Best Ways to Detect and Avoid Negative SEO Attacks

Site Audit Issues
Best Ways to Detect and Avoid Negative SEO Attacks

The likelihood of experiencing negative SEO attacks is relatively low. Yet, it's still a thing website owners and optimization experts stumble upon from time to time. And if you feel like your website's performance has deteriorated recently, this might be the case.

In this article, we will describe the possible solutions to the most common negative SEO tactics and how you can detect them.

What is negative SEO?

Negative SEO is a general term for malicious tactics companies use to sabotage the rankings of competitors' websites, which isn't only unethical but also illegal to some extent.

Types of negative SEO attacks

The cheapest and easiest way of compromising a competitor's website is building and scaling low-quality links. Thousands of websites sell tons of spammy backlinks at almost no cost.

Some other common types of negative SEO include submitting fake link removal requests, site hacking, fake negative reviews, etc.

Does negative SEO work?

Google’s official statement of 2021 says it doesn't, yet many SEO experts would argue with that. Indeed, negative SEO can still work, but it can't bring as much harm now as it used to.

Below, you'll see several viable reasons for that.

Google devalues link spam instead of demoting websites

Penguin is part of Google’s core algorithm that can catch link spam. After the release of Penguin 4.0, Google started devaluing link spam instead of demoting entire sites. Now, Google attempts to detect and ignore low-quality links so they won't be able to affect the website's ranking.

Experts state that Google is doing a great job ignoring that type of negative SEO attack.

Penguin 4.0 is now more attentive to link spam

Penguin 4.0 is trying to ignore link spam, yet it still attempts to penalize those building manipulative links based on algorithms. If Penguin detects link spam, it can demote the page to the one pointed by the manipulative link, a subsection, or an entire website.

Google’s business model relies on unworking negative SEO

Negative SEO is a tactic used by website owners who can’t rank high themselves and need to shoot down better-performing competitors.

Nobody would use Google if the top-ranking pages were always spam or malicious. That’s why it introduced Penguin 4.0 and wants to devalue link spam instead of demoting entire sites. And, of course, that's the reason for Google to invest in fighting negative SEO attacks.

There's more than one kind of negative SEO

Detecting and deflecting negative SEO is now about keeping track of your website's entire online presence and image, as well as ensuring positive security means to keep malicious competitors away.

How to detect, avoid, and fix the most common types of negative SEO attacks

Now that you know negative SEO tactics are still a thing, let's see what exactly your competitors can do to your website and how you can fight it.

Spammy link building

Building huge bulks of low-quality links to a competing site is one of the most common and easiest forms of negative SEO attacks.

The result of such actions is always the same: sudden influxes of malicious links forwarding to your site.

There are two main approaches to spammy link building:

  • The volume approach: Blasting huge numbers of low-quality links on your website.
  • The overly-optimized anchor text approach: Pointing links with an exact-match anchor text at a well-ranking page to create an unnatural anchor-to-text ratio.

As a result, your website is at risk of receiving penalties — either automatically by Penguin or manually by Google’s webspam team.

Luckily for you, it's quite easy to spot both of these kinds of attacks. Now, you can use any convenient website crawling tool that can analyze different types of links that point to your site, backlinks, internal links, etc. For instance, Netpeak Spider not only detects issues related to website linking but also provides viable solutions to them.

Netpeak Spider

Spammy links are impossible to remove, so the only solution here is disavowing them. Make sure you only disavow whole domains if you’re sure none of the backlinks from them are valid.

Fake link removal requests

This is a form of negative SEO where you receive sketchy emails from so-called CEOs who try to convince you, as a website owner, to remove your best links from it. Always remember that losing your best backlinks will result in a massive ranking drop.

What you can do in this situation is learn to detect the signs of a link removal attack and take action immediately to protect your backlinks. If you start noticing that quality backlinks are disappearing from your website, you have to investigate this further.

There should be a proper reason for this, which will tell you this is a legitimate action. For instance, the page might have been removed or redirected. Another reason for that may be updated content.

If there's no particular reason for losing links, it most probably can happen due to a link removal attack. What you should do is reach out to a previously linking site and find out why your link has been removed. This option will help you quickly detect if there was a fake request. Even if there was a legitimate reason behind link removal, they might still consider returning it to the website.

Once you know there's an active fake link removal attack, your actions should be the following:

  • If your link has already been removed, reach out to the sites that have removed it, let them know that the request did not come from you or your company, and ask them to reinstate the link.
  • If the site is still linking, keep track of backlink alerts and take the required action if you notice that more links keep disappearing.

Content scraping

When you see someone copy some website's content and post it on another site, this is a classic case of content scraping. Those scraping your content usually try to get free content and not hurt your site, at least intentionally.

Google doesn’t "like" duplicated content across different websites and typically picks only one version to rank and disregards the rest. However, copying your content with no attribution can be harmful.

You can't always hope that Google will recognize your site as the original one. So, how do you prevent and detect such actions?

The easiest way to find it out is to paste a paragraph from your page into Google's search bar with quotation marks — remember not to exceed the 32-word limit.

You can also verify the status of your links in Google Search Console — you'll need a “Google-selected canonical” feature for that. Paste the URL into the GSC address bar below the Coverage section to access this feature.

You want to see your page's link in the Inspected URL section — those links Google considers the most authoritative ones. If you see another internal link, there's a chance of a duplicate content issue. If there's an external URL there, it's 100% negative SEO.

If you want to minimize content scraping, you should do the following:

  • Ask for an attribution link. If the site has scraped high-quality content from your website and you feel a link from them could boost your rankings, try reaching out to them and asking to add an attribution link to the post that's been scraped.
  • File a DMCA complaint. Make sure there's indeed malicious intent behind content scraping with no chance of getting a canonical attribution link in return. To make Google remove the duplicates, file a DMCA complaint via Google’s DMCA dashboard. Specify each page that copied your site's content.
  • Check the internal linking structure. If the scraped content is identical to yours, it should also point back to your website and contain the same internal links. They won’t bring you link equity, but they can quickly signal that the content is scraped.

False URL parameters

URL parameters are the elements of your page’s URL string. For instance, they're common in eCommerce systems since they help filter and sort pages. URL parameters can cause various indexing issues if you haven't properly configured your website.

One of the easiest ways to spot this kind of negative SEO attack is by checking the Coverage report in GSC. A significant spike in indexed pages could indicate an attack in this case.

The best way to fight such attacks is to take preventive action, like implementing self-referencing canonical tags.

Fake (negative) reviews

Anyone can post a negative review of your product or service, which can rank well in SERP and be seen as a rich result, provided the schema markup is set up properly.

In this case, you should keep track of what shows up in SERPs for your brand reviews and try running a search yourself. Use different locations if you want to make sure you cover local SERPs.

Also, report fake reviews on dedicated platforms if you notice them and if you know they are indeed fake. If it's urgent and the number of fake reviews is extremely high, contact a platform representative or a support team.

Another option here would be encouraging your current clients to leave more reviews voluntarily. The more you have, the more complicated it will be for fake reviews to affect your website's reputation and rankings.

Website hacking

There's no way you can miss a hacker attack on your site. If you feel your website has been compromised, go to the "Security issues" section in Google Search Console to be 100% sure.

Even if you don't face any threats right now, taking preventive measures is your best option to do anyway. Here are some of the most efficient tips to help you out:

  • Install a security plugin and check it for WordPress;
  • Use strong passwords;
  • Keep your CMS and plugins up to date or enable automatic updates.

DDoS attacks

A distributed denial-of-service (or DDoS) attack is another kind of website hacking, yet instead of just messing up your website, these aim to shut it down for good. This is a malicious act to prevent legitimate requests and traffic from accessing your website. Hackers do so by flooding your server or the surrounding infrastructure until the complete exhaustion of its resources.

Another form of a DDoS is the one that doesn’t shut your site down but makes it slower instead. Such attacks worsen the user experience and harm your ranking. In such a case, monitoring incoming traffic and requests helps detect smaller DDoS attacks, while the huge ones shut down the entire website in just a few seconds.

The best way you can prevent yourself from such hacks is to use CDNs, dedicated servers, and other related services with their own DDoS protection solutions. Such services usually offer load balancing and origin shielding as well, which provide the best protection against traffic and / or request spikes on your server.

How To Conduct a Website Audit With Netpeak Spider?

Regular website checkups can prevent you from multiple threats you can stumble upon at any time, as well as detect various security issues that can lead to either hacking or DDoS attacks, negative SEO, etc. In this essence, Netpeak Spider can be of great help.

With this powerful app, you can monitor your website's performance and safety level in real-time, download crawling results in a convenient PDF file, and integrate data from other dedicated services for more efficient data collecting.

Moreover, Netpeak Spider is super-easy to work with. Here's what you have to do to check your site for potential threats and negative SEO attacks:

  • Create a list of URLs you need to check or paste it from a clipboard into the search bar
  • Select all the parameters you have to analyze
  • Click "Start" to launch the crawling process and wait for a couple of moments

Here's a brief description of what else you can do with Netpeak Spider to improve your SEO strategy:

Data filters and segmentation

Netpeak Spider breaks down the crawling insights into dedicated segments and lets you pick only the necessary parameters for crawling and representation. On an interactive dashboard, you can set custom filters and change the data overview for more convenience.

Internal PageRank calculator

The built-in PageRank calculator helps see each page's internal linking. Check out the link weight distribution and detect which ones burn incoming link equity and which ones don't get any of it.

Integrations with Google Analytics and Search Console

The app helps you retrieve data from Google's services (Google Analytics and Search Console) to enrich the analyzed data. Thanks to that, you can access essential insights on traffic, internal / external linking, your page goals, conversion, and other essential eCommerce metrics.


Negative search engine optimization is now an unpopular yet still existing issue website owners stumble upon occasionally. There are various kinds of such activities, from the easiest to complex and sophisticated. Luckily, most of them are curable and don't require much effort to process.

Remember: regular website crawls can help you prevent many potential threats and save your online reputation and search engine rankings. Try Netpeak Spider for that purpose, and you'll see there's nothing complicated in website checkups!