How to Clean Up a Negative SEO Attack Using Ahrefs

by Corey Philip
November 29, 2020

100+ Hours Using Ahrefs

40+ Websites Monitored

7 Tools Featured

20 Industry Experts Consulted

The year 2020 has recorded 58 billion unique indexed webpages in Google search. Out of all these webpages, you would want to ensure that your own content is ranking for a larger audience and reach. If this is the case, you may already know about search engine optimization (SEO).

For those who have no clue what SEO means, search engine optimization or SEO is basically the method of improving your content's visibility on a search engine to be the top result when users search for specific keywords on the internet. Data shows that the first five results that will show up on Google's first page results get 67.60% of all the clicks. Having this privilege not only improves your web traffic but also allows you to have a fixed and stable position on the web search results page. Consequently, it gives you more visibility and, ultimately, more profit.

Along with the continuous growth of the web comes the much more likely possibility of encountering negative SEO. Hold your horses—we were just talking about SEO a few seconds earlier, and now we've got "negative" SEO? I'm not trying to confuse you. Negative SEO is a very real thing, which we will be getting into in the next section of this blog post.

What is Negative SEO?

More and more marketers are drastically changing their strategies and desperately thinking of new ways to maintain the number one spot on web searches. Negative SEO comes in handy for competitors who treat the rankings as a game. It is basically unethical and shady sabotage of a competitor's website done by users to acquire a position at the top of the rankings.

Most marketers will only realize that they are dealing with negative SEO when it is already too late, and the damages are already considerably challenging to fix. It is important to be aware of the effects of negative SEO on your site to minimize damage immediately if you ever encounter it in the future. You could end up dealing with the sudden sprout of unrelated links from random sources, bad web traffic changes, and longer loading times for each page on your website. These factors can impact your website's accessibility, appearance, and overall performance. 

There are also times when website owners make the mistake of claiming they are experiencing negative SEO when, in most cases, they actually aren't. That is why it is vital to familiarize yourself with the actual problems you might encounter. In the following sections, I will show you how to identify the real threats and deal with them.

Black Hat vs. White Hat SEO

Back then, marketers would use black hat SEO strategies to get ahead of competitors in the rankings. With the corrupt and shady nature of these tactics, sometimes it can harm your brand than boost it. These techniques would include keyword stuffing, cloaking, spamming links against your website, creating fake social profiles, and using private link networks. The more major and severe kinds of negative search engine optimization can get your website penalized.

On the other hand, white hat SEO strategies are the ethical ways of optimizing a website. Some examples of these tactics are sticking to search engine guidelines and enhancing website performance for audience satisfaction. However, these strategies will take a longer time to complete. White hat strategies are more on long-term goals and improvement, which is why most website owners will lean towards black hat SEO.

What are the different types of Negative SEO?

There are two major types of Negative SEO, on-page, and off-page.

Link Farms

Source: Jacob King

Link farms are a kind of negative off-page SEO that attacks a website without interfering with it from the inside. This is done through excessive link building from sets of websites. These links may be utterly unrelated to your website. Sometimes, it might even include niche keywords to make it look like you're still the one manipulating the site. An example of this phenomenon is shared by the owner of when they experienced a similar set-up. Ultimately, link farms can spam a large number of low-quality links on your site, making it decrease in the ranking and can alter and mess up your anchor text ratio. All of this may possibly result in getting your website penalized. 


The second type of negative SEO is scraping. This is the act of scraping the content on your website and copying it onto other sites, which can badly affect your rankings. In terms of falsely duplicating content, Google will only choose one version to rank and ignore the rest. This can lead to Google prioritizing a duplicate and treating it as your original content. The merits that you should be getting from your content will no longer be given to you. Unfortunately, there may be a possibility that Google will not be able to find the original version, so your site will get demoted. At the same time, the scraper will be the one ranking instead. 

Forceful Crawling

Another type is known as forceful crawling. This is when other people cause heavy server loads on your website. Your site performance is slowed down, and Google will not be able to get a hold of your site. Some site owners might not immediately notice this happening. That is why it is incredibly vital to track the site's speed, CTRs, and bounce rates for any irregularities. Suppose your website is no longer available or has been crashing despite several attempts to load it. In that case, Google will automatically de-rank your website. As a result, your domain's credibility and authority score will be negatively affected.

Malicious Reviews

Source: BrightLocal

Other times, your competitors can even use fake and malicious reviews to manipulate your SEO ranking. While good reviews can significantly increase your search engine optimization ranking, negative reviews can decrease your ranking. These bad reviews take away great opportunities for exposure because 84% of people rely on online reviews for their decisions online. Letting your competitors leave fake reviews can damage your ranking and your brand's reputation. 

SEO Hackers

UK National Health Services website defaced by hackers in 2018. Source: BBC.

Moving on to negative on-site SEO, these are typically done through hacking into your website and modifying your content. An average of 30,000 websites get hacked every day, so encountering this problem may be more common than you think and comes with grave repercussions. Your website's ranking can experience damaging consequences after a case of hacking and malware. Hackers can input low-quality content. They can replace, add, or even remove links. This, as a result, can create a bad image of your website on Google and your rankings when your website gets tagged as hacked.

What are the necessary steps needed to protect your website from Negative SEO?

Fortunately, possible threats can be prevented or eliminated with a few simple steps. The first step would be to create a recovery plan. Identify the specific type of negative SEO that attacked your website. Knowing the different types of negative SEO and identifying which ones affect your website can set your priorities straight. You can then formulate a process that can put an end to the attacks. Google also provides security issues that website owners can check.

A specific action that you can take is to check your backlinks to detect any link that may be labeled as spam. Keeping track of backlinks is made more accessible to a great degree by Ahrefs with its backlinks alert option. The backlink checker provided by Ahrefs is known as the second most active web crawler with the best backlink database on the internet. Through this, you can easily monitor or oversee the growth and decline of your backlink profiles, monitor estimated organic traffic, see the complete breakdown of outbound links, and many more in-depth analysis features.

After detecting any toxic links, you can upload a disavowed links file through the Ahrefs Site Explorer. After having experienced the consequence of getting hit by a link-based penalty, you can recover quickly by attempting to remove these toxic links through the disavow tool. Basically, this is done by simply adding your website to the dashboard. You can immediately have access to this extremely easy-to-use and beneficial tool. It allows website owners to have more command over the links that Google is ranking. Some of which you may not recognize. Just upload the list, and Google will remove them for you. 

For scraping problems, Copyscape can be a great tool that can find duplicates of your website. You can use Copyscape for free, but you will only be able to search for duplicates with a limited number of tries. On the other hand, a Copyscape premium account can allow you to check about a thousand URLs for a low and affordable price. However, removing duplicates will not be an immediate and fast process. Filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) can be possible through Google's legal help resource. Make sure to fill out all the details and mention every necessary information to be taken down immediately.

Another thing you can do is to check your site's search traffic and ranking. The most important keywords on your website can be monitored through Ahrefs' Rank Tracker. This tool can help you increase your search traffic as well as your competitors' state for reference. There are multiple ways to use this tool. You can either list each keyword with a comma, copy and paste your own list, or upload your own txt or CSV file. What's more, this tracker can rank and collect data from around 170 countries for more convenient and effective access to the needed data. This comes in handy if you aren't being attacked just yet, as you can watch out for any abnormalities in your analytics. With the information, you can figure out if something is happening and lessen the damage immediately.

You can also keep an eye on any sudden and sketchy drops in your website's speed through the Google PageSpeed Insights. This tool is very helpful in testing the speed of your site for any unexpected changes. You can discover any problems that may cause the website's poor performance and avoid the chances of negative SEO like forceful crawling. 

Severe hacking cases can lead to your website getting blacklisted by Google, and further hack attempts can still emerge even after an initial site cleanup. For severe hacking and malware cases, it is crucial to consider having a great cyber-defense that should prevent hackers from getting a hold of your website. Figure out your website's weaknesses and make use of tools and plugins like Detectify and CyberScanner to keep an eye on any suspicious activity on your website. Aside from that, keeping your website software up-to-date can ensure the safety of your site and content.

Takeaway: You Can Fight Back Back Against Negative SEO

Dealing with negative search engine optimization is a problem that no website owner would want to deal with. It cannot be avoided. That is why it is essential to be aware of these problems and take the necessary actions to prevent your search engine rankings' total collapse. Although Google has recently been taking the necessary actions to lessen negative SEO damage, it will not hurt to have back-up plans. Investing intelligently in smart SEO for your website can both prevent and minimize the damage. Using tools like Ahrefs can allow you to prevent any potential threat and help you recover from existing problems, which will indeed be rewarding in the long run. It is better to be prepared instead of being completely helpless in the face of a negative SEO attack.

About the author

Corey Philip

Corey Philip is a small business owner / investor with a focus on home service businesses.

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