How much does a bad backlink affect your website?

Best SEO practices to avoid negative backlinks

The release of the Disavow Link tool on Bing and Google earlier this year has greatly increased the amount of control webmasters and SEO professionals have over the type of links connected to their websites.

Negative SEO occurs when another website (or multiple websites) attempts to affect your rankings with bad links. Attacks with the intention to diminish the organic search visibility of a website are more likely to influence your homepage than a lower level page, which tend to be the focus of a spate of low-quality links on one page.

Google's aim is to prevent negative SEO from damaging your site or incurring a manual penalty, whereby Google removes a site from the index for a period of time.

How and where negative SEO can occur

A website may only be alerted to a spate of low-quality links when it is too late, Google has issued a warning and the attack has already caused their rankings to drastically decrease. The Disavow tool allows webmasters to undo bad SEO by specifying to Google certain links to their site that they want the search engine to ignore.

However, there are measures to prevent sudden diminishing in the rankings, and steps to take if your site is affected. First off here are some points to take into account about how negative SEO bad links occur:

  • As lower level pages tend to be more link rich, an aggressive competitor site may attempt to build poor-quality links into sub pages in an effort to damage them.
  • Attacks can occur in one single bout or a number of attacks can have a cumulative effect. A single attack occurs when a large number of bad quality links suddenly appear with a single phrase as the anchor text, whereas an attack over a long duration can result in thousands of links with the same anchor text.
  • New websites with few organic backlinks are easier to target than older websites with a more established backlink profile; as the older site has a pre-existing reputation with Google as a reliable and quality site with good content and a history of organic links.

Preventative measures

If your site has grown organically over a long period of time and you have done everything right with no black hat activity, then your site should not be hurt by negative SEO.

Black Hat SEO consists of attempting to trick Google into believing that you have a high quality site rather than putting the hard work into building one. In contrast White Hat SEO is recognising Google's recent updates and criteria for quality content and working to fulfil it by providing useful information about your subject matter.

One sure fire way to avoid Google penalties is to avoid black hat practices altogether. However, negative SEO is designed to appear like extreme black hat activity; Google's Panda and Penguin algorithm updates are intended to penalise these practices but cannot differentiate between genuine black hat activity and negative SEO. If you are concerned that your site may be a victim of a negative SEO attack then there are several preventative steps that should alert you to any bad practices quickly, allowing you to react in a timely manner:

  1. Use the Disavow Tool: the tool is designed to help protect your site against negative SEO by Google and Bing.
  2. Monitor your backlink profile: If you find low quality links appearing in your reports you can use Disavow to remove them. By keeping an eye on the number of links to your site, their root domain and spotting any major changes that appear you will be able to investigate those alterations as soon as they happen.
  3. Set up alerts in your Google Analytics; this may work faster than Google's email informing you of a change in activity on your site. You can program your analytics alerts to inform you of any sudden changes such as a drop in traffic, decrease in conversions or an increased bounce rate, which you may be able to attribute to a particular page dropping from the rankings.

The main take-away here is that your focus should be on high quality content that meets the criteria of Google's latest algorithm updates, while keeping a close eye on all the links connected to your site; if a site is linked to your site that has no association with your subject or service then it may be wise to take the precautionary measure of disavowing that site.

Webmasters are most likely to notice something is amiss and deal with it quickly if rankings drop dramatically overnight as a result of a single sudden attack, but a slow multiple attack may take longer to spot. Therefore, it is vital that webmasters are clued up on what negative SEO is, how to prevent it wherever possible and most crucially how to respond to it when it does happen.

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