What is Negative SEO?
Negative SEO is when an individual attempts to harm their competitor's website by performing negative actions, like spamming, while acting as their competitor's website to other websites and search engines. Spammy comments that entice a user to visit a website that are left on other websites when posted by the website's competitor is an example of negative SEO. While negative SEO is real, it is not very common. The idea behind the negative SEO spamming scheme is that a competitor will attempt to make their competition look like spammers in hopes that search engines will blacklist their competitor's website or rank their website lower in the search engine results.
Why Should Websites Prevent Spamming?
There are several reasons for why spamming is a terrible idea. We already discussed that it is illegal in many countries, which should be a good enough reason not to spam. Second, spamming harms the website's reputation. It might attract a few visitors in the beginning, but people will become smarter and start to immediately filter any type of communication from the website.
Another reason spamming is harmful for a website is that search engines and other websites see this behavior. Do you think it is a coincidence that the more important search engines also provide emailing services? It certainly isn't. Search engines can and most likely will in the future use the users' data from emails to help with ads and possibly search results. These emailing services already have spam filters that detect spam and store it in a folder for the user. The more spam a website sends, the more likely it is for any email communication from that website to be placed in the spam folder.
The Impact of Spamming on a Website's Reputation
Spam might drive some traffic to a website, but our study of 100 spamming websites that have kindly sent us spam reveals another interesting phenomena. In our study, we matched each spamming website with a website that does not spam. Matches were less than 1 point different in their overall SEO analysis score. We used the SEO Analysis generated keywords of each site as search queries.
When we compared the spamming websites to those that do not spam but have similar SEO analysis scores, the spamming websites ranked much lower for their keywords. In many cases, these website were not found in the top 100 search engine results. However, we will conduct future studies because we cannot determine if this is mere correlation or causation. For instance, most of these spamming websites try to rank in more difficult fields like "dating" or "making money". A future study will create better matches based on similarities in these fields.
How is a Website Spamming?
Sometimes, there is an awkward moment, when a webmaster or content manager realizes that their website is spamming. However, the website might not be the actual spammer.
If a website has users with the ability to send emails, they might be using the website to spam other users or websites. Whenever the spam victim receives this email, the IP address will belong to that website, which would make the website look guilty to the victim and their email provider. Ideally, a website would not provide this functionality in the first place. However, some websites like the idea of their users communicating with each other. Websites can easily implement a system where these emails allow only user-to-user communication without the ability to send external emails. In the case of external emails, websites should encourage users to use emailing services like Google or Microsoft.
Poor Contact Form Structure
Sometimes, malicious users will use contact forms to send their propaganda. This is usually because the contact form was poorly constructed with the receiving email being a form value. If a website's form for some reason has a "to" input without proper server-side validation, a user can simply change this value to email other email addresses. Contact forms should only have receiving emails that are determined on the server-side.
Negative SEO Through Spam Comments
It is highly unlikely that a competitor is creating spam for a website on other websites to hurt its reputation. However, negative SEO attacks are increasing. Recovering from a negative SEO attack is difficult, and detecting it is not easy. Periodically, you should search for your website's URL. If hundreds of unexpected websites appear in the search results, you should look at these websites and find the reference to your website's URL. If it truly appears to be negative SEO, contact the website and ask them for information about the post. The comment might already contain important information about the spammer, but the website may or may not be able to provide more detailed information. Asking the website for information about the comment is definitely worth your time because they will probably want to prevent spam as well. After your investigation, you should inform search engines that someone is misrepresenting your website.