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Negative SEO Attacks against Online Writing Services: Ideas, Impact, and Solutions


Jan 24, 2014, 02:23PM | #
In recent weeks, I've been studying SEO (search engine optimization) in more detail in the context of online writing, editing, and research services. Here are the results of my research which may be practical to genuine freelance writers, academic paper writing services, and all other kinds of online businesses. I realize this post will also be read by people who are actively engaged in sabotaging of their competition, but now they may at least stop fooling themselves that they act under the radar.

NEGATIVE SEO ATTACK - THE IDEA

There is an ongoing threat from rogue companies and/or individuals who become involved in fraudulent cyber activates called "negative SEO attacks." The attackers usually try to sabotage websites that they are unable to compete against in normal circumstances. The goal of a negative SEO attack is to trigger a search engine penalty (either manual or algorithmic). Once a website is marked as penalized, it loses organic search engine traffic which may have very negative consequences for the business.

A typical negative SEO attack of a writing service website takes up to a few weeks. It involves creating a massive amount of unnatural links and pointing them to the attacked website. The anchor text (the keywords used in a link) of the inbound links is usually closely related to the website's theme in the hopes of covering up the operation and creating confusion. In general, the attackers hope that search engines will penalize a website that has obtained hundreds or thousands of unnatural links. At first sight, the links may look "natural" because the anchor text is actually related to the website's theme which may initially suggest that the website owner was the one who acquired the links. However, the fact that the links are usually published on low-quality and spammy websites (including foreign ones) that have little to do with the attacked website's theme is a good indication that it is, in fact, sabotage.

Obviously, Google and Bing aren't able to determine who is/was behind building the damaging links. There is so much spam on the Internet that, as a general rule, it has been safe to assume that it's usually the website owner who - willingly or unwillingly - does the damage to their own site. However, that's not always the case, especially in the last couple of years when the negative SEO trend against writing and research services has been on the rise.

Fortunately, thanks to Google's and Bing's efforts and the raising awareness of the "white hat" SEO community, there are now established and successful ways of dealing with a negative SEO attack against a writing service.

NEGATIVE SEO ATTACK - THE SOLUTIONS

Since it is impossible to control who links to your site, the most important aspect of the solution is to monitor the quality and quantity of backlinks pointed to your website. Both Google: http://www.google.com/webmasters/ and Bing: http://www.bing.com/toolbox/webmaster offer Webmaster Tools where you can add your website and monitor backlink activities. There are also some commercial link monitoring tools that usually work faster and are more accurate than general search engine spiders.

When you notice unnatural links pointed to your website or when there is a manual or algorithmic penalty against your website, Google and Bing suggest to first contact webmasters of websites that link to your site and ask them to remove the spammy/low-quality/unnatural links. Contacting other webmasters may be time-consuming and not always very successful, but it is usually worth the effort because removing each link means one problem less. It often happens that the actual website owners aren't aware of the fraudulent activities going on their own websites due to the fact that many of them outsource web development / SEO to other companies or individuals who abuse their power. If your site received a manual penalty notice, it is important that you document your link removing efforts in a separate text or spreadsheet file because this document may be needed and helpful when you submit a reinclusion/reconsideration request.

If your website has hundreds or thousands of bad links pointed to your site, it will not be possible to remove them all by contacting webmasters. In that case, you will have to use a Disavow Tool (offered both by Google and Bing). The Disavow Tool was designed to "neutralize" toxic backlinks. It is fairly simple to use. All you need to do is to collect bad URLs and/or domains and include them (each in a separate line) in a disavow.txt file.

For example, if you want to disavow this sample URL:

http://somebadwebsite.com/malicious-link-page.php,

you just copy-paste it to the text file; in consequence, all bad links posted on this particular web page will be "neutralized." However, in most cases, it is safer to disavow the whole domain or subdomain because that way you don't have to worry about any other bad links that may be published in the future on the same domain. In order to disavow the whole domain or subdomain, you need to add the following in the disavow text file:

domain: somebadwebsite.com (# for domains)
domain: subdomain.somebadwebsite.com (# for subdomains)

There is an extremely handy and free tool that can make the process of creating a disavow file simple: http://urltodomain.com/.

Once you've created a disavow.txt file, you need to upload it to your Webmaster Tools - Google: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main, Bing: http://www.bing.com/webmaster/help/how-to-disavow-links-0c56a26f] . After that, it is a very good practice to continue monitoring your backlinks and if you find more attacking URLs or domains, you need to upload a new disavow file (important: do not delete any previously uploaded URLs or domains from the newly uploaded file).

If your website received a manual penalty notice or if you think there's something wrong about its organic rankings, you may file a reconsideration request (Google: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/reconsideration, Bing: https://support.discoverbing.com/eform.aspx?productKey=bingwebmas ter&ct=eformts). It should be done after you contacted other webmasters to remove bad links and/or uploaded the disavow tool to your Webmaster Tools account.

Depending on the situation, it may take between a few days and up to a few weeks to receive a reply from Google or Bing. The first reply may not always be positive; if that's the case, you need to repeat the process (this time try to be more detail-oriented) and file a reconsideration request again. On the other hand, it is believed that the URLs or domains submitted through the disavow file are working much sooner towards your website's recovery success.

Apart from disavowing links you are not responsible for, there's an additional way of "disinfecting" bad links. It requires access to a .htaccess file (this file needs to be created and uploaded to the website's main directory, usually called "public_html"). Using the urltodomain.com tool, you can create a HTTP_REFERER list of domains that you don't want to have anything to do with and paste it into your .htacess file. That way you will deny access to all links posted on bad domains or subdomains (ie. such backlinks should not work against your website because they should not be counted as valid links)

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The ideas and steps described above should make all writing, editing, and research service owners aware of the actions going on behind the scenes that may negatively impact their online service or any other business. The provided solutions should help them recover or improve the recovery process of their websites and increase their visibility in search engines. I hope legitimate readers of this forum: honest freelance writers, new or established research services, essay editors, students, and other companies will find this post helpful and informative. By now they should know how to successfully fight back against the malicious practices of those who turn to dishonest and fraudulent search engine manipulation activities.

PS. If you own a website and have no idea whether or not it is currently penalized in search engines, a good way to start is this free checking tool: http://ismywebsitepenalized.com/.



Jan 25, 2014, 02:50PM | #
Here is a ready script you can copy-paste into your .htaccess file. It will deny access to all backlinks posted on .cn, .ru, and .info domains (80-90% of backlinks from these domains are spam or negative SEO attack links). The nice thing about it is that it will not block links from Google search engine (that way anyone using Google search on .cn, .ru, and .info domains will be able to access your site without problems). I use this script on one of the UK-based websites I manage that has been affected by the nSEO attack and it works pretty well:

# Block backlinks from Chinese, Russian, and .info domains (but allow Google on all these domains)

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(.*\.)?(google)\.(cn|ru|info)(/.*)?$ [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http(s)?://(.*)?\.(cn|ru|info)(/.*)?$ [NC]
RewriteRule .* - [F]

Jan 26, 2014, 01:36PM | #
There is no such thing as "blocking" a backlink via htaccess. Google still sees the backlinks because they are not hosted on your domain. All you are doing is preventing your webpage to which a particular link points from opening in the browser when someone clicks on it, and ONLY if the link resides on one of the denied domains. That is useless.

Jan 26, 2014, 01:54PM | #
writers2beware:
Google still sees the backlinks because they are not hosted on your domain.

Right Google sees the link but it also follows it to a destination page. When the destination page's header says: 403-access denied then this link is not counted (why would it be?). Similar way - you can post a link to a non existing page and Google will not count it as a link because the destination page's header says: 404-not found.

Jan 27, 2014, 05:23PM | #
Forgot to mention - engaging in negative SEO is like shooting yourself in the foot. Domains on the disavow list will be eliminated (that is - permanently banned from top 1-50 search results and not transferring Pagerank juice, even on dofollow links) when there are more than X confirmed penalties triggered by a negative SEO attack and then subsequently revoked by a manual action. The Russians, Ukrainians, and Chinese attackers will soon be doomed and their pathetic actions will not be even worth the fees they waste on their spam domains.

Jan 27, 2014, 06:08PM | #
I've also heard (private talk with a guy who knows top SEO guys in a large UK corporation) that domains that got caught doing negative SEO will have Adsense accounts that happen to be hosted on the same domains manually reviewed (and - hopefully - suspended too). It's obvious Google doesn't want to finance the attackers who sabotage Google's work and create bad press at the same time.

Gotta love to see the mugs of the losers who receive an Adsense account Disabled notice :haha:

Jan 29, 2014, 09:45AM | #
More advice to victims of negative SEO attack. When you notice Adsense ads on sites that link to you without your consent, click on the small arrow near the ad and report it. Then describe whats wrong with the ad:

1. Wrong placement (ad too close to content).

2. Encouraging clicks - graphics near ads etc.

3. Ads on adult content pages.

4. Ads on pages with little original content.

5. Plagiarized content - that's the most common thing among garbage websites. Take some words in quotation marks and do Google search. When you find same article/content posted on other domains, copy-paste the link in your report. Google doesn't want ads on stolen content.

I personally know it works.


Feb 3, 2014, 10:39PM | #
It's funny to watch how some of the 'black hat SEOs' post garbage links to attacked sites in a 'methodical' way. They THINK the links won't be found if they post them only for a couple of days or if they try to hide them. Not to worry, your networks of garbage domains are methodically listed one by one in a .txt file and sent directly to Mr. Matt Cutts every day for bitc*-slapping :lol:

Feb 4, 2014, 09:32AM | #
Here are examples of negative SEO attack that may affect... this site. The Russians/Ukrainians (they could be paid by 3rd parties) link to this site from their spam websites. Note how they use some common keywords (like 'this', 'download', 'here', 'click') hoping the links won't be found ;). At the same time they know what's coming and some of them have already listed their garbage domains for sale :lol: Hint to them - your domains are already bi*ch-slapped by Google so they are worthless until they expire and you - if lucky - register them again ;).

I doubt EssayScam can be easily affected because: 1) the owners must be aware of the attack and - if they smart - are proactive, 2) the site is established enough not to be easily affected. I still will be watching backlinks related to this site (and other sites related to online writing services) because the attackers share the same domains. My list already has almost 8,000 domains and this info is being shared with Google as we speak ;).

Example 1:
Example negative SEO attack link.

Example 2:
hidden link

Feb 4, 2014, 04:05PM | #
After having spent over a month on disavowing crappy links and writing comments that my client's website is not responsible for them (because they are not), I hope soon, very soon Google and Bing will come up with the following press release:

-----------------------------------

Today we have finished a serious cleanup job on Ukrainian, Russian, and Chinese network of websites that engaged in negative SEO attacks. We're calling it - the network of 450K domains owned by the "black hat SEOs" are now worthless.

However, we would like to give a benefit of doubt to the affected webmasters. If your domain is on the WORTHLESS DOMAINS list and you have ever published a dofollow link to another website in order to negatively affect its rankings, here are the steps you must follow to uncr@p your domains:

1. Login to your Webmaster Tools account and click on the "Uncr@p My Worthless Domains" link.

2. For each domain, compose an original, 1,200-word essay written in flawless English, explaining why you have thought it was a good idea to waste time and resources of other webmasters, businesses, and our employees. If you have received a monetary compensation for your unethical actions, explain in detail why this money should be donated for better causes.

3. Write a 900-word letter to your future employer describing how your time could have been spent better on doing good deeds or more productive things.

4. Write and email a 300-word apology letter to all the people who have been negatively affected by your actions. Don't forget to create a spreadsheet and list the dates, email addresses, and screenshots of the emails sent.

5. Wait until you receive a reply from the affected people. If your letter has been ignored or if a reply has a "F*CK YOU!" theme, continue your efforts until you are successful and forgiven.

We will reconsider uncr@ping your worthless domains within 365-980 days from submitting the form. Please note that only forgiven webmasters may be given a second chance.

[x] I, [ ], once again apologize to everyone impacted by my stupid actions. I agree not to sabotage other websites in the future.

SUBMIT

Feb 14, 2014, 09:17PM | #
Here is an example of a page where the negative SEO scammers publish spam links to their own websites (they may rotate links between their own websites and their competition websites they target):

wowwebnow .com/services.php

<a href="http:/ writing beee .com/" target="_blank">writing bee</a> . <a href="http:/ essays writing online .co.uk/" target="_blank">essay writing</a> . <a href="http:/ essay service writing .com/" target="_blank"> essay writing service reviews </a> . <a href="http:/ master papers reviews .com/" target="_blank">http:/ masterpapers .com/</a> . <a href="http:/ get essay writing service .co.uk/" target="_blank">essay writer </a>

They have also started linking to their Facebook / Twitter pages (not to their main pages) hoping to get away with severe penalties for their fraudulent SEO actions against their competition. They think that by not linking directly to their parent websites nobody will notice who they are and what they do.

Feb 15, 2014, 10:05PM | #
The Ukrainian criminals also think that using javascript links will protect them. Stupid fu*ks. See masterpapers reviews.com.
writers2beware: "Never trust any member's claims at face value. Demand evidence that you can verify."

Feb 16, 2014, 09:58AM | #
writers2beware:
using javascript links will protect them

Google has it covered. It is yet another signal of search engine manipulation.
Here are more examples of their breaking-the-rules (reverse SEO) activities:

ecoimobil.md/rus/incalzire
tischlermeisterschule.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=articl e&id=10&Itemid=12
turnkey37.com/Huth-Accu-sizer-3-1986.htm

Feb 26, 2014, 09:16AM | #
I can confirm on three websites I've been working on that disavowing of bad backlinks / domains (either proactively or to recover from the unnatural links penalty) works. Thanks Google and Bing : ). I'll be uploading more worthless domains that may still try to attack other sites as they come.


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