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Link Assassination or Negative SEO – What can you do about it?

Ever since Google released their Penguin search algorithm update there has been the potential for someone to hurt the rankings of someone else’s website. Penguin looks for spammy links to a website (a good indicator that someone is doing cheap and nasty SEO) and drops the Google rankings of that website as a penalty for black hat SEO practices. Negative SEO, also known by the slightly more dramatic term “Link Assassination”, involves actually purchasing large numbers of spammy links for a competitor in the hopes that Google will penalise their rankings.

When Penguin first went live many people thought that it would be the beginning of an online war as businesses attacked each other with this new method of damaging online reputation. That didn’t end up actually happening but there certainly are people out there attempting to use this method.

Should you as a business owner be worried about the existence of this technique? The short answer is probably not. The number of people actually trying negative SEO is surprisingly low. For one thing it involves spending money on trying to hurt one specific competitor and most businesses would rather invest that money on getting more leads for themselves. It’s also not very effective as techniques go. Google is aware of the problem and has put safeguards in place.

So what should you do if you suspect this has happened to you? If you’ve noticed a sudden and sharp drop in your Google rankings (you’ll definitely notice as Google’s penalties aren’t exactly subtle) the first step is to log in to Google Webmaster Tools. If you haven’t already got this installed you’ll need to have that done. In webmaster tools you can view a manual actions page and see exactly whether Google is penalising your site.

If you have a manual action placed against your site there are two things you can do. You can request manual review from Google and if you’re lucky Google will agree to just ignore the links and lift the penalty. This is the first thing to try and it’s the quickest method to fix the problem. If that doesn’t work you’ll need to use the disavow tool. Through webmaster tools you can download a list of every link going to your site and using the disavow tool you can manually tell Google which links to ignore. This can be a long process but it’s worth it when your rankings recover and it’s important to keep in mind that whoever used negative SEO against you probably spent a lot of money to do it and thanks to your efforts in webmaster tools got no long term benefit for that expenditure.

So if you do find your site as one of the rare victims of successful negative SEO, don’t panic as it’s definitely something you can fix. Google’s also getting better at spotting the patterns to this and is always working on ways to help you fight it.