Recently, our Chicago SEO clients came to us with a new, and expected problem. Thanks to Google's desire to stop SEO spamming and farming, we now have a new problem. Negative SEO is happening and it’s something that can be used against your business at any time, no matter what industry you are in. This post will help you quickly identify if you’ve been a victim of negative SEO and provides tips on how to overcome it. O
Good SEO vs. Negative SEO
There’s good(positive) SEO and then there’s assassin (negative) SEO. Just like a good comic book character, the super power of SEO can be used for dark purposes; in the same way, negative SEO can be used nefariously and refers to the worst kind of SEO possible:
Negative SEO - The intentional act of over-optimizing or spamming a site in order to lower its rankings in search results.
Good SEO is a highly ethical practice and is based solely on hard work for a strong output. When it’s employed honestly, it helps quality sites with great content to establish well-deserved rankings through following developer best practices and Google’s quality guidelines. It’s also ethical when used to help well-intentioned sites overcome technical barriers such as unintentional duplicate content, crawlability, page speed and other issues.
How Does Negative SEO Occur?
Negative SEO is done primarily through link spamming and farming, usually through Fivrr and SEOClerks gigs. For example, someone may pay an off-shore firm to build 10,000+ links to your site using a key phrase your site is targeting. Please note: if your current agency is doing this with the belief this is going to improve rankings, cancel immediately or you may experience traffic declines similar to this:
How to Tell if You’ve Been Targeted With Negative SEO
Spotting negative SEO is fairly obvious if you’ve never intentionally built links or targeted specific keywords through spam bombing. If you have built links manually through the years using various target keywords, then it may not be as simple. Regardless of how the links have appeared in your profile, here are a handful of things you can do:
- Conduct a backlink analysis, focusing on anchor text using sites like MajesticSEO
- Look for unnatural or suspicious IPs
- Identify any unrelated anchor text (Credit Checks, Pills, Payday, etc.)
- Check Google Webmaster Tools for Manual Penalties
Always keep an eye on what anchor text is being used to link to your site? A detailed backlink analysis should be conducted to help identify which terms link to you the most. There are a number of great tools including Ahrefs, Link Detox, Majestic SEO, Open Site Explorer to help you do this but pay special attention to keyword-rich anchor text. Any links that aren't simply linking with your brand or domain name raise flags and be put on the suspect list.
If your site and target markets are located entirely in the U.S. then you shouldn’t have foreign IPs or non-US TLDs pointing to your site. Tools such as Ahrefs are handy in quickly spotting TLD distributions:
Do you have any nonsense, unrelated anchor terms? This is the biggest problem in the topic and the easiest way to tank a website's SEO. Negative SEO Assassinss often take advantage of all the algorithms associated with certain industries such as PayDay Loans. If a site happens to link to yours using anchor text which includes these terms, your rankings will suffer. We have a local dentist as a client with remarkable payday-related anchor text in hisprofile:
Do you have any Manual Actions/Penalties in Google Webmaster Tools? Here’s what you’ll see if you do:
How to Recover
Future posts will delve further into the complete recovery process but where is the rough and basic path to recover from Google Penalties and the principles are the same:
- Keep in touch with webmasters and remove known bad links (yes this makes us upset too - especially if you’re not the one that built bad links – but Google still wants you to do you best to remove them)
- Use the Disavow Links tool (with extreme caution)
- Submit a reconsideration request (for manual penalties only, for some penalties, it will be difficult to even know your site has penalty)
- Contact Google through the Webmaster Tools Troubleshooter (for algorithmic penalties)
To summarize, know what links are pointing to your site and know what anchor text is being used the most. Be suspect of any anchor text that is highly optimized (focuses on your primary keywords) or especially be on the lookout for completely non-related industry terms (such as payday loans, etc.). Attempt to remove all known bad links and add all [bad domains] to your disavow file in Google Webmaster Tools. Be up front about the issue and be respectful in your communication to Google through the reconsideration request form or troubleshooter and don’t give up, even after several contact attempts.
Procedures which may be involved in the appearance of Sitelinks:
- The number of links pointing to your website’s index page, using the several main keywords of your website as anchor. For example, for my blog, the two main keywords are “Cristian Mezei”, my name, and “SeoPedia” the name of my blog. Sitelinks appear only for a few main keywords, not for every keyword your website ranks for.
- The number of searches and SERP clicks for the main keywords I described above. you have to have a certain number of clicks for that keyword, to be able to reach a minimum requirement for the appearance of Sitelinks. This makes keywords which are not searched enough, to never have Sitelinks. Although some of my coleagues have mentioned that traffic has nothing to do or has everything to do with Sitelinks, I firmly believe that traffic for a particular keyword or keyphrase is very important.
- The number of indexed pages for the keyword you are targeting is also important. Please keep in mind that I am not discussing about the number of indexed pages for your website, but for the number of results shown in Google for that particular keyword.
- The age of the website is definitely an aspect when deciding how and when Sitelinks appear. As far as my tests go, and using a naturally and organically built website (no extensive or forced SEO), you can NOT have Sitelinks if the website is younger than 18-24 months, varying from case to case.
- You have to rank #1 for that particular keyword (and the ranking has to be stable) to be able to have any Sitelinks at all. This is very important and it has been proven true in 100% of times.
Misleading advices about Google SitelinksWhilst many other specialists and/or bloggers from the industry around the Internet have tried to help you figure out some ways to get Sitelinks, I will try to contradict them because some of those advices might not have a contribution to your effort, mainly because they are just too general and my experience says that they could be just loose-ends. Some of these advices might be:
- Making your website W3C valid. This is not a bad thing, but I highly doubt that it will make your website more prone to get Sitelinks. A lot of people have reported building their website with erratic code from 1992, and still having Sitelinks.
- Having links from powerful websites. I doubt that this aspect will help you in getting Sitelinks at all. Have a look at how I see inbound links having an effect, above (in the Procedures section).
- Having a lot of links (generally). I doubt that having tens of thousands of any links will move you up to the ladder, regarding Sitelinks. Whilst links will help I have explained above (in the Procedures section), specifically, in what way they will help.
- Some advices were really something like : “Make the website useful” or “Add Meta tags”. Whilst these are surely helpful for any website, they may have nothing to do with your website getting Sitelinks.
- Having a very well designed navigation menu. There were websites which had erratic or very well designed navigation menus and links within the website and still they all got Sitelinks.
- Pagerank has nothing to do with Sitelinks. There are PR7 and PR2 websites that got Sitelinks.
Vanessa Fox Nude forgotten all important postThe title is just a teaser for Vanessa. She’s had that Nude thing like forever :) For you guys who don’t know Vanessa, she’s been the women who lead the Google Webmasters Central team until she moved to Zillow. In this section I’ll analyze the post she made on her blog right after she left Google. I’m actually amazed to see how I can’t any reactions to this post, since IMHO it’s the most important post about Sitelinks ever. More important than what Google has released and certainly more important then I or my colleagues speculate, simply because she’s been involved in the process of releasing the Sitelinks. Block quotes are quotes from Vanessa’s post:
For instance, if I do a Google search for [duke’s chower house seattle], am I looking for directions? Hours? A menu? Google doesn’t know, so they offer up several suggestions. (Quality aside: a link to the menu shows up in the sitelinks, but if you do a search for [duke’s chowder house seattle menu], that same link doesn’t show up on the first page. In fact, no pages from the Duke’s site show up.)Basically, what Vanessa is telling us is that Sitelinks will NEVER appear for specific search terms. So that’s why we get Sitelinks for “Computers” or “Cristian Mezei” or “HP” or generally, company names as well as very general industry terms.
Other opinions about SitelinksI asked a colleague of mine involved in SEM too, what he thinks about Sitemaps. I thought to put his answer here as well:
Marius Mailat www.submitsuite.comCristian asked me about my opinion regarding Sitelinks. Breaking this question in small parts, here are my thoughts. The sitelink option in the Google results are similar with the siteinfo.xml provided for the Alexa toolbar, a simple option for a webmaster to provide most important direct links to his website structure. Google version of Siteinfo is different because you cannot specify WHICH link in your website is a Sitelink. You can only ask remove one link from the Sitelinks (Google Webmaster panel option). Why are the Sitelinks appearing, when and under which algorithm? The algorithm used is totally automated and is taking in consideration the following criteria’s:
- Old powerful website.
- The sitelinks are pages which are coming on first position in SERPs.
- The sitelinks are most of the time associated with top results related words: “domain”, “domain download”, “domain demo” etc.
- The sitelinks are probably not influenced by PageRank.
Other very useful locations on the web for Sitelinks
- Matt Cutts video about Sitelinks (recommended)
- Google information about Sitelinks
- Search Engine Watch Forum thread about Sitelinks
- Vanessa Fox post about Sitelinks
- WebmasterWorld forum thread about Sitelinks
- Michael Nguyen (SocialPatterns) on Sitelinks
- Wayne Smallman (BlahBlahTech) about Sitelinks
- Jonathan Hochman’s writings about Sitelinks
- Problogger post about Sitelinks
- QuickOnlineTips writes about getting Sitelinks