Let me introduce you to my friend Negative SEO. In a nutshell, Negative SEO is basically the exact opposite of search engine optimization. Meaning the intent is to drive search rankings into the toilet instead of increasing search visibility in Google.
You see that massive spike in backlinks toward the beginning of November? As much as I’d like to say that was the day we hit the front page of Hacker News and garnered links from all over the planet, it definitely wasn’t that.
That was the day that someone initiated an intentional malicious attack on our company’s website, wpsitecare.com. There are a number of ways to show that it was malicious, but the easiest way is by looking at the keyword density for our site before and after the attack, and by looking at where the links were coming from. As far as keywords go, it definitely could have been worse. The keywords that we were spammed with weren’t that bad, but they definitely screwed up the goals we had for our site and the things that we wanted to rank for.
Wanna level up your WordPress dev skills?
Come to Florida for 3 days and learn from the best and brightest minds in the WordPress industry!
The bigger issue is the spike in unnatural links from lots of unsavory sources over the course of a few days. That’s a big red flag for google and took our site out for a number of different rankings for over 30 days. Google thought we were trying to cheat the system and penalized us accordingly. It wasn’t good.
While Google claims that that negative SEO is “extremely rare”, there are 28,000,000 results returned when you search for that phrase. If it smells like a rat…
Looking Deeper into Negative SEO
I’m not a technical SEO expert but there are several in-depth studies that have been done that show that negative SEO can definitely be done, and that it’s really not even that hard. It’s even gotten to the point where “white hat” companies are requesting that negative SEO be done in their behalf to squash the competition.
Some of you may remember that my business partner’s podcast and magazine site wpbacon.com was completely wiped out of google search rankings after a massive spam attack last year. It was so bad that he wasn’t able to recover the domain and eventually had to close everything down for good.
Jacob King outlines everything that happened when wpbacon got fried (see what I did there?) in his post The Truth about Negative SEO, and this graphic should give you some pretty good insight into how ugly negative SEO can get.
The technical implications are incredibly ugly but a connection that a lot of people miss when they’re talking about backlinks, and domains, and pagerank, and SERPs, and [insert other SEO jargon here], is that all of these things are tied directly into people’s livelihoods.
The reality is that with the right network and a little knowhow, competitors can be completely wiped off the internet and can lose their entire business.
Loss in Traffic Means a Drop in Revenue
By dropping out of google’s good graces, our company’s bottom line definitely took a hit. It sucked. I couldn’t figure out what was going on with our Google traffic but right at the beginning of November our traffic started on a steady decline and we started slipping for rankings that we had held for a long time previously. I couldn’t figure out what was going on until I looked into our backlink profile and noticed spammy links that matched up exactly with the start of our traffic slowdown.
We’re starting to recover now, but November and December could have been a lot better for us if someone didn’t go out of their way to be dicks on the internet.
Disappointed in the Source
What was more disappointing than anything was what we discovered as we started to dig in and figure out who would have wanted to attack our small business. We’ve always tried to go out of our way and do things on the up and up, so I couldn’t think of why anyone would want to take a direct shot at us. It was really a bummer.
Using some sophisticated techniques we were able to trace back to the source of the spam attack and unfortunately found out that the attack was started by someone within the WordPress community. They did everything through a third-party, an internet hitman of sorts, to try and cover their tracks, but they weren’t quite careful enough and we were able to uncover where everything started.
I’m not going to name any names, and the reason I haven’t shared any of our own keyword data is because I don’t want people searching and speculating and all that. The only reason I even mention it is so that hopefully that person reads this and knows that what they’re doing is impacting the livelihood’s of people and their families.
Everyone on my team has worked our asses off to make it to this point, and having our hard work undone because someone is an insecure coward with no confidence in their own skills and techniques is honestly gut-wrenching.
Where to Go From Here
We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve been able to rebound relatively quickly. Lots of small businesses aren’t so lucky. We had a strong domain before the attack and based on other attacks we’ve seen, we could have been hit a lot harder. It’s still a bummer that it happened, especially from someone that we know, but it does serve as a reminder that the internet is still the Wild West for a lot of folks, so be careful out there.
If you want to learn more about negative SEO, here’s a list of resources that you can refer to, and some things to do if you do get attacked at some point.
- The Moz Blog – Negative SEO: Should You Be Worried? If attacked, what should you do?
- Forbes – Have Mercenaries Been Hired to Torpedo Your Search Rankings?
- Jacob King – The Horror of Negative SEO
- Search Engine Land – Negative SEO from Links – What Can You Do if You’re Hit?
Did you already know about Negative SEO? Have you ever been hit? Would love to hear your experiences in the comments.
Please share this post with other business owners, or even your bosses if you’re an employee somewhere. Negative SEO is a very real thing with a very real impact, and we need to be prepared for when/if it comes. Help spread the word.