Countermeasures against negative SEO done via spam backlinks

In today’s age, business and popularity on the Internet depends much on what Google thinks of your website. Being in the search engine’s good books has become the single biggest first step for online businesses. For legit people, it is great to know that the surest step to have an online presence is to target search engines. At the same time, for the blackhat people, it is great to know of the significant place to attack you.

So we have folks who choose to attack a website to take down its organic standing in SERPs.

Such targeted attacks do not come from mindless spammers. These are targeted and customized to bring down your domain’s good standing in the eyes of search engines and are personalized against YOU! It primarily comes from competitors as a form of corporate sabotage or from someone you may have rubbed the wrong way.

Negative SEO comes in many forms, a major one being spam backlinks to your domain. Spam here does not just mean unsolicited, but it means the ones that contain ‘negative’ content, which users (and hence search engines) do not like any bit. Remember search engines are just hyper-vigilant end-users?

So what is the recourse?
1.   Most of the time, one can let Google take care of it. For more reassurance, watch Matt describe Google’s default actions against Negative SEO attempts.

2.1   In some not-so-popular cases, one needs to request a reconsideration and to disavow backlinks. If you don’t want to go through the long article, here’s the summary:

This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results. We recommend that you disavow backlinks only if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you. In most cases, Google can assess which links to trust without additional guidance, so most normal or typical sites will not need to use this tool.

2.2   In another extreme case, if it is getting impossible to keep listing hundreds of backlinks targeted at you, consider disavowing entire domain. Though use this option carefully because one may disallow search juice coming from a domain. For example, if your domain gets genuine backlinks from a forum but some miscreants start creating spammy backlinks, then disavowing the complete domain makes you lose the juice the domains was sending your way.


SEO tip – Write relevant and search optimized topic titles and headings

Search engines do not ‘see’ a document or an article, they parse. The spiders or crawlers rely on metadata to understand the structure of a document or an article, the flow of content, and the relative importance of various chunks. Whether you call it a topic, a section, a heading, or a title, the entity that goes in a H1, H2, etc. HTML tag and in the title meta tag in the HTML source of your article are important to search engines.

The meta title tag generates the browser title and is displayed in bold in the Google snippets. Many a times, users open or neglect a web page, depending on the snippet of a webpage.

Best practices for writing topics are:

  • Keep it relevant to the content. Having a good heading that reflects the nature of the content, allows search engines to verify that you really are talking about what you intend to talk about. Mind you, search engines verify because they do not need a title to figure what the article is about. However, no search engine worth its salt will promote unorganized content.
  • Preserve uniqueness between title and meta description. This helps you cover more keywords without stuffing. Keywords in title and meta description have far more weight than keywords elsewhere on the page.
  • A topic’s title page should have topic of the article, the brand name, and the product name.
  • Populate a page’s title tag using only 60 characters. This is human-readable sentence shown in searches. Page titles must be unique across the site.

Here (PDF) are Google’s SEO guidelines.
There are many ways, besides HTML tags, to indicate content structure to Google via metadata. See Providing Structured Data.
See HTML Improvements suggestions in Google’s Webmaster Tools.
My previous SEO tip – Provide unique Descriptions for articles to improve search engine snippets.

SEO mantra for genuine search engine success

It’ll be a cold day in hell, if they stop generating articles after articles on SEO by the minute. Much has been said and it has been put to some great use. The advice I come across most often is to write for the real user! As explains, In SEO, It’s Not What You Do, It’s How You Do It!

Essence of SEO
How goes SEO in reality

I suggest the mantra to do genuine optimization activities and to understand the importance (or lack of it) for any SEO activity is to tell yourself that,

Search engines are just hyper-vigilant end-users!

I decide on SEO tasks, based on this criteria:

If a site visitor does not want it, search engines definitely look down upon it.

Any SEO guideline I look at, fulfills the above criteria. Ask yourself a question, ‘Would an end-user want this?’ and if the answer is yes, then it is a good SEO task to do. How badly would the end-users want it, defines the priority for the SEO task. Some example below.

User expectation SEO guideline
Would a user want a faster page load time? Yes. Needed sorely. Right now. Load time of a page/site decides their positioning in search results. See this.
Would a user want the content to be accessible? Yes. The more, the better. Accessibility indeed helps in SEO tremendously. See this and this.
Would a user like link spam, say from a source you paid money to buy links? No. Users hate to be spammed! Do not engage in any link building that is nefarious. See this.

Hence the recent move in the industry towards Search Experience Optimization (SEO), rather than Search Engine Optimization. The essence of all SEO activities is to provide the best possible experience to the site visitor. All SEO tactics are rooted in the principles of usability. Optimization for the search engine is just a means to an end.

Edited, May 22, 2015: Even Google officially recommends this approach in as many words! Check out their guiding questions in the section ‘What counts as a high-quality site?’, in the article More guidance on building high-quality sites. “We encourage you to keep questions like the ones above in mind as you focus on developing high-quality content rather than trying to optimize for any particular Google algorithm.

Generate tag cloud of keywords on any page using Urim Firefox addon

Urim is a nifty addon for Firefox that creates tag cloud of words and phrases of the open webpage. It generates the results on the fly and in real time. Some potential use cases where I find this addon very helpful are:
Urim icon

  • Analyze the primary keywords used on the open online article
  • Check where these primary keywords are used on the page from SEO perspective
  • Speed reading and skimming through sentences containing the primary keyword
  • Quickly understand the context and category of the content on a page

The interface is very user-friendly.

With the URIM sidebar open, you can switch between different tabs and quickly check the keywords density on any tab in real time. The generated word cloud shows single words, as well as, two or three word long phrases. A total of 50 words are listed for each page. Click on a word in the tag cloud to jump to the first occurrence of the word. To cycle through all the occurrences, keep pressing F3 shortcut.

If some specific content is selected on a page, Urim generates the tag cloud for the selected text. Urim needs to be (closed and) opened after the content is selected.

Tip: To open Urim use Alt+Shift+U keyboard shortcut or click on its icon in the Firefox navigation toolbar. Check in the screenshot below.

Urim icon in toolbar
Urim icon in toolbar

SEO tip — Do not stuff keywords to avoid search engine penalty

Keyword stuffing: Definition from Google is “the practice of loading a webpage with keywords in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google’s search results.”

SEO myth: Keyword stuffing with get the traffic to my page for all the stuffed keywords. High density of the keywords matter.

Why not to do it: As users do not like to view stuffed pages, search engines also do not. Search engines penalize for stuffing. On the extreme a search engine may just drop a stuffed page from its index! If a page doesn’t come in search results, it may as well not exist on the web.

Do not artificially inflate your keyword density by deliberately looking for ways to add more keywords or their synonyms. Just write an article in the normal way that you’d write for a human reader.

Best practices and tips:

  • Keywords used on the site need to be relevant to the topic of the page and actually have to be used within the content on the page.
  • Don’t use hidden text.
  • Have your most targeted keywords appear once in Title tag, twice in Meta Description tag, three times in Meta Keywords tag, and four times within the content.
  • Do not use the same or generic Title tag and Description tag repeatedly on pages across the same site. Each page should be unique.


SEO tip – Provide unique Descriptions for articles to improve search engine snippets

A lot has already been said about SEO on the Internet.

I am starting a new series of SEO posts. But I am not going to re-invent the wheel here. In this I shall be summarizing the information as quick tips, in easy to grasp format, for technical communicators.

No fluff, just pure stuff!

SEO Task: Provide unique Description tag in head tag of the HTML.

Why do this:

  • Use description meta tags to provide both search engines and users with a summary of what your page is about.
  • While these improvements do not impact the rank directly, they go towards displaying better titles and snippets in search results. This increases user experience, reducess click-and-backtrack behavior, increase visitor traffic, and eventually backlinks from other sites.
  • Quoting Google, “Using identical or similar descriptions on every page of a site isn’t very helpful when individual pages appear in the web results. In these cases we’re less likely to display the boilerplate text. Create descriptions that accurately describe each specific page. Use site-level descriptions on the main home page or other aggregation pages, and consider using page-level descriptions everywhere else.

Best practices and tips:

  • Use only ~120 characters in the Description field.
    Tip: Using this description as a Tweet, you may want to post the link to your article on Twitter in 140 characters.
  • Try not to duplicate with keywords already present in the page title. Put in acronyms, synonyms, etc.
  • Do not populate with just the keywords.
  • Do not copy paste from the article’s content. Write a unique description.
  • No two pages on your website should have the same description.