Negative SEO is the act of performing spammy, unethical, or otherwise malicious optimization tactics on another person’s website. It consists of off-site tactics because the party doing it most likely does not have access to your website.
Negative SEO can be a major problem, especially in hyper-competitive industries like the legal vertical. Successful lawyers at some point or another have probably encountered negative SEO or know someone who has.
Ultimately, there is no foolproof way to stop someone who is intent on doing harm to your brand, but there are steps lawyers can take to be prepared.
Are you a target of negative SEO?
If you think you’ve been a victim of negative SEO – or just worried that you might be – it helps to understand why some lawyers get hit and others may not. This can also help you decide if it’s worth the time, energy, and cost to prepare.
Here are some of the top reasons why firms become victims of negative SEO:
- The firm is extremely successful: This is no surprise. Any time a firm becomes successful, it paints a target on its back (which is pretty much true for success in general).
- The firm has made an enemy: Think back to your past business dealings. Are any organizations or people who are angry with you? For some practice areas (criminal, personal injury, etc.), there may be too many to count.
- The firm is in a competitive practice area: Firms in personal injury law, criminal law, immigration and perhaps bankruptcy tend to face a lot of cutthroat competition, especially in major metropolitan areas. For attorneys in rural areas or those in practice areas like family law, contract law, estate law, etc., negative SEO may not be as prevalent a threat (and therefore not worth your time to monitor).
How can I tell if I’ve been hit?
Unfortunately, no Google tool or third-party alert system will tell you when someone is deploying negative SEO on your site.
Typically, this sort of behavior manifests itself in an eventual loss of rankings or, in more serious scenarios, a complete de-indexation of your site (a.k.a., removal of your domain from Google search).
It can take a trained eye to uncover a pattern of malicious behavior, but here are some red flags:
- A rise in referring domains that you or your SEO company do not recognize or did not build.
- A rise in very low-quality referring domains (spam sites, foreign sites, pornographic sites, and sites with low DR in general, are all red flags).
- Negative reviews on GMB profiles or other web properties from people who were never clients.
- Excessively duplicated content on other domains.
- Attempts to gain access to your hosting provider’s server or your website files.
If you see one or more of these things, it does not automatically mean it’s negative SEO, but you should initiate further investigation.
Protect yourself from negative SEO
As we mentioned, there is no way to completely block people from doing bad things to your site, But you can always be prepared.
Set up Google webmaster tools
Google won’t send alerts that say “Negative SEO is happening”, but configuring your site on Google’s Search Console (which is free) can give you early warning of things like referring domains, manual penalties that may result from an excessive number of spammy links, and other issues with your site. Google will let you know if malicious files have been placed on your site, too.
Use Ahrefs to monitor your backlink profile
Ahrefs is a tool that lets you monitor the quantity and quality of inbound links pointed at your site. It’s not a real-time tool, but you will be able to tell day by day and week by week if someone is building bad links to your site. Ahrefs also offer a tool that makes preparing and submitting a disavow links request super-easy. A basic account costs a couple of hundred dollars a month.
Remove links ASAP
Spammy links are one of the most common forms of negative SEO, and also one of the most damaging. They can be difficult, if not impossible, to remove manually. You can, however, submit a file to Google with all of the bad links on your site, and ask Google to ignore those links in its ranking algorithm.
This request should be submitted as soon as the bad links are discovered. Of course, having site owners remove bad links manually is the best possible strategy for fixing the damage. Also, keep in mind that the scope of the bad links should be large enough to warrant submitting a disavow links request. Google is now more adept at devaluing bad links so the file submission may not always be necessary.
Point positive links at your site
Some say the best defense is a good offense. The more positive links you have pointing at your site – and the stronger your SEO – the harder it is for someone to knock it off the first page.
It’s important to point out that negative SEO is not something attorneys need to constantly worry about. It does happen, however, and it never hurts to keep an eye on things. But it is not a frequent occurrence. Knowing what to look for and catching violations early are the best ways to combat bad SEO behavior.