Negative SEO: How to Prevent and Recover

We are amidst a major digital revolution. More and more businesses are competing online, and search rankings have become more crucial than ever. The competition in the SEO industry is increasing significantly. And it implies the marketers come up with new SEO strategies and hacks every day.
Previously some companies have also been utilizing unethical black hat SEO strategies. But, as Google gears up to track and penalize black hat SEO, many have resorted to ‘negative SEO.’
But is negative SEO effective? Are search engines making efforts to punish negative SEO practitioners? How can I safeguard my business from it?
Let’s take all your questions step-by-step. Read on to learn:

  • What is Negative SEO?
  • What are the Different Types of Negative SEO?
  • How to find if your site is suffering from Negative SEO?
  • How to Prevent a Negative SEO Attack on Your Website
  • What are the steps to follow if your site falls victim to a Negative SEO attack?
  • FAQs on Negative SEO

What is Negative SEO

As the name suggests, negative SEO is an unethical SEO practice. People practice it to wreck a competitor’s search engine rankings. Or when they wish to outrank their competitors or plan an act of revenge.

Does Google Acknowledge the Existence and Effectiveness of Negative SEO Techniques

Here is what John Mueller from Google says –
“We work hard to prevent these things from causing any problems. We work hard on our algorithms to recognize this kind of problem and catch them ahead of time. In practice, I rarely see any issues around that. When I do see an issue where I think that maybe this is created by a competitor, then usually the team is willing to look into the details and see what happened there and make sure that this isn’t an issue that is artificially causing problems for a website.”

Google has also launched the Disavow Tool to enable webmasters to fix negative SEO.
However, recovering from negative SEO isn’t simple, and the tool takes 2 - 10 weeks to offer results. And that, too, if there are no loopholes in the analysis and reporting. It is better to safeguard your website from negative SEO than fix it.

Should a Business Dread Negative SEO

Yes, Negative SEO exists. And there are thousands of freelancers and websites offering negative SEO services. Moreover, numerous black hat SEO forums display stories from people who provide and have succeeded in their negative SEO efforts.
Several websites have fallen victim to negative SEO in the past. And therefore, it is something worth your attention. Plus, fixing negative SEO on your main website is challenging and labor-intensive.
Becoming a victim of negative SEO makes it harder for you to regain your previous rankings. Negative SEO also affects your business reputation. And this can have a significant impact on your conversion potential and sales.
Let us move on to the next section to understand negative SEO types.

What are the Different Types of Negative SEO

1. Using Toxic Backlinks and Spammy Anchor Texts

It is the most common Negative SEO technique. People use link farms and private blog networks (PBN) to wreck competitors’ rankings.
A link farm is a group of websites that interlink to each other to grow their link popularity. Unethical SEO practitioners used link farms as a black hat SEO technique previously. It helped them grow a website’s domain authority and rankings in less time.
However, after Google’s Penguin algorithm, in 2012, Google was able to track link farming. And it started penalizing the websites using link farming and PBN for growing their DA.
Therefore, it shifted from a black hat SEO technique to a negative SEO technique. People pay unethical practitioners to link these link farms with their competitors.
For example, you’ll see thousands of link builders on BlackhatWorld who can build spammy and PBN links really quickly.
Hundreds of freelancers on the internet offer link farming negative SEO services. They combine link farming with spammy anchor texts to make black hat efforts look obvious. Thus, making competitors more vulnerable to a search engine penalty.

How to Shelter your Business against Toxic Backlinks?

You can implement several ways to prevent the above type of negative SEO attacks. These include:

a) Tracking your Overall Backlinks Profile

You can manually check for spammy links pointing to your site using Ahref or SEMRush. It can be a lengthy process, and it is better to use a tool like -
This tool helps you set email alerts for any change in your backlink profile. It will help you monitor if new backlinks point to your website through email alerts.
Once you create your account on this tool, you will need to connect it with your Google Analytics account. You can then set up the frequency or preference of the email alerts you receive.

b) Tracking Unusual Spike in your Inbound Links

You can check any link-related negative SEO attacks attempted on your site. Various SEO tools help you analyze your backlink profile. One such tool is SEO SpyGlass, which offers many features to scrutinize Negative SEO attempts.
An essential feature of this tool is the progress graph. You can analyze the progress graph of your backlinks and referring domains through it.
It will clearly show the number of links created at a particular time or period.
Now, if you aren’t investing in any heavy link-building activities and you notice an unusual peak in your inbound links, you need to scrutinize your backlink profile.
The same SEO SpyGlass tool allows you to analyze your backlinks and referring domains. Check if there are any spammy links, and if found, you need to tidy up the profile. Add these links to the disavow file, and later on export this file to submit it to Google’s Disavow tool.

2. Scraping a Website’s Content

Another popular negative SEO technique involves scraping a website’s content and representing the original content as duplicate content. In this case, search engines rank the content that gets indexed first.
In this technique, the scrapers copy your website content as soon as it is published. And then post the content right away on a scraper site. Now, if Google indexes the ‘stolen’ content first, your site is booked for content duplication. As Google launched the Panda update to punish duplicate content, it de-ranks your site.
It will affect your website’s ranking power and authority, thus sabotaging your rankings.

How to Shelter your Business against Scraping and Falsifying Duplicate Content technique?

There are several plagiarism checking tools available online. One popular tool is Copyscape, which allows you to check if someone has stolen your website content.
You can simply add the URL of your content page that you wish to check for content theft. If you find any piece stolen, try to connect with the webmaster and ask them to remove it. If you don’t receive a valid response, report it via Google’s copyright infringement report.
You can do this practice regularly and whenever you publish any new content. It will also help you make sure that your content team isn’t following unethical practices. Often, the writers you hire may produce duplicate content for your business. And it can significantly affect your rankings.

3. Defaming a Business with Fake Reviews

Encouraging positive reviews is a crucial positive SEO strategy. But, your jealous competitors may try to defame your business by posting fake negative reviews.
Bulk negative reviews can be critical for your business reputation and ranking power. Search engines notice the social signals on your website, impacting your rankings. Therefore, bulk negative reviews would result in decreased rankings. Moreover, it will eventually affect your sales and conversions.
One can easily find a paid freelancer willing to bombard a business with negative reviews. And your business can easily fall victim to this negative SEO attack. Therefore it is essential to safeguard your business from fake negative social signals.

How to Shelter your Business against Fake negative Reviews?

You need to have a well-established feedback generation strategy. And you need to keep an eye upon the reviews your business gains on various listing sites. So, check for fake reviews on GMB and popular local listings regularly.
You can make the tracking process easy by employing reputation management tools. Google Alerts lets you create email alerts for your brand mentions on the web and social media.
There are various other tools like Mention, BuzzSumo, etc., to track any fake review activity. Some tools help you track any such activity in the past and sort negative reviews readily.
So, when someone mentions your brand in a fake negative review, you can report it. You might need to connect with the owners of listing sites if there are any such attempts.

4. Putting a Website’s Server Down through Heavy-crawling

A competitor might try to de-rank your website in the search engines by heavy crawling. In this hack, the practitioner tries to put your server down by forcefully crawling your site. Or he might send thousands of requests per second to the server to increase its load.
This practice will increase your website’s loading time and will finally crash your site. The frequently your site crashes due to this attack, the greater it will influence your rankings.
Whatever may be the kind of errors or hacks they induce on your site, will create a negative vibe among users.
It will adversely affect your website’s user experience. And it will eventually result in a drop in the conversion rate.

Relevant : Why Should Startups Businesses Focus on UX?

How to Shelter your Business against Heavy Crawling?

It is advisable to monitor your website’s loading time and server uptime regularly. Tools like GTMetrics and Pingdom will help you with the same.
Prioritize and fix the major issues immediately.
Further, you can create email alerts on Pingdom to update you when your server is down.
If your server is down, you can connect with your hosting provider or webmaster. They will tell you whether the extra load is owing to organic traffic or a negative SEO attack. They can also suggest you the right solution to this problem and maybe fix it themselves.

5. A Hacking and Malware Attack on Your Website

You would never wish to risk your website’s security. A malware attack can adversely affect your site rankings and data. Hackers can introduce many changes to your website; they can:

  • Add new spammy links to your website;
  • Replace your important backlinks;
  • Create duplicate content;
  • Manipulate your robots.txt file; So, perform regular SEO audits to keep a check on it.
  • Modify your site architecture.

All these changes will wreak your presence on the web.
It is challenging to recover your website from a crucial hacking and malware attack. It can adversely destroy your ranking power and domain authority. Therefore, it is better to prevent it.

How to Shelter Your Business against Hacking and Malware Attack?
a) Build a robust security

Firstly, you must ensure you incorporate robust security for your website.

  • It should have secure authentication & authorization for users.
  • One should imply encryption data standards and create regular data backups.
  • With this, you should update the antivirus to prevent any malware attack.
  • The passwords used should be strong and inimitable.

b) Perform a regular website audit

There are several free and paid website audit tools, which can help you with a site audit. Ensure you perform regular audits to track any subtle changes or threats in the website. In case you notice some changes, connect with the webmaster early to stop a hacking attack.
Above are the key negative SEO tactics that spammers generally utilize. However, spammers may use some other negative SEO tactics combined with the ones listed above. Along with link farming, spammers use multiple redirects and content mixing tactics. With this, backlink theft and social media defaming are some other tactics.

How to Find If Your Site Is Suffering from Negative SEO

Now, it can be challenging to easily judge if a website is suffering from Negative SEO or not. However, one needs to regularly invest a certain amount of effort to track any possible attack.
If your website is suffering from a negative SEO attack, you might witness:

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1. A Significant or Sudden Drop in Rankings

But you would have to analyze the real reason for the drop. To find the reason, you might need to:

  • Do your website audit;
  • Check your backlink profile and referring domains;
  • Check any content duplication errors;
  • Check if there is any Google Penalty;
  • Check your listing profiles and GMB for any fake negative reviews;
  • Contact Google Webmaster and check Google Analytics
  • Check if there is any new algorithm update from Google;

2. An Increase in Website-loading Time

It can be owing to many reasons. And you can do a website audit to check the reason. You can also contact Google Webmaster and your hosting provider to know the actual reason. It can be due to maintenance, increased organic traffic, or a negative SEO attack.

3. Frequent Website Crashes

Frequent website crashes occur due to increased load on the server. Google Webmaster or your hosting company will help you find the actual reason. However, if the site crashes are too often, it can be owing to a negative SEO attack. Someone pushing thousands of requests per second to your server will result in a drop.

4. An Evident Hacking and Malware Attack

If your website security is not that robust, jealous competitors can take advantage of it. They can hire hackers to find a way into your website and wreck your SEO adversely.
Generally, a website hack and malware are evident. However, you may witness an early hack through a regular website audit routine. Or you might be made aware through an alert from Google Webmaster.

How to Prevent a Negative SEO on Your Website?

1. Monitor Your Backlinks and Referring Domain

As aforementioned, link farming and PBN are the most common negative SEO strategies. And therefore, it is crucial to shield your business against spammy, low-quality links.
It is advisable to monitor your backlink profile for all new link gains regularly. There are many tools to check your backlink profile and referring domains. Ahref and Ubersuggest are the two popular ones.
With this, you can check the quality of the links and disavow links that are built as a part of negative SEO.
But, it can be a little tiring to check your backlink profile daily. And a tool like can help you set up alerts to track backlinks easily.
Just create your account and link this tool with your Google Analytics. And it will help you track your backlinks. You can set up email alerts for every new backlink gained or a backlink you lose.

You can choose the preference and frequency for these email updates. It is a simple way to stay notified about any backlink-related negative SEO activity.

Image: An email alert example from

2. Conserve your Main Backlinks

Every business invests plentiful effort in gaining high equity backlinks. And these links are significantly valuable for a website’s search engine rankings.
Now, jealous competitors will try to steal or remove these inbound links. Spammers offering negative SEO will try to connect with the owners of these links. And disguise them with your name, requesting them to remove the backlink.
You can prevent these type of negative SEO attacks by:

a) Using your official domain-centric email address:

Make sure you use a domain-centric email address for each of your link-building activities. Using a Gmail or Yahoo email address makes it easy for spammers to impersonate you.

b) Add tags to your main backlinks:

You can employ the tool mentioned above (Monitor Backlinks) to track your main backlinks. The tool allows you to create tags for your most valuable links. You can use these tags to sort your main backlinks simply. It helps you check their status at one go every time you monitor your backlink profile.

3. Stay Updated with Alerts from Google Webmaster Tools

Now, as you monitor your website areas that are vulnerable to negative SEO, Google Webmaster Tools can help you stay notified.
You just need to connect your website with Google Webmaster Tools. And enable email notifications in the “Webmaster Tool Preferences” tab. Select ‘All Types of Issues’ in your email notification preferences.
In the new GSC, Go to User Settings, enable email notifications for preferred information.
Google Webmaster Tools will keep you notified through email alerts whenever:

  • Your server response is slow, or there are any connective issues
  • Your website receives a manual penalty from Google
  • Your website encounters a malware attack
  • Your webpages fail to index

With this, you can contact Google Webmaster if your server drops or the website crashes. They should be able to update you with the exact reason for the issue.

4. Keep track of your Social Signals on the Web and Social Media

A common negative SEO tactic is to bombard a business with fake negative social signals. To prevent such an attack, you need to monitor your social signals closely.
If you have a presence over limited listings and social platforms, you can monitor reviews manually. However, it is better to use a tool to track your brand mentions on the internet.
Various free and paid tools allow you to set up email alerts for your brand mentions online. For example, a tool like Awario sends you daily and weekly email alerts about your brand mention on all social media platforms.
Based on the tool you choose, you can:

  • Define the terms you want to track the mentions for (or set email alerts for);
  • Set up email alert preferences;
  • Choose the platforms you need alerts for (social media, forums, listing sites, blogs);
  • Check the previous mentions on social media, forums, and other listing platforms;

Sort the negative, positive, and neutral reviews about your brand.

5. Upgrade Your Website Security against Hacking and Malware Attack

Hacking and malware attacks can wreck your rankings and online presence. And the aftermath of such a negative SEO attack can leave your website devastated. You can lose your best backlinks and witness new spammy links and duplicate content.
Therefore, it is crucial to shield your website against such hacking and malware attacks.
There are various important security parameters like:

  • Ensuring secure authorization and authentication access –
    You can install Google Authenticator Plugin for your WordPress website. It offers a 2-step verification password for added authorization security. And you can only log in to your website after adding a unique Google Authenticator code.
  • Ensuring end-to-end encrypted data with a regular database backup
  • Preventing malware attack using updated antivirus (consult with your hosting provider)
  • Employ only trusted 3rd party plugins

6. Check For Any Content Scraping Attempt

Search engines penalize duplicate content, and spammers try to benefit from this practice. They can steal your original content and publish it on a scraper website.
If you add a new page and scrapers are quick to steal it, they may get it indexed first. It makes your content seem duplicated to search engines (despite its originality). And they may penalize your website and rankings for this same content.
To prevent this, you need to monitor your content for its uniqueness regularly. Copyscape is a common tool that can help you check if someone copies your content. You can simply enter the URL of the content page you wish to check. And the tool will produce the result for content uniqueness. Thus, it will list down the scraper sites (if any).
You can follow this practice whenever you update or publish new content on your website.

7. Check For Loopholes in Your SEO Strategy

Ensure you follow ethical SEO practices that are compliant with Google’s guidelines. It is better to check for any loopholes in your SEO strategies. There can be issues like:

  • Abounding inbound links from low-quality or spammy websites
  • Duplicate content or no use of canonical tags wherever required
  • For instance, users may search with the following URLs as they know it’s the same, but for search engines, they are different.
  • Paid links from a private blog network
  • Spammy anchor texts or excessive use of transactional anchor texts
  • Links from your site pointing to spammy websites
  • Following a paid review strategy
  • Producing low-quality content with keyword stuffing, thus making it look spammy
  • Practicing some sort of grey hat SEO tactics

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8. Track your Website Performance

Tracking your website performance helps you stay notified about the heavy crawling attacks. Moreover, a website audit schedule can help you detect any hacking or malware attempts.
Spammers employ forceful crawling tactics to reduce website speed by increasing the server’s load. It may also result in a website crash.
Pingdom is a reliable tool to track slow responses from the server. You can set up email alerts on this tool to stay updated when the server is down. And in any such event, you can contact your hosting provider to learn the actual reason. It can be owing to maintenance, a surge in organic traffic, or a heavy crawling attack. The hosting provider will further help you fix the performance issue.

What Are the Steps to Follow If Your Site Falls Victim to a Negative SEO Attack

1. Report a Scraper for Duplicate Content

Scraping is one of the most common negative SEO strategies. And despite Google’s attempt to identify these sites, scraping persists. If you find any of your content stolen by a scraper site, you can follow these steps:

  • You can file copyright via Google’s copyright infringement report.
  • You can connect with the host requesting them to take down the content. To find the host, you can use
  • Try connecting with the website owner and ask him to remove the duplicate content.
  • You might want to send a ‘Cease and Desist’ letter to the website owner, asking them to remove the content.

2. Flag Fake Negative Reviews on GMB

If your business is attacked with bulk fake negative reviews, you need to get them removed. It can cause a reputation crisis and result in a drop in rankings and conversions.
So, if you discover such fake negative reviews on GMB, you can report or flag them on GMB. If you encounter fake reviews on other listings, you need to contact the platform owner. And you need to request them through email or their platform to remove these. Some paid listings allow businesses to report fake reviews directly through the platform.

3. Analyze and List Down the Backlinks to be Removed

One of the most critical negative SEO attacks is through link farming or PBN. You need to analyze and create a list of all these bad backlinks.
As soon as you come across a negative SEO attack, analyze your link profile for bad links. Screen these bad links and create a complete list of these links to be removed. There might be links that you are hard to judge but seem unnatural; add these to the list. Finalize this list, and the next step is to get these backlinks removed as fast as possible.

4. Plan a Strategy to Remove These Backlinks

Now, to remove the spammy links, you can connect with these scraper site owners. You can request them to remove these spammy links. To find the site owner’s contact, you can use - For example, Techiknows is a PBN site that is used only for link building purposes. It has no official contact address or email id on its site as a group of SEOs maintains it. So, you can easily find it on
You need to look for the “Registrant email.”
Send the request from your domain-centric ([email protected]) email address. If they do not respond to your mail or do not agree to your request, try contacting the host. A host can help you get the links removed.
To find the hosting provider of these spammy sites, use -
Only if these actions don’t work, move to the next step.

5. Disavow Links to Google Webmaster Tools

Another way to get the spammy backlinks removed from your site is through Disavow Tool. If you receive a manual penalty owing to a negative SEO attack, you need to use this tool.
The first step is to create a disavow list. You can use the SEO SpyGlass to disavow selected links and prepare the disavow list. Then you need to submit this disavow list to Google Disavow Tool. Here, Google will check and remove these links for you.

FAQs on Negative SEO

Question 1: Do SEO experts and consultants regularly come across negative SEO attacks?

Answer: One should know that negative SEO exists. And several spammers and freelancers are offering these types of services. However, ‘successful’ negative SEO attacks are not that frequent.
Grey hat techniques and low-quality content on your website can hurt you more than a small negative SEO attack. And in many cases, websites are a victim of their internal SEO strategies. Their rankings drop owing to a mild penalty from Google.

Question 2: What are the most common types of Negative SEO attacks?

Answer : Unethical freelancers and spammers generally use link farming techniques. They wreck a website’s DA by producing bulk spammy links pointing to the site. Spammers also create redirects from several bad websites to the victim websites. It increases the effectiveness of the negative SEO attack.

Content theft and content mixing are also common. Spammers add content from spammy and porn websites to the original content. And they can point canonical tags from the scraper sites to the original content. Some typical cases include a blend of spammy links, content mixing, and redirects.

Question 3: Is it necessary to regularly monitor and shield your website against Negative SEO attacks?

Answer : Yes. Though negative SEO attacks are not frequent, some carry potential risk. Moreover, preventing negative SEO attacks is better than recovering from a crucial attack.
Hacking and malware attacks can critically destroy your link profile and website authority. And it is challenging to recover from such an attack.
Further, if you have a big ecommerce website, negative SEO can cause bigger damage. Content theft, link-farming, and content mixing attacks can wreck your overall authority. Fixing such attacks on hundreds of pages will involve plentiful efforts.

Question 4: Is it convenient to use Google Disavow Tool when you track a negative SEO attack?

Answer : Google Disavow Tool takes up to 2 to 10 weeks to check and fix an issue. And it is generally used when you receive a manual penalty due to a negative SEO attack. Your website might stay down for this entire time, which is almost a month.
In cases of small negative SEO attacks, it is advisable to use other fixing methods. As when you report an attack to Disavow tool, Google is likely to do an entire website audit. It can highlight some self-made loopholes in your website, which may be critical to you. In many cases, businesses use Google Disavow Tool as a last resort.

Question 5: What is the success rate of negative SEO strategies?

Answer : I hope any wrong intentions do not inspire this question, but it is a common query. The general success rate of negative SEO tactics is low. And Google has constantly been trying to cut down on all the unethical SEO practices. And it has been successful so far.
Negative SEO will soon lose its existence as search engines become more strict and smarter.

Related : Deadly Mistakes to Avoid While Doing SEO for a Website

Summing Up

As we conclude this article, we must understand that negative SEO is effective. You cannot let spammers sabotage your hard-earned rankings using a negative SEO attack.
It is advisable to follow the above tips to prevent such an attack. Recovering your website from the aftermath of an attack is challenging.
A manual penalty can cause your website to disappear in the SERPs. And therefore, the best you can do is avoid a negative SEO attack.
One should also make sure that his website doesn’t fall victim to his SEO strategy. You may have jealous competitors, but do not intentionally make enemies online. Hundreds of spammers are waiting online to cash upon your enmity.
If you locate an attack, be quick to follow the recovery steps listed above. Your promptness and alertness can disable the negative SEO attack from wreaking havoc on your site.
It is advisable to hire the right SEO consultant who can:

  • Shelter your business against any negative SEO attack;
  • Help you stay updated about any unnatural activity critical to your online presence;
  • Guide you if a negative SEO attempt is detected to avoid a manual Google penalty;
  • Help you recover from a negative SEO attack as fast as possible.

Google has been gearing up to track any negative SEO activity automatically. It has successfully hunted and punished several negative SEO attempts so far. However, spammers can still locate some leaks into the SEO ecosystem. Search engines will soon make negative SEO a thing of the past.

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Joseph Schneider

He has spent more than 12 Years in strategising and executing SEO campaigns. He is interested to writing Digital-marketing, PPC and Social Media Marketing related topics.