Not all “black hat tricks” are negative SEO, but all negative SEO consist of black hat tricks.
In the world of optimizing your website(s) and web presence, there are ethical ways to use SEO and not-so-ethical ways. For super newbies, “SEO” is basically an evolving set of best practices search engines, like Google, use to “rank” websites. For example, If someone Googles “gourmet dog baker Phoenix” and you own a gourmet dog bakery in Phoenix, you want your company website to be on the first page of Google.
So, how does it get there? By following good, current SEO practices. However, there’s a seedy underbelly to the world of SEO involving “cheats” known as “black hat tricks” that can encompass negative SEO.
The worst part? You might be the victim of negative SEO without knowing it.
The Many Sides to Negative SEO
There are two camps of negative SEO: Black hat tactics whether you know it’s “wrong” or not, and when outsiders target your online presence in order to lower your rankings. Let’s look at the first group.
First, understand there are no shortcuts for quality SEO. It requires high quality, organic content with keywords naturally peppered throughout, clean layouts, minimum ads, high quality links and fast load pages (among many other things).
Some so-called SEO professionals might promise you the top Google spot for your keywords—this is a red flag. Nobody can guarantee that. They might also promise you shortcuts that will up your rankings overnight. This is either a lie or it’s true in the short term but not ethical. Search engines are constantly crawling through websites to check for SEO quality and you will eventually get caught (and penalized). And remember, once you get on Google’s bad side, it’s hard to recover.
Common black hat tricks that double as negative SEO include:
Duplicate Content: It makes sense to buy a bunch of complementary domains and then have your website’s content plastered on all of them, right? Wrong. Duplicate content is a big SEO mistake, is easy to catch, and you’ll probably get a penalty.
Keyword Stuffing: You know which keywords your customers are searching for, so you want to stuff them in there wherever you can. In the case of the gourmet dog bakery, a sentence might read as, “This Phoenix gourmet dog bakery is the leading gourmet dog bakery in Phoenix serving gourmet dog bakery treats to Phoenix pet owners looking for the best gourmet dog bakery in Phoenix.” It’s awkward, obviously spammy and—once again—easy to catch.
Low Quality Links: Everything to do with SEO is quality over quantity. The more high authority links you have connected to your site, the better, but these are difficult to come by. For example, if the Humane Society links to your doggie bakery, that’s a very high quality link. However, if you have timeshare “deals” in Mexico linking to you, that’s irrelevant and obviously spam. Don’t be a link collector.
This is just a smattering of black hat tactics that don’t work—actually, they work against you. However, what has more website owners considered is the type of negative SEO they might not even know about.
Negative Nancy’s from the Outside
It’s more common than you think: Maybe one of your competitor’s isn’t happy about your recent string of successes or maybe someone has a grudge against you. They can embark on negative SEO attacks without you finding out until much later, or maybe even never.
There are a few ways outsiders can do this:
Bad Linking: Bad links have struck again, but this time it’s an outsider purposefully linking spam sites or irrelevant content to your site. However, you’re going to be the one suffering no matter who’s behind the linking. Your best defense is to keep up with your SEO, know what links are in effect, and remove any that aren’t doing you favors.
Dummy Sites: You might stumble across a “dummy site” that has a very similar domain to yours and is either a spam site or duplicate content. Your competitors might be savvier with SEO than you give them credit for.
False Reviews: Every business has a few not so great negative reviews, but it’s much easier to post a review than have it taken down. Somebody with an ax to grind can flood popular review sites with negative, false reviews in order to tear down your reputation and make sure those negative remarks pop up when customers search for your keywords. Sometimes you can have these reviews removed, especially if they’re abusive or clearly fake, but other times it’s better to bury them with honest, positive reviews from customers.
Negative SEO is sometimes unavoidable, but you can fight back. Your best tool? A professional SEO expert who has the skills, tools and knowledge to boost your reputation.