Is Negative SEO Illegal?
When you're doing business on the internet, you always have to be aware of the possibility of negative SEO.
This is when someone tries to harm your website's ranking by using black-hat techniques like spamming links or creating fake reviews.
But is negative SEO illegal? And what can you do to protect yourself from it?
In this blog post, we'll take a closer look at negative SEO and what you can do to fight back.
What Is Negative SEO
Negative SEO is the practice of targeting a site with spammy, artificial links in order to diminish its search engine ranking.
Nowadays, more and more internet marketers are starting to rely on their Google rankings for attracting new business. However, negative SEO is alarming because it is just one of several tactics used by black-hat internet marketers to stifle the competition.In other words, negative SEO is a real threat to every site that is trying to build organic traffic from Google.
Fake Link Removal Requests
One of the most popular negative SEO tactics is using fake link removal requests. This is when an internet marketer is trying to get a competitor's backlinks removed by filing a fake DMCA complaint. The only thing you have to do is file a counter notice saying that you, in fact, did not violate copyright laws, and the backlinks will be restored. This is a great method of combating negative SEO because it is easy and is often successful.
Unfortunately, this is just one variation of this tactic. Sometimes perpetrators take this a step further, create branded email addresses and reach out to some of your best backlink placements asking for your hard-earned link to be removed.
Black Hat Forum Spam
Negative SEO can also be carried out by simply spamming links on black-hat forums that are related to your niche.
For example, let's say you are running a website that is dedicated to vintage sports cars. You might end up on some black-hat forums where internet marketers are trying to sell their products by posting links to your website.
This is obviously negative SEO because the links are not natural - they are being posted by someone trying to get you penalized or at least reduce your rankings.
Using duplicate content is another common way of performing negative SEO. Although there is nothing illegal about publishing duplicate content, this is still a questionable practice because Google will devalue your website if it is outranking you for the same content.
Real World Example
Most recently, on one of my outreach campaigns - I came across a prospective client who by their own admission was "in great need of technical SEO help" particularly with reference to a backlink audit. With a quick glance in Ahrefs, the target site didn't seem to be the victim of a negative SEO attack. In fact, there were very few spammy backlinks to be concerned with.
Fast forward 3 hours and the use of 4 different SEO tools. I discovered an influx of 35k porn/escort backlinks.
Let's dive into how you can check for negative SEO attacks or a Google penalty.
Checking for Negative SEO & Spam Links
Look, I hate to disappoint you.
There is no silver bullet solution for detecting the typical negative SEO attack.
But there are a few tools you can use to do basic checks and auditing of your website.
And I'll try and provide tutorials on how this is done.
Google Search Console
Previously known as Google Webmaster Tools, this is a free tool provided by Google.
Ahrefs is an SEO tool that can pull a huge amount of data on both your organic and PPC traffic, including the number of backlinks pointing to your site.
Another SEO tool is SEMrush. It is designed to help search marketers with PPC research, organic research, keyword tracking and competitor analysis. SEMRush has a lovely inbuilt functionality called Toxic Backlink Audit tool. Or maybe it's just the Backlink Audit tool, they've rebranded it a few times.
Screaming Frog is an SEO tool designed for analysing the structure of a website and is very effective when it comes to identifying spammy links.
Although not a straight SEO tool, Google Analytics is definitely one of my favourites and is great for showing you the organic traffic/landing pages that your site is getting.
Preventing Negative SEO On Your Website
There are several common-sense steps that you can take to help prevent negative SEO.
1) Understand The Importance of White Hat Link Building in 2022
White hat link building is the process of building links without breaking Google's guidelines. Such links are hard to come by, but believe me, the juice is worth the squeeze.
To go one step further, in the long-term - building quality backlinks is absolutely critical for your website's survival.
Without quality backlinks, it is almost impossible to rank high in Google for competitive keywords.
Indeed, the most effective SEO is now a combination of great technical skills along with making friends and networking with industry professionals.
Instead of Link Buying, build future-proof relationships within your niche and collaborate.
2) Regularly Audit Your Backlink Profile & Set Backlink Alerts
As part of best practice SEO, you should be monitoring your backlink profile weekly. This includes setting backlink alerts to ensure that you are on the lookout for spammy links. When negative SEO attacks happen, time is of the essence and you will have to react quickly to mitigate against a loss of website rankings.
3) Try Not To "Ruffle Feathers" or "Start Beef" With Anyone in Your Niche
Otherwise known as be nice to your competitors. Develop good relationships within your niche and make sure you have the reputation as the friendly site owner who keeps their head down and minds their own business.
Let's face it, the main reason for negative SEO techniques is to manipulate the search results so the victim's Google search rankings decrease or are even lost. Who gains from this? Your competitors.
On top of all of this, there's a lot of weirdos on the internet. Don't give them any motivation to fool Google's algorithms with negative SEO work.
Fixing Negative SEO
1) Submit a reconsideration request with Google Webmaster Tools
If you've been penalised by Google, this is your first step. It is much easier to address the issue directly with Google. There may be a crawler error or something in the mix that led to your unfair penalty. Get it clarified with the big G themselves and pray for Google forgiveness.
2) Identify Spammy Links
Do a courtesy report with Bing to help you identify if there is really any negative SEO going on.
3) Disavow with Google
Getting these guys penalised is an effective way of discouraging them from trying to harm your site again. A few examples: we've
Negative SEO Legalities: What Do Legal Experts Say?
Negative SEO is a hot topic in the online marketing world, is talked about regularly in forums and is also something that is debated regularly in legal circles - "how to prosecute negative SEO".
Because of the ambiguous nature of negative SEO methods, there is no applicable specific criminal offence.
Computer Misuse Act
This is one of the most relevant pieces of legislation that is applicable and is used to prosecute this sort of behaviour.
Negative SEO is not illegal, but is highly unethical and something that Google simply will not tolerate. It is therefore best practice for webmasters to safeguard their website against negative SEO attacks in order to prevent unwarranted penalties being imposed upon them.
Google's Webmaster Guidelines
Are quite clear on negative SEO practices. Webmasters are expressly forbidden from participating in these sorts of activities.
If you have been the victim of negative SEO, your first step is to submit a reconsideration request with Google Webmaster Tools. If they rule against you, then it is time to take more drastic steps.
Disavow is the next logical step in this situation.
Wrap Up & Conclusion
Negative SEO is not illegal, is unethical and is a highly effective tactic in manipulating Google search rankings
It is therefore essential that you protect your website against negative SEO attacks by regularly auditing your backlink profile and setting up backlink alerts.
Furthermore, develop good relationships within your niche and make sure you have the reputation as the friendly site owner who keeps their head down and minds their own business. Don't give any motivation to negative SEO attackers on the internet.
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