What happens if SEO gets nasty and your competitors try to sabotage your rankings?
Most SEO is about following best practices, building organic links, optimizing your backend, and publishing regular, targeted content. If you follow these strategies, you will grow traffic to your site. And if you have a good product with a sound business plan, over time that increased traffic will result in more sales, which will in turn grow your business.
But of course, building your business means you’re going to attract the notice of your competition as well. And, while most of those businesses are going to play by the rules and compete fairly, there are always the chance that you’ll catch the eye of someone who wants to play dirty. Next thing you know, they’ve used some black hat SEO tactic against you, and your rankings are in trouble.
While this isn’t an incredibly common occurrence, it’s wise to have strategies in place to help you handle them in case they crop up. If you’re concerned about protecting your hard-won SEO rankings, here are some defensive SEO and marketing strategies you should use.
Keep an eye on your top keywords.
Your competitors, if they’re smart, will be competing for many of the same keywords as you. Ranking for certain keywords is inherently competitive, so for the most part you’ll be doing this no matter what.
However, a daily look at your keyword rankings can tell you more than just where you stand. If you spot a competitor suddenly leapfrog up the charts, that could be an indication they’re using a black hat SEO strategy, and you may want to report their tactics to Google through their Webmaster Tools.
Monitor your backlinks.
Similarly, you may experience a precipitous plunge in rankings yourself if your competitors try to intentionally sabotage your rankings. For instance, they could pay a link farm to point a bunch of bad links toward your sight to make it look as though you’re trying to manipulate the rankings yourself. This is a malicious strategy that no self-respecting SEO would ever employ, but it’s been done.
If this happens to you, you will need to perform a link audit to clean it up. There are several services that can help you see where your links are coming from, such as Moz’s Link Explorer. Use these tools to sort your high-quality links from the spam ones.
Once you’ve done this, you can try to contact the owners of these sites to ask them to take the link to your site off their page, but they’ll probably ignore you, or ask you to pay them to take it down. After all, people who run link farms are already pretty low on moral scruples.
If they won’t take those links down, your next step is to disavow those links using Google’s Search Console. It’s a pain, and it may take a little while for your page to recover, but it will clear up the problem.
Bid for your own branded keywords.
Are you bidding on your own branded keywords? Sometimes businesses don’t do this. After all, if someone is searching for their business by name, they’re going to be the top search result, right? Why pay for an AdWords ad to go above your own website?
The answer is that if you don’t, your competitors will.
Now, this isn’t actually a dirty trick at all. (It’s also has nothing to do with SEO.) It’s aggressive, certainly, but it can also be smart. After all, if you’re Coca Cola, wouldn’t you want an advertisement for your product to appear above the organic search results for Pepsi? Of course you would. That advertising space is up for grabs, after all.
The point is, if you’re Pepsi, you want to bid on that space before Coke does, because that’s how to protect your rankings.
Clean out your blog comments.
Finally, if you have a blog, you’re going to want to keep an eye on your comments and clear out any spam. These aren’t necessarily going to have a huge impact on your SEO, but they do look unseemly. Taking the time to tidy up your comments section will keep your blog looking professional.
However, treat genuine comments with care. Even if someone disagrees with you, you may do your brand reputation more harm than good if people catch you censoring unflattering comments. Instead, either disable comments (which you may or may not want to do, depending on what type of blog you run), or post a clear policy about what sort of comments you will delete. You should remove any comments that are abusive of your business, other commenters, or the public at large.
The best defense is a good offense.
Having said all this, your defensive SEO strategies should never take precedent over your own content production and general SEO best practices. Just as you want to have a good business in place before you begin marketing it, you also want to have a strong content strategy in place before you start worrying about black hat SEOs targeting you. After all, most people use black hat strategies to try to manipulate their own business to the top (or else because they don’t know any better). It’s rare to find someone actually targeting your company with them.
So focus on turning your company into the marketing powerhouse that other, lesser businesses will want to imitate. Once you’ve created something worth stealing, you’ll have enough market dominance to push back effectively.