The Dangers of Negative SEO and How You Can Protect Yourself

Photoxpress_2378014Google actually took a giant step backwards a few years back when it decided to start counting poor quality links against websites they index. Negative SEO used to be a very big deal with people creating poor quality links from spammy websites to your own site in the hopes of knocking down your site (and as a result trying to get their own site elevated in the rankings).

Known as Google Bowling, the problem went away for a while when Google’s engineers noticed this and decided to start simply ignoring poor quality links. However, ever since the most recent changes, including Panda, Penguin and most infamously, Hummingbird, the problem seems to have re-emerged as Google once again is trying to weed out poor actors using cheap backlink packages.

Now to be fair, Matt Cutts recorded a video back in 2012 where he mentions that this has become possible and a little easier to do today than it once was. However, he also makes a point of saying that it’s not very easy for someone to actually accomplish this, even after the most recent updates to the Google algorithms.

Cutts explained there that the Google team does try to put in place safeguards to ensure that they are not unfairly penalizing a site which has been targeted. Then again, given that Google did create the disavow tool, it’s equally clear that they believe there is a possibility of there being some kind of effort at sabotage and as such, they do recommend that webmasters take the time to watch out and protect their sites.

The trouble of course with the disavow tool is that you need to actively check your link profile and see which ones may be a problem. This can be time consuming and difficult. In addition, there are other forms of negative SEO which can equally be a problem for your website.

For example, if your site gets hacked, this can cause your SEO profile to go down. DDOS attacks (distributed denial of service, where your site is massively hit up from thousands of IP addresses at once in order to clog it and keep anyone from accessing the site) attacks are also a serious issue.

In both of these cases, your SEO will be negatively affected because the Google bot can’t reach your site to index it and see what kind of content has been created on the site.

‘How Vulnerable Are You?

There is good news and bad news in this case. The good news is that negative SEO is still really hard to pull off and 99% of websites will not be affected by this kind of thing. I mean seriously, the number of bad links that need to be created in order to counteract good quality links that you have on your website is staggering in its numbers.

Of course, with a sophisticated tool such as Scrapebox or XRummer, it is possible to do exactly that and to create havoc for a website if you are determined enough and if the webmaster is not on his or her toes about keeping the problems at bay.

The other thing to consider is that it’s crazy easy to hire someone to do negative SEO for you. There are plenty of people on Fiverr for example who will happily build hundreds of thousands of poor quality links to a website that you want to target. Whether these guys are actually effective at getting sites kicked out of the rankings is questionable but the fact is that there’s no reason why any of us should take chances.

negative seo fiverr

Other Sneaky Tricks

Of course, in addition to the most obvious forms of negative SEO, including things like Google Bowling and hacking/DDOS attacks, there are more devious methods of destroying your site which you need to watch out for.

One, which someone attempted to do with a site I link to from my personal finance site is to create a kind of phishing e-mail. Phishing as you likely know is where someone will try to pretend to be from a reputable site and try to get you to click a link and hope that you’ll reveal your password. These kinds of attacks often target things like your bank account or PayPal accounts.

However, one method which someone tried with me was a reverse of this where they pretended to be from a website I happen to have a link to. The e-mail purportedly was from the site own and demanded that I remove the link to their site. A telltale sign though was that the e-mail came from a generic Gmail account rather than an e-mail address associated with the actual site. Of course, many site owners won’t notice and will happily remove a link, which may hurt your SEO in the long run.

Fortunately for the site owner in question, I know enough about SEO to have ignored the request. At the time, I just figured that if the guy was that desperate not to have a link from my site (which is quite reputable and has a decent page rank) that he could use Google Disavow. It only occurred to me later to go back and glance at the e-mail to realize that this was an effort at negative SEO.

Of course again, this kind of attack (and by the way, if they really wanted to mess with you, they could spoof an e-mail and make it appear it came from your site though that’s more work than just using a generic Gmail account) is not terribly common. It requires a significant amount of time and effort to make it happen so you are unlikely to be targeted.

Other methods include creating fake accounts on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and then using them for spam and or copying content off of your site and making it widely available everywhere online (this is a problem because it dilutes your brand and Google’s bots may not rank your original post as highly if it’s too widely distributed).

When You Should Be Worried

Okay, before I get to how to protect yourself (and some of my suggestions are useful even if you don’t fall into this category), let’s look at who is likely to be a prime target:

  1. Sites in very competitive industries – if you run a site for example in the cutthroat gambling industry, you may be vulnerable.
  2. Sites which are the tops in their relatively competitive niche – for example, if you ran the top site in the SEO niche, you’d need to be concerned.
  3. Sites which take a political stance – Finally, sites which take a political stance, for example for or against gay marriage, for or against Israel, for or against gun control, for or against abortion – well you get the idea. These kinds of sites are unfortunately magnets for the people with too much time on their hands and too much hatred in their hearts.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Get Alerts from Google – The first thing you should do (and this is something everyone ought to be doing regardless of whether or not you are worried about being attacked) is to set up Google Webmaster Alerts.

Since Google’s web spider is regularly sent out to index the Internet, it will know fairly quickly if there is a problem with your site. Google can tell you for example if your site is down or if it detects any kind of hacking effort on the site. Once you have your website set up with Google webmaster tools (and if you haven’t done it yet, you should), it’s a simple matter to just put in your e-mail address and get alerts from them whenever there’s a problem.

Set a Real Password and Change the Default Admin – If you use WordPress or Drupal as the vast majority of websites do, be sure to change the name of the admin user to something unique. Don’t just leave it as “admin.” This makes it harder for hackers to break in. Also, use a real password. Trust me, the word password or 1234 is never a good idea.

Ideally, your password should be a mix of numbers and characters, including upper and lower case characters and it should be completely random like this: uhh89Yg7ggGYGHJISA8g87$%*$. Of course, that’s really hard to remember so the next best thing is to use a passphrase: ForExampleThisisAGoodPassphrase987. The preceding is at least long and uses a mix of upper and lower case as well as numbers. It’s not perfect but much better than your kid’s name or “Password.”

Check Your Backlinks—I know it’s not free like the old Yahoo service was but the best choice for checking up on your backlinks is still OpenSiteExplorer from the people at Moz.Com. You can get three free basic reports a day so for many people, that’s all you’ll need. However, if you need more than that, be sure pony up for the extended version of the service.

Watch Social Media—This is a good idea even if you aren’t worried about your site getting hacked or being the victim of some negative SEO efforts. The fact is that your customers are going to mention you on social media all the time and the more often you take the time to respond to them and actually try to find out what’s bothering them, the more likely you are to keep them as customers.

A good tool to use for this Mention.net. These guys will actually let you know whenever your company name gets mentioned somewhere in open social media (obviously if someone mentions you on their Facebook wall and it’s set to private, this won’t pick it up but anything they allow to be public will be mentioned).

mention.com

They offer a very basic free service or you can pay for advanced service which will monitor more than one keyword or brand name as well as provide you with more lists of mentions per month (the basic service offers just 100 mentions each month).

Make Sure You Site is Loading Fast—Another indicator that there may be a problem (either because of hacking or because of a myriad other factors is that your site may be loading rather slowly. You can easily monitor this by checking out Pingdom.com. Again, this is not a free service but the cost is fairly minimal and it can provide you with peace of mind to know your site is moving smoothly.

pingdom

Use a Pro for Your SEO Efforts—Look, I know it’s tempting to pay some guy on Fiverr five bucks and have them blast thousands of links for you. The fact is that there’s a reason they charge just five bucks though. The links are junk and are worth even less than what you paid for it. Given that Google is once again counting junk links against you, don’t sabotage yourself. Make sure the SEO service you use is run by people who know what they’re doing.

Use the Disavow Tool – Finally, Google did create the disavow tool for a reason. They want you to be able to dump bad links and not have them count against you. So after monitoring your links, if you consistently see say some kind of a porn site creating links to your site, make sure to tell Google that these are not your own links.

disavow tool

Oh and don’t be afraid to contact webmasters of offending sites and ask them to remove the link to your website from their pages. Just make sure that you use an e-mail from your own domain as opposed to a generic Gmail account.

Bottom Line

Look, in most cases, this is simply a matter of using some good common sense to make sure that your business is protected. As I said from the beginning, the actual odds of being targeted successfully are pretty small. Most hackers aren’t going after a little website with a relatively small amount of traffic anyway. However, if you are worried, the tools exist to help you to protect yourself from negative SEO.

 

10 Steps to Steal the Competition’s Social Media Followers

social mediaIn working on this article, I keep thinking of the famous line from The Godfather about how it’s nothing personal and it’s just business; plus, there’s old line about how you have to “go to the mattresses.” Well in this case, while you are trying to grab customers from the competition, you’re not actually doing anything illegal or even unethical. Instead, this is really just doing business online in 2014.

The best part by the way is that even if you manage to grab your competition’s social media followers, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll lose them, meaning that potentially you both win by having great customers.

I’ve divided this guide into a 10 step process to make it easier to do this. You can however skip around if you prefer. It’s not like it has to be done in order (well, except for the first step, which does in fact need to be done first).

1.     Figure Out Who the Competition Is

Before you can even think about trying to attract the competition’s social media followers, there’s a very basic thing that you need to do – find out who your competition actually is. Now I know you probably have a vague idea of some of the big guys in your business but it’s also worth spending some time to do research and find out if there’s anyone else that you’re not familiar with.

Start by doing a search for your primary keywords on Google and noting the top businesses in the industry. Of course, this is just the first step. Once you’ve found the companies in question, you then need to do a little checking to see what their positions are on the various social networks including Google +, Facebook and Twitter.

You will need to cross reference the various websites with their social media profiles. So for example, if I were to do a search on Google for “buy dog food,” I’d get the following results (well, yours may differ slightly as Google tends to personalize results depending on where you are and what your previous searches have been):

social media followers --- google results

Now, I’d take these results and start searching out their social media presence. For example, Chewy.com, the very first suggestion on my list has an extremely active Facebook presence with 247,000+ followers:

chewy.com Facebook

By comparison, Mercola, which runs Healthy Pets doesn’t seem to have any Facebook presence, at least none that I could find. On their home page, it appears that they’ve gotten a relatively modest number of likes, 1,688 for the page we found in our initial search. Thus this is likely not a good candidate for stealing social media followers from.

Mercola

2.     Check Their Facebook Pages

Now of course, even once we have actually found out whether or not a particular company has a strong social media presence, the next thing to do is to check how active their followers actually are. It’s entirely possible that they have a lot of robots following their tweets on Twitter and likely them on Facebook because at one point or another, someone was trying to grow them in any way they could.

One of the best ways to check them out is with a tool called Fanpage Karma. Basically, this site will let you enter any Facebook page and find out just how active it has actually been in the past few months. As we can see, even though Chewy appears to have a pretty active Facebook page with over 247,000 followers, it’s actually got a pretty modest Karma rating of just 2.2.

Fanpage karma

They also have just .6 posts per day which means the page is active but not super hopping with raving fans who constantly drop by and visit the place. Out of 247,000 fans, they rank just 9,600 talking about them in the recent past…

Overall, I’d say that Chewy is a mixed bag. In a business area like buying pet food, it’s likely worth trying to poach some of their followers anyway but it’s not like it’s going to be the very best choice available from a Facebook perspective.

3.     Check Out Twitter Next

The next step is to check out the Twitter feed of the company in question and to see just how active that happens to be. Generally, if you found that the Facebook page was active, they’ll also have a pretty active Twitter account. However, it’s not always a given that this will be the case so do check both of them.

In the case of Chewy.com for example, their Twitter following is much, much smaller than the following they have on Facebook with just 2,836 followers (and they are following over 1,900 people which means they’re still working actively to build their following):

Twitter Chewy.com

Now while we can get some basic information by simply checking the Twitter feed, which is public, a better way to check out the competition is to go granular and get to all the nitty gritty details of exactly what it is that the company has going on. One of the best ways to do this is to check the site in question on a website called Twitonomy.

The basic service will provide you with a listing of all the recent tweets and other relevant information about the competition. As you can see, they provided me some basic information on Chewy.com:

chewy twitonomy

However, if you want to get much more information, including who their most influential followers are (i.e. the people you want to try to grab for your own list) as well as their most retweeted tweets (i.e. this will show you what your potential customers are most interested in reading about), you need to go for the premium service. This information can be invaluable though as it can help guide you on whom you should target.

Either way, we’re ready to start looking at Google + and Pinterest. Then, we’ll look into how to grab some of these people for your own network.

4.     Check On Google+

The next step is to check on the Google+ page of your competitors. When we look at Chewy.com’s Google+ page, we don’t get a whole lot of information. All we can see here is the number of views:

Google Plus Chewy

Interesting but not super useful. All we know about them so far is that they’ve managed to garner nearly 60,000 views at one time or another since their page was launched on G+. However, I did find a different service which provides much more details analytics of Google+ pages. Simply Measured can tell us much more about the competition’s social media efforts:

simply measured

It looks like over the past few weeks, Chewy.com made a few reasonable efforts at engagement but then ignored their page completely, without a single hit going up. This tells us that their G+ followers may be looking for someone else to follow in addition to them in order to get more information about pet food (of course, it could also mean that pet food doesn’t really get people excited but that’s another story).

5.     Check on Pinterest

Finally, let’s take a look at how the competition is doing over on Pinterest. On Pinterest, Chewy.com seems to be doing quite well. That’s to be expected though given that they do sell pet food and Pinterest is the sort of social network which lends itself to that kind of sharing (after all, half the Internet seems to be memes with dogs and cats these days).

chewy pinterest

They have a respectable number of followers and they seem to be doing pretty well. However, if you’d like to know more about how they’re doing, you can use a free service at a company called Tailwinds which does some additional analyzing for you. It’s really intended to help with your own Pinterest page, but I found that it does provide some good analytics for any page and as I said, it’s free:

Tailwinds

6.     Grab Your Competitor’s Facebook Followers

Okay, enough research. Time for action. The first thing you need to do is go back to our results which we found in step 2 on Facebook. You’ll want to hunt down the most active Facebook users of your competitor’s page. Thanks to the analytics we received from FanPage Karma, we can actually find out who the most influential people are as well as those who use the page the most.

Armed with this information, it’s time to start going after them. Click on their public profiles and see what other pages they follow. Be sure to try to be as helpful as possible whenever these people post questions. The more often they see you elsewhere, the more likely they are to check you out and want to know what it is that you have to offer.

The key here as with anything involving social media is that you want to ensure that you don’t come off sounding like a corporate hack who is just interested in making another sale to them. Instead, you want to be yourself (obviously use your personal account, not a corporate account) and simply answer questions as a fellow human being.

Ultimately, you’ll find that the people you help on Facebook are more likely to check you out and offer to friend you as well as like your page and follow whatever it is that you post there. The best part of course is that you are sharing a follower rather than actually taking away from someone else (of course, your goal is to get them to shift some of their purchases to you but that’s another story entirely).

7.     Go After the Twitter Fan Base

Okay, now that you’ve gone and grabbed some followers on Facebook, it’s time to do the same thing on Twitter. Fortunately, grabbing those Twitter followers is just as easy as grabbing the Facebook followers. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, the key to making it big on the social networks is to be friendly and a real person who is really helpful.

Using the information we identified in step 3, we can see who the biggest influencers are who follow the competition’s Twitter feed. These people are also likely to be posting a whole bunch of questions on Twitter – questions which anyone can answer. So jump in and start being helpful. Be sure to come off sounding genuine though or you’ll blow it.

Another thing you may want to do is to selectively follow the same people that follow your competition. Even today, when you follow someone on Twitter, they’ll often follow you back, allowing you to build your Twitter base.

Finally, look into following some of the hashtags that your competition is using to attract their own followers. These things likely work because if they didn’t, the competition wouldn’t be using them. You can both post your own comments using those same hashtags and you can follow the trends with them in order to answer questions and gain followers organically.

8.     Get the Google+ People On Board

The first thing you need to do in order to grab some of the competition’s followers is to install a plugin for Chrome or Firefox (sorry, it’s not available for IE or Opera) called CircleCount. This plugin will allow you to immediately check out who the most influential G+ people are who shared a post on their own circles.

Go back to your competitor’s Google+ page and start using the same service to find out about the posts that they wrote which got shared. You can use it by clicking “see ripples for this post.”

You’ll instantly know whom you should be targeting with the same kind of personal service that we offered in Twitter and Facebook. The same kind of personal answering of questions and attention to your customer’s needs is the kind of thing that will get you noticed by them and get them to follow you here as well.

9.     Don’t Forget Pinterest

Pinterest is a bit different than the other social networks because it tends to be less about asking questions and more about sharing images. However that doesn’t mean that you can’t steal some of your competitor’s Pinterest followers as well. The first thing to do is to start following the feeds of people who follow your competitors. Just as with Twitter, it’s quite common for people to follow you back.

Now however, what you want to do is to create more of the same of the kinds of stuff that the competition uses for their own feeds. So for example, with Chewy.com, that would mean adding in many more animal memes with witty captions which the same people are likely to be interested in.

10.Sell Stuff to Your New Customers

Finally, while it’s all well and good to be grabbing some customers from the competition, it’s also important to actually do something with your newfound followers on the social networks. This means that you need to start selling them your own products. Do this casually and slowly rather than engaging in a hard sell.

Be sure to have a link to your own website where your products are sold available on your own Twitter/Facebook/G+/Pinterest pages so that people will know where to find you and consider as well occasionally offering a discount coupon to the people who are following you. This will allow you to gain some new customers who wouldn’t have otherwise considered you or likely even known about you since they first found you via the social networks.

Bonus – Other Ideas

Okay, so there you have the 10 steps to success in finding new customers for your business using the social networks. However, there are a few other ways to grab new customers including new followers on the social networks:

Network – The fact is that a guy who sells dog food in Portland, OR is unlikely to be the competition for you if your pet food store is located in Boston, MA. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t share valuable insights with each other. So network with owners of similar and ancillary businesses. Even those who are direct competition may well be willing to network with you because they sometime have too many customers to handle.

Do a JV

Consider a joint venture with your competition and especially with ancillary companies as well if you would like to ensure that you are getting the maximum number of new followers and as a consequence, customers. This works especially well when you work with people who are ancillary rather than direct competition for you.

Guest Blog

Finally, consider some guest blogging opportunities, including the opportunity to share some guest materials on the competition’s Facebook page. Often, they’ll welcome you with open arms and this can in turn lead to additional followers for your own social media campaign. Of course, you do need to ensure that your guest blog is actually a very high quality piece of writing which will attract more people to you as well…

4 Secrets of Great Customer Service

great customer service

I’ve written about customer service in the past but it’s worth revisiting here and now because frankly, customer service is the single most important ingredient to the success of a business. I mean, yes, obviously good products are important and decent prices attract people too. However, what keeps customers coming back over and over again is when they feel as if you as a company actually cares about them.

So I’ve been spending some time reading up on some of the most innovative customer service techniques being used by leaders in their industries in order to find out how you can improve your own customer’s experiences. Here are four ways to make it happen:

Tell the World

Are you familiar with the new Discover Card commercials where they have people who play customer service agents on the Discover card line? They have conversations with an alter ego of themselves and the tagline is, “Discover – we treat you, like you’d treat you.” In other words, Discover card, which obviously is not as popular as Visa/MC or even American Express is showing off their customer service instead.

Of course, that’s just one way of showing off how good your customer service is. Many companies actually get ratings for their customer service from independent third party organizations which take polls to find out who the most respected companies in a given field are. So, take the time to share with the world how great your customer service is.

Discover Card

If your company offers personalized service, don’t be bashful about it – trade on that and tell people that’s why they should choose you. Of course, then it does mean that you need to follow through on that..

Use Video

Video has become incredibly popular today and there’s a good reason for that – we live in the age of the soundbite. People tend to think in short bursts of information rather than in longer form and as such, video is all the rage. In fact, YouTube is the second most popular search engine after parent Google’s own search engine.

Why not put the concept to good use and respond to customer queries by creating videos which they can use to see answers to the questions they have about your product? By offering this kind of a creative approach to answering customer questions, you are in effect pandering to what they want. Plus, it builds up a stable of videos which can then be shared on YouTube to further expose your company and make your customer service work for you.

Ditch the Form Letter

Don’t you just hate when you get some kind of a stale form letter from a company that you wrote to with a question? Wouldn’t it be nice to get something personal from them, even if it’s just one or two lines which tell you that they actually appreciated what you had to say? Well guess what? Your customers feel the same way that you do.

Take the time to write back to customers individually, even if it’s just to tell them thank you for writing to you and to point them to the FAQ where their answer is posted. Yes, it take a tad longer to actually respond as a real human being but it will make a world of difference in getting your customers to recommend you to their friends and family.

Don’t Be Too Proud to Answer Phones

CEO doing customer service

We mostly deal with small businesses here at Quantum SEO Labs. However, even smaller businesses end up needing to hire support staff before long. However, if you really want to impress your customers and make them happy, don’t be too proud to answer the phone yourself instead of fobbing it off onto some poorly paid worker in a third world country. It will make a big difference, even if you only participate occasionally.