Negative SEO is a marketing bogeyman. It’s the dirty tactic worried and whispered about, but few have seen it. However, with Google’s continuous devaluation of spammy links, negative SEO is definitely a possibility. And that’s scary.

Negative SEO is exactly what it sounds like: SEO tactics that negatively affect your site. It means that someone is sabotaging your site to damage its search ranking.

Negative SEO Tactics

That’s usually done by creating bad links to your site to damage your search visibility. Another dirty tactic is finding your competitions’ great links, creating a fake persona and contacting the webmasters to request the links’ removal. (Kudos to Craig Addyman for his great insight on negative SEO.)

Google Made Negative SEO

Google unwittingly created negative SEO with its Penguin updates that increasingly redefined what makes a good link and what makes a bad link.

In the wild days of SEO, any link helped your site – even if it was from an Asian flower shop totally unrelated to your industry. Now those links will hurt you (unless you happen to be an Asian flower company).

SEO Sabotage is Real

Unfortunately, good links from authoritative sites (like Moz, the BBC, Harvard, etc.) are hard to get.  It is much easier to build bad links to your competition to assassinate their sites than spend time building good links.  If your competitors are desperate and lazy (and don’t have a soul), this is now a very real threat to your website.

4 Ways to Protect Your Site from Negative SEO

Fortunately, there are several ways you can protect your business and your website.

1. Link Alerts

LinkResearchTools (LRT) and Moz have tools to track when new links are built to your site. LRT’s Link Alerts tool goes further by also alerting you to possible negative SEO attacks. Moz’s tool tracks new links as well as brand mentions (more on that in #2).

If you see any links from bad sites, you can quickly contact the linking site and request their removal, or you can add the domain to your disavow file (see #4).  Unfortunately, these tools only track new links, not links that were maliciously removed.  To track removed links, you need to practice regular link management (see #3).

2. Mention Alerts

You should know when and where your brand is mentioned online. This is useful to find linking opportunities, build relationships online by learning who is talking about you, and to know when someone is trashing your brand so you can respond. Since it’s impossible to do this manually, several tools exist to do the job.

TalkwalkerMention, and Google Alerts let you know when and where people are talking about you. They all have their pros and cons.  We use Talkwalker and Google Alerts for more coverage through a weekly email from each.  (Here’s a great article on the pros and cons of each by Ildar Khakimov.)

3. Regular Link Management

If you have a large site that routinely attracts links, you should consistently review your backlink profile to find and remove bad links.  Even if you have a small site you should be reviewing your backlinks at least twice a year because not all negative SEO is intentional.  Sometimes companies inadvertently hurt their sites through sheer ignorance. (Here’s a great Forbes article by Christoph Cemper about intentional and accidental negative SEO.)

So how do you know if someone has been removing your links?  You can use Ahrefs or the Dropped Links option in LRT’s Backlink Profiler and Link Detox to find lost links. Or you can get very technical like Richard Baxter shows in this excellent tutorial.

4. Disavow Tool

So what do you do with bad links? You disavow them. Google knows sites have accumulated a lot of bad links over the years. That’s why they created their Disavow tool.

When you find bad links that are hurting your site, and you’ve tried to remove them but can’t, you can add them to a Disavow file (a text document) and submit it to Google. That tells Google not to count those links against your site. It may take a while for Google to process it, but it will eventually help your site.


Your competition may not fight fair and may use negative SEO to take you down. Make sure you’re doing what you can to protect your site before it’s too late.