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How Negative SEO is real and still works in 2017 – Case Study

Google Claims their algorithm is now smarter about detecting Negative SEO techniques.  Well, it might be a little smarter, but a determined black hat SEO can do some damage to your site’s rankings. Matt Cutts claims that Negative SEO is extremely rare, but it is real and it is effecting websites rankings every day.

I have a client who was the victim of a negative SEO attack. His site is an authority site and has been around for over a decade. His perfect organic link profile was no match for the Panda and Penguin algorithms. He suffered from two different king of Negative SEO attacks.

Take a Look at his data from Ahrefs:

Negative SEO Attack #1 : Spammy Backlinks

His domain was under attack for months. The spammy links contained rich anchor text and porn keywords. The links originated from blog comments and forum profiles. He started losing rankings like crazy. He felt powerless, so he reached out for me for some professional SEO help. At the time, he was ranking for 450,000 Organic keywords on Google, which was an amazing accomplishment.

Organic Keywords Ranking Chart

Every day Google Search Console was finding anywhere from 50-100 new referring domains. The worst part about it was I knew more links were coming. I knew Google wasn’t indexing all the spammy backlinks. It was only a matter of time until Google found them all. Look at how many Referring pages started popping up out of nowhere.

Referring Pages SEO Graph

My Client’s site was legal briefs and court decisions from courts all around the country. We suspected the negative SEO attack was from one of the people who had their personal legal information on the website. After all, it was publicly available information, my client was doing nothing wrong.

I couldn’t isolate the individual who was actually doing the attack. They sent the spammy backlinks to pages that had no search volume and also to his top ranking pages. It could have been anyone with a 30 dollar per year vpn and an automatic backlink tool.

Every day my client published hundreds of pages of content that gets filed via different state and federal courts. His site is very popular and gets tons of natural links daily from all over the web. His Organic Traffic started to plummet

Organic Traffic Ranking Graph

The task at hand was going through all the links to see if they were part of the Negative SEO attack or natural organic links.

This is where the SEM Rush Backlink checker came in hand. SEM Rush’s ability to pull new links from Google Search Console saved me hours each day sorting through the new backlinks.

SEM Rush’s disavow tool made it fast and easy to submit our disavow files to google search console. Although we disavowed every domain with a spammy backlink, it still didn’t help. The current consensus is that Google takes at least 30 days for a disavow file to take effect for a domain.

So what did I do? Did I throw in the towel? No! I took every step we could to remedy the situation.

First I changed the urls to every page on the website. I’m talking about changing over 400,000 url’s. It wasn’t an easy task. My client had the original urls auto populate with the case name and some numbers.

With the enormous volume of url’s I couldn’t rewrite the urls the same way with keyword rich slugs. So I did it with numbers and a few letters sequentially, from 1 to 400000.

We lost a little advantage from having keywords in the url’s but we had to “Stop the Bleeding” or the domain was toast.

After I did this, I did not want to lose all the link juice from the unaffected urls, so I 301 redirected them.

At the same time, I upgraded the site to HTTPS. I knew Google Chrome was going to start giving non secure warnings soon. I figured a SSL cert was a good idea since we were changing all the urls anyways.

Google recently announced that changing from Http to Https via 301 redirect doesn’t lose any link equity. In fact all 3XX redirects now do not lose any link juice.

Negative SEO Attack #2: Duplicate Content

While taking on this project I would always check out Google Analytics. I kept noticing a website referring traffic to several of our files, especially the main page. I decided to take a look at this website and I couldn’t believe what I found. This person duplicated thousands of pages of the website and indexed it with google! They found a site with free wordpress hosting and copied our HTML straight into a wordpress blog.

There was tons of duplicate content indexed in Google and it was hurting us, bad!

So my client didn’t technically own the content he published, but the website did publish his logo which he did own.

I went to Google and used their Online Copyright Infrigement form.Googles online copyright infrigement form

You can report duplicate content and scraped content to Google so they don’t penalize you with the Panda algorithm. Google will also possibly de-index the other website that has the copywrited material on it.


Shortly after I made all these changes, the backlinks started coming in slower. They realized that we knew we were under attack. After a month or two the spammy links stopped coming in alltogether.
The attack was over, but my client and I learned a valuable lesson.

Negative SEO is real. People are out there who want to hurt your business. A good offense such as a solid link profile is usually the best defense. Brian Dean from Backlinko believes that Trustrank has alot to do with defending against a Negative SEO attack. He claims he was blasted with 250,000 spammy links and he did not lose rankings because of his high TrustRank. Brian claims that because of TrustRank, Google knows that his website would never make those links, so they just ignore them.

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