Negative SEO is really a thing. I’ve spent a good portion of the last year helping people recover from Google penguin penalties. One person had hired a bad SEO person who built spammy links to his site. The other company was under attack from a competitor who was attempting to get them removed from the search engine result pages (SERPs).
Losing rank from the SERPs can destroy a business. And I imagine that this is what happens when someone finds out that they’re not in the SERPs anymore.
It’s not good.
Recovery requires a laborious process of researching links, determining what was a bad link versus a good link, contacting the site owners of the bad links, and creating both a spreadsheet to send to Google and a disavow file to upload to Google Webmaster Tools.
It’s a lot of work. More importantly, it took expertise to know which links to remove and which ones to leave alone.
This morning, I awoke to an email from a company I had linked to on this post about resources for remineralizing teeth. They asked me to remove links to their site from mine because of a Google penalty.
I removed the link as they asked, but I had to wonder who they had hired to do this process. They lost a link from a customer, on a site that is a far cry from spammy, on a page that ranks for the problem their product solves.
This site is not a spammy site. It’s just my personal site, a site that often languishes as I work on other projects. The metrics on this site are pretty good for a site that has languished as long as it has. It has longevity and decent enough trust flow and low citation flow. I’ve never built links to this domain, and I know where every link comes from.
They lost out on something that was benefitting them, not something that was hurting them. Of course, I replied to them that they were hurting themselves. But I am sure that email will not make much sense to the person doing the link removal. She was told to “remove all the links” and wasn’t given any sort of guidance about what links to remove or which to leave alone. As such, she’s further damaging her company’s commerce website and their bottom line.
I’ll end up as a “removed” notation in the spreadsheet that gets uploaded to Google drive. I was nice and responded. She will probably receive very little response to her email blasts to site owners, and the responses that she does receive will make Guido the loan shark seem like a nice guy. She’ll be asked for payment for link removal. If her company pays for link removal because they fear both Guido and Google, they’re making another bad decision. Never pay for link removal. But definitely make sure you keep track of the sites you contact, whether or not they respond, how they respond, and the end result of your link removal request.
Which sites do you contact? There are site research tools that will give you an overview of the link quality on each site. For the site that contacted me this morning, I linked specifically to a toothpaste that worked for Claire’s remineralization. It was a good link. Any good SEO person would have recognized that it was a good link. She was not a good SEO person.
How to tell if you have a penalty
Most companies probably don’t even know that they’ve received a Google penalty for bad links. Many don’t even know about Google Webmaster Tools. They just see that they’re out of the SERPs. Or maybe they see that their traffic is diminishing, or sales are going way down. They hire someone to figure out why.
Google Webmaster Tools tells you if you have a penalty. However, you can still have a penalty and not have it show up in GWT. The best way to tell if you have a penalty is to examine the search engine result pages yourself.
The Disavow File
The disavow file tells Google that you disavow any links from bad properties. Some people think that you can just upload a disavow file to Google Webmaster Tools and be done with your bad links. However, through my research and experience I have found that you need to show some level of attempt that you have tried to remove the bad links. You have to go through the process of bad link removal and upload a spreadsheet detailing what you’ve done to Google Drive. This spreadsheet combined with a disavow file has been proven to work. You cannot just upload a disavow file and recover your property from bad links.
The thing is, you have to ensure that you’re protecting your good links, too, unlike our friend who emailed me this morning. You have to look at the links coming into your web site and actively manage your inbound links as a part of managing the asset of your web site.
Even if you have no penalty, always manage a disavow file. Even if you are not blasted from the SERPs, you can still ask for link removal. You can still disavow links.
Penalties and Negative SEO will only grow
If you live by Google, you will die by Google. Meaning, if your business is dependent upon search traffic, when search traffic is affected you will lose your business. You have to manage your organic search traffic as an asset, protecting it from damage by anyone, including Google. How do you do this?
Monitor backlinks at all times. Use tools such as AHREFS/Majestic to see what’s pointing at your website. If you see something wonky, get rid of it before it becomes an issue.
Maintain a Google drive spreadsheet of your inbound links and any actions that you’ve taken. If you’ve contacted the site owner and they’ve asked for money for removal, if they’ve responded and removed, if they’ve not responded… just keep a record of how you’re managing your inbound link profile.
Keep a disavow file even if you don’t think you need one.
Be proactive. Penalties and negative SEO are going to be a fact of life going forward. If your web site drives your business, and organic search is a big part of where your traffic comes from, showing that you’re proactively managing your link profile can prevent being victimized by penalties.
Expand your reach beyond search. Organic search traffic is only one way to get people to visit your web site, engage, and buy. There are a lot of other ways where you’re not dependent upon Google to drive your business success. Social engagement is but one. As with living/dying by Google, you can also live and die by Facebook, Twitter, or any other traffic source. The key is to build an asset and market it in ways that leverage traffic sources but are not dependent upon it.