negative seo

What is negative SEO?

You know you have been subjected to a negative SEO attack when your competitors start doing SEO for your website, breaking every rule in the Google rulebook, and actively try to get you penalized by making it look like you are doing black hat SEO. The first symptom of this attack is that you start noticing a bunch of spammy new websites linking to you, without you asking them to do so. A sudden drop in rankings and traffic can also be an indicator. However, there are many other types of negative SEO attacks which we will discuss here in detail.

Types of Negative SEO Attacks

1. Gaining Access to Your Website and Making Changes from Within

Your competitors may gain access to your website via a security breach or a disgruntled employee. No matter how they do it, once they are in they may make changes to your on-page SEO elements in a way that’s not obvious to the untrained eye. For example, they may remove certain pieces of texts, links, add malicious links, make changes to the robots.txt file, remove some pages and make them go 404, redirect other pages to a different website, the possibilities are endless. Think of every activity you performed in terms of on-page SEO – anyone with access to your website can undo everything you did and make it look like you were using black hat tactics.

What to do if your website is hacked?

The first thing is to gain back control and change passwords as well as revoke site access from everyone except a few key employees. The second step would be to revert your website back to an older version if your content management system allows it. If your content management system does not have this option, you will have to manually undo the damage and go page by page. It would be a good idea to start with pages that suffered a drop in rankings and/or the pages that lost the most traffic as a result of this type of attack.

2. Posting Negative Reviews

While gaining access to your website and harming your on-page SEO elements requires some level of technical expertise, there are negative SEO attacks that just about anyone can carry out. One such attack is posing as customers and posting negative reviews about your service on social media and different websites such as Yelp or G2. The scale of this depends on the resources of your competitors, a few negative reviews may even look original to you but you need to check if the reviews are coming from legitimate customers or not.

How to address negative reviews?

Every website that allows customers to post reviews also allows business owners to reply to said reviews. It is a good idea to not call out every negative review as a tactic by competitor and reply to them on a case to case basis. It is important to be professional and direct in these responses and address all the points mentioned in the review.

3. Asking Sites To Remove Links on Your Behalf

Sometimes competitors can send emails to websites that link to you asking them to take down said links. They can pose as you or someone from your organization. You can detect this only if you notice your backlink profile shrinking and a lot of websites removing links to you.

What to do if you find out someone has been posing as you and asking websites to take down your links?

If this happens, it is a good idea to reach out to websites that you have built relationships with and ask them to ignore any emails coming from email addresses other than yours.

4. Building Spammy Links For You

This has to be the most common negative SEO attack reported by websites. You log into your backlink tracker and see that you just got a bunch of links, may be hundreds or even thousands of links, from spammy websites. These websites are usually part of a link farm created solely for the purpose of selling backlinks in the 2000s. Google has identified most if not all of these websites and penalizes websites that get most of their backlinks from them. The intent behind this types of attack is to get you penalized by Google.

What to do if you notice spammy links in your link profile?

Google is insistent that they are able to detect this type of negative SEO attack and that it doesn’t affect your website, but most SEOs suggest maintaining a disavow list and submitting it to Google periodically to make sure you are in control of your link profile.

Andrew Wilson is an SEO analyst at Rank Genie. He loves to watch movies, listen to podcasts, and plan about launching his own podcast. He has helped the Rank Genie team shape their rank tracker and make it one of the most easy-to-use and SEO friendly trackers out there. You can find his blogs on

Black hat seo stock photo by Maximilian Laschon/Shutterstock