probably get suspicious. There’s something unnatural happening to your site, and it raises eyebrows. 

It’s even worse when the exact match anchors are completely unrelated to your site.

Search engines will assume you’re trying to manipulate them, and they will react accordingly. 

That’s exactly what happened to Jacob King’s website, WPBacon, a WordPress podcast site. Over a short spurt of time, the website acquired thousands of low-quality, bottom-of-the-barrel backlinks from the scrappiest websites on the web, with anchors like “porn movie,” “adult content,” “online poker,” etc. 

WP Bacon fell 50 plus spots on Google for most of their top-performing keywords during the ten days. 

There’s a happy ending to the WPBacon story, though. The site worked with an SEO specialist to disavow all unnatural links and get back on track.

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How to Keep Your Site Safe from Link Farms?

A link farm attack isn’t something that’s within your power. But it can be nipped in the bud.

The best way to deal with a damaging link farm SEO attack is to disavow all the toxic backlinks.

That ensures that you can get back up in no time while retaining your spot in Google’s good books.

Be sure to monitor your link profile regularly.

Once your link profile grows overnight, you should immediately audit your site and check to see if there’s any trace of spammy or toxic backlinks. 

What Tool Should You Use to Monitor Your Website for Toxic Links from Link Farms

It would be best if you had a tool like SEO SpyGlass. What this tool does is that it gives you progress graphs showing you the number of links in your profile, as well as the number of referring domains. 

So, any unusual spike in either of the graphs is reason enough to dig through your link profile and weed out those that don’t belong. 

To see what links triggered the spike, go to the “Linking Domain” dashboard in SEO SpyGlass, and sort out the links by “Last Found.” Now go through the links that appeared just about the same time the spike appeared.

Next, go through their penalty risk. You can do this by switching to the Penalty risk tab. Select the suspicious links you discovered and click on “Update Link Penalty Risk.” 

The column will be populated with values that range from a scale of 0 to 100. Anything above 20 is an alarm bell. 


SEO SpyGlass will analyze the links for you. First, they’ll look at the domain’s InLink Rank. They also check to see if the links are coming from the same IP address. That’s a dead giveaway that they’re coming from a link farm.

They’ll also check if the domains have the same C-class block or belong to the same network.

What Next After You Identify “Toxic Links” from Link Farms?

After you’ve identified the spammy links torpedoed your way, the first thing you want to do is create a disavow file right away!

You can do this in SEO SpyGlass. All you need to do is right-click on the domain and select “Disavow.” Do this for all the links that seem unnatural. Once done, go to preferences ~> Disavow/Blacklist Backlinks and review it. After confirming everything, go ahead and export the file, and that’s pretty much everything.

2) Scrapping

Another way an uncouth competitor may decide to get a little dirty with you is by scrapping your website content and pasting it all over the internet, on different sites. That way, Google will see your content on multiple websites and penalize you for duplicate content.

It is one of the most common forms of negative SEO attacks and one of the hardest to protect your site against.

Google has advanced enough to identify the original piece. As long as they indexed your content first, you have nothing to worry about. 

The problem is that scrappers try to be faster than Google. They can scrape your content immediately it’s published and rush to get it indexed first before Google even crawls your page.

How to Protect Your Site Against Scraping?

First, you have to make Copyscape your number one friend. If you haven’t already, go sign up for an account and purchase a decent amount of Copyscape credits. That should be your first line of defense against anyone who tries to attack you with content scraping.

Should you find that someone scrapped your content and is using it on their blog or website, contact them directly and politely ask them to remove it. If they fail to comply, go ahead and file a DMCA complaint and let them square it out with Google.

3) Forceful Crawling

Another trick an unscrupulous competitor may use to bring your SEO effort to naught is by forcefully crawling your site to its limits. This may cause a heavy server load, temporarily bringing it down in the process. 

If your site goes down, Google will take it as a sign that you’ve failed to keep up with maintenance and that your site is unprofessional and unreliable. Their next course of action will be to de-rank you in favour of someone more reliable and professional. 

What Is Competitive Positioning? (Examples & Types)

How to Prevent Forced Crawling?

If you notice that your website has become slow, unresponsive, or unavailable, the first thing to do would be to contact your web host and see if they can help you pinpoint where the load is coming from. 

Alternatively, if you know a thing or two about server logs enough to identify villain crawlers, then you can go ahead and block them with .htacess and robots.txt. 

Negative On-page SEO

Negative On-page SEO attacks are more advanced. They require the perpetrator to hack into your site and alter things around. They can change your site content, markup, or even insert links that point to malicious sites.

That said, here are some of the threats an on-page SEO attacker may use to bring your SEO campaign down to its knees.

4) Content Modification

Most website owners wouldn’t notice if someone changed their website’s content. That’s because most of them don’t even bother reading what’s on their website once it’s published. 

Plus, when a hacker gains access to your site, the changes they make will be so subtle that most web admins wouldn’t even notice. 

How to Prevent Content Modification?

You can start by running regular site audits using a tool like “website auditor.

You’ll want to do this every week or once a month because if you don’t, then you have already lost the war.

To run the audit using WebSite Auditor, you can launch the tool and create a project for your site. Now, every time you re-audit your site, all you need to do is use the Rebuild Project button. It will walk you through all the changes that have been made to your website since the last audit.

That way, you can spot the subtlest of modifications that could have otherwise gone unnoticed. 

You specifically want to look at the number of outgoing links and pages with redirects. 

Switch to “All the Resources” and go through the “External Resources” section. Should you see an unexpected increase in the number of these links, make a point to go through the list one by one and see where each one of them is pointing. Scroll down to find out where these links are located on your site. 

Next, you want to remove them and proceed to make necessary changes to your site’s security.

5) Getting Your Website De-indexed

You’ll never know to what heights some people would go to try and bring you down.

Don’t be surprised when some even make it their life mission. 

But it doesn’t always have to take so much effort. Sometimes, even making a small change to robots.txt is enough to throw a wrench into your SEO strategy. A simple disallow file is all it takes to make Google ignore your site.

The internet is filled with such stories. Here’s one about a company that fired their SEO agency, only to find out that the agency took their revenge by adding a disallow rule into their robots.txt.

How to Prevent Getting Your Website De-indexed?

Simple, run regular ranking checks. You can use a tool like “Rank Tracker” to schedule regular automatic checks (daily or weekly). Should any of your website pages drop from search engine results pages, the “difference” column will update to “Dropped.”

It may imply de-indexation or penalty if this happens across a sundry list of keywords. If you suspect the former, you might want to go through your crawl stats in the Google Search Console (GSC) and look at the robots.txt.

6) Hacking Your Site

Given how easy it is to gain access to the backend of most websites, hacking your site is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s not just your site that could be vulnerable to this type of attack. Any website is.

A hacker doesn’t necessarily have to have negative SEO in mind to hurt your ranking. Since Google wants to protect its users, should they suspect your site has been hacked, they’ll not hesitate to de-rank it or, at the very least, add a “this site may be hacked” line to your SERP listings. 

How to Prevent Your Site From Getting Hacked

There’s no single preventative measure that could stop all attempts at hacking your site. However, you can take some simple steps to reduce the likelihood of getting hacked.

Here’s an article you want to read if you’re interested in learning more about website security and the steps to protect it. 

Is Negative SEO a Real Threat?

In a word, yes, it’s a real threat. Numerous websites have been hit by it and narrated the harrowing tales on the web.

Our only advice is that you don’t have to wait for the hammer to fall. Prevention is always better than cure, and that’s particularly true in the world of SEO and web marketing.

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Try searching SEO clerk for PBN backlinks, and you’ll be presented with hundreds of backlink sellers willing to do the dirty work for you. All it takes for someone to pull a dirty one on you is to pay a pittance for thousands of low-quality backlinks and place your website as the receiver.

How to Prevent Negative SEO Attacks?

Here are some tips that can help prevent your site from getting hit by negative SEO attacks.

  1. Set Up Google Search Console (Formely Google Webmasters Tools) Email Alerts

Google will send you an email alert anytime the following happens:

    • Your website gets attacked by malware
    • Your pages get de-indexed
    • Your server experiences connectivity issues
    • Google decides to penalize you manually

So, if you haven’t already, consider connecting your website to Google Search Console (GSC) and setting up email alerts.

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Simple, launch your Google search Console using this link. You’ll be directed to enter your domain or subdomain as shown. 

Add your domain as directed. Note that you have two options to add the domain name.

The first one (the option in grey) requires you only to enter the domain minus the protocol (no www, http, or https, just the domain name). The only problem with this option is that they only have the DNS verification.

The second option (the option in white) requires you to be specific with the domain protocol (http, https, or plan www). The best part is that they have multiple verification methods for you.

So, if we were to recommend what to choose, we’d suggest you go with the second option, unless otherwise). 

If you have a Google Analytics account and you’re using the same Gmail, your Google Search Console account will be automatically verified. 

Just click on “Go to Property,” and you’ll be directed to the GSC dashboard. 

By default, GSC will start sending you email notifications on potential issues in your account or website. 

To confirm if you’ve set email notifications, click on the user setting on the top right corner of the screen. 

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Next, click on email preferences and check if the “enable notification by email” box is checked. 

If it’s checked, proceed to the next step. 

  1. Regularly Monitor Your Link Profile

The easiest way to prevent scammers from using your site as the recipient of their NAPE (negative account linking penalty) attacks is to always stay on guard. When a competitor decides to attack your site with low-quality backlinks and redirects, they shouldn’t have the opportunity to do so undetected.

You can use any of the following tools to monitor your backlink profile: Ahrefs, Open Site Explorer, Ubersuggest, SEMrush, etc. But if I were to recommend a tool, it would be Monitorbacklinks.com. It’s one of the best and most straightforward tools to use. Moreover, it will send you email alerts every time your website gains or loses an important backlink.

With MonitorBacklinks, you don’t have to check your backlink profile manually. Instead, they’ll send you an email alert informing you of all the changes happening in your backlink portfolio.

So, how do you use the tool:

You can start by signing up for an account. After that, you’ll be prompted to enter your website’s domain and link the account with your Google Analytics account.

Your backlinks will show up immediately. If not, give it a minute or two for everything to load up. 

By default, the tool is set to send you an email alert every time you receive or lose a backlink. 

Here’s what the email alert you receive will look like:

  1. Always Protect Your Best Backlinks

We’ve established that unscrupulous SEOs aren’t just targeting you with toxic links built by their PBNs. They’re also after your best backlinks. 

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Their modus operandi: impersonate you and send the website owner a message asking them to remove the backlink. If the website owner is smart, they’ll ignore this email. However, if they’re not, you might lose your best backlink.

So, how do you prevent this from ever happening? Here’s what we suggest you do:

    • When communicating with web admins, always use an official email address (linked to your domain) — not Gmail or Yahoo. Your email address should read like this yourname@yourdomainname.com (and not yourname@gmail.com).
    • Keep Track of Your Best Backlinks: Again, MonitorBacklinks is your best bet. All you need to do is go to your backlink list and sort them out by social activity and Page Rank. 

You can go ahead and add a tag to each of these backlinks. The tags can be anything you want, but it’s a good idea to use something like Best Backlinks, Tier 1 Backlinks, etc.

Select the link and click on “edit” to add the tags. Now go ahead and add your tag.

That way, you can always use these tags to filter these backlinks easily and monitor their status. 

If any of these links get removed, the best thing you can do is reach out to the website owner and find out why.

  1. Take Necessary Measures to Secure Your Site from Hackers and Malware

Unfortunately, very few people are concerned about their website’s safety and security. That’s why hackers take advantage of this lackadaisical attitude to attack websites.

Here are a few things we recommend you do to keep your website from getting hacked: 

    • If your website runs on WordPress, you should begin installing the Google Authenticator plugin. That will create a two-step verification process every time you log in. 

Each time you log into your WordPress account, you’ll be required to enter a code generated by the authenticator on your smartphone.

So, for anyone to log into your WordPress dashboard, they’ll be required to produce more than a password. 

    • We also recommend installing an SSL certificate on your site. That will enable you to encrypt the traffic going in and out of your website. 
    • Create a strong password consisting of numbers, special characters, and letters all thrown into the mix
    • Back up your website every month. Updraft Plus is our favourite plugin for backing up your website’s files and database
    • Keep WordPress and all other plugins updated
    • If your site allows users to upload files, then check with your hosting company to see if you can install an antivirus
  1. Check Your Site for Duplicate Content

We’ve established one of the ways unscrupulous SEO competitors can harm your site is by scraping your content and publishing it on multiple, low-grade third-party websites not linked to either them or you. 

Google, in particular, hates duplicate content and will make it extremely difficult for you to rank your site if it detects a lot of content overlap. 

You can use Copyscape to check if your site has duplicate content. Just add your website link to the text field, and the site will show you a list of all the places your website content is published. 

  1. Start Monitoring Your Social Media Mentions

It’s like spammers never run out of tricks. If they can’t hit you with toxic links, they’ll create fake social media accounts and use them to smear your online reputation.

While there’s nothing you can do to stop people from using your company or website name to operate fake social media accounts, you can always report them as spam and get them terminated before they start gaining followers. 

Use a social listening tool such as Mention.net to find out who’s using your company name.

As soon as someone opens an account with your company name or mentions it in their posts, you’ll be notified. 

All you need to do is set up an account with Mention.net. You can name the alert to whatever name you can come up with and proceed to add all the keywords that you’d like to be alerted about. 

You even have the option of using multiple languages. 

Be sure to specify the sources that you’d want Mention to look for, as well as sites that you’d like it to ignore. By doing all this, Mention will start sending you an email alert every time someone mentions your site or company name on social media, forum, comment, blog, or news. 

  1. Watch Your Website’s Speed

If your website suddenly becomes slow, it could indicate that something isn’t right. 

So, the first thing you want to do is check out your site’s loading speed using Google’s PageSpeed Insights or pingdom.com. All you need to do is enter your website’s URL and hit ‘Go.’

Go to pingdom.com and sign up for an account. You also want to create “email alerts” so you’ll know when your website slows or goes down. If you suspect something is amiss with your website, contact your web host and let them go through their server logs and help you find out where the excessive load is from.

  1. Make Sure You’re Not Shooting Yourself in the Foot with Your SEO Strategy

Buying backlinks and publishing posts on shady third-party websites can do more damage or harm to your website than you expect. 

They might boost your traffic temporarily, but ultimately, they’ll damage your site’s authority in Google’s eyes. 

That means that even if you get rid of the backlinks, it might take some time before your rankings fully recover. 

Buying backlinks is one of the many SEO strategies that could badly backfire on you. 

Google is constantly updating its algorithm, and as a result, some of these so-called “SEO tricks and hacks” no longer work.

Trying to outsmart Google with unethical SEO practices could have negative consequences for your website’s health in the long distant future. 

That said, here are some of the so-called SEO tricks that Google frowns upon:

    • Linking to a penalized site: You don’t want to be associated with a site that Google has penalized. Even if you’re linking to it for an honest reason, your site might lose value in the eyes of Google 
    • Buying links: If you buy backlinks intending to improve your SEO strategy, you should know that Google is on to this tactic, and they’ll slap you hard with a penalty when they finally catch up on your ruses. 
    • Posting on low-quality websites: Don’t be desperate for backlinks. 

Instead, work on creating your own high-quality content and let the links come naturally. After all, this is what Google wants you to do.

But if you must guest-blog or post on third-party websites, make sure their backlink profile is healthy and that the site has a good authority in Google’s eyes.

    • Don’t publish low-quality guest posts. Remember, your website’s credibility is still at stake. When someone sees a post that’s from you, regardless of where it is, they should know what to expect. Don’t disappoint them by publishing something substandard.
    • Don’t build so many backlinks using “Money Keyword.” Instead, make sure at least 60% of your anchor texts feature your company or website name.
  1. Befriend Everyone, Make Few Enemies

It doesn’t cost you anything to be nice (read: polite) to the people you interact with online. Avoid unnecessary fall-outs or arguing with clients because you never know who among them is a vengeful low-life waiting to piss on everything you have worked so hard for.

Spammers don’t just come at random people. They’ll always have a reason. 

Here are some of these reasons:

    • Revenge
    • Fun
    • To outrank you in the SERPs

Whatever their reasons are, make sure you don’t give them a reason to target you.

Remember, it only takes one determined person to burn all your work to ashes.

10) Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Unless you’re an SEO expert, there’s no shame in asking for help. Get the support of people who understand the ins and outs of SEO.

Your web host and the SEO company you hire should be able to give you a hand if needed.

Be open and forthright with them. Let them know of your struggles and ask for their professional advice.

When you reach an agreement with an SEO company, make sure they come up with a performance report of sorts to show you how effective their strategies are. If not, don’t feel bad about asking for one.

About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Social Media




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