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Negative SEO alert

There’s a new malicious SEO tactic making the rounds and your Google My Business listings could easily be the victim, according to web security company Sucuri. The company says individuals are sneaking inappropriate or damaging photos into GMB listings with the intent of damaging a business’s reputation and image.

What makes this type of exploit unique, however, is that it doesn’t take any hacking skills to do. Unlike other negative SEO tactics, this specific technique does not include hosting images on a client server, malicious code, or even breaking into an account.

Ultimately, the attack is taking advantage of Google’s lax rules for uploading photos to a business’s location in Google Maps. Anyone can upload images to a business’s listing, and any of these images can be used for Knowledge Graph data about the business.

While Sucuri doesn’t have evidence of this, it is possible for a person to spam a business’s listing with lewd images and then send fake hits to them to increase their perceived popularity – all with the end goal of making sure they come up when people see your business online.

How to Protect Your Listings

Unfortunately, the nature of this type of attack makes it difficult to guard against. There is no way to limit who can upload photos to your listings or determine which image gets used in Knowledge Graphs. The best you can really do is to actively keep an eye on your listings and which photos are appearing next to your listings.

You can also watch to make sure no one is uploading inappropriate pictures to your Google My Business photos. While you can’t stop people from uploading lewd images, you can easily remove any associated with your location.

Negative SEONone of the big search engines like to talk about it, but negative SEO has been a problem for years. By Google’s admission, negative SEO has been occurring since 2007 – though they claim it is rare.

As “rare” as negative SEO may be, it has managed to cause serious problems for sits as large as Expedia, and it has been enough of an issue for Google to have to reword their own documentation on the subject.

If you’ve yet to run into any cases of negative SEO, it is a practice of using purposefully bad SEO against a competitor. For example, it is possible to point huge numbers of low-quality links towards a competitor’s site and potentially cause the competitor to be punished by Google’s Penguin algorithm. Penguin is designed to take down sites who build backlink profiles filled with low-quality links in order to cheat the search engine for high rankings.

You would think search engines would be actively trying to fight the possibility of SEO companies using their skills against competitors or former clients, but according to Search Engine Roundtable, it is only getting easier.

Barry Schwartz reported on a conversation occurring over at WebmasterWorld, where a site administrator going by Engine said “negative SEO is now much easier to do than it was prior to google’s latest updates.”

It turns out, the majority of webmasters and SEOs seem to agree. The overwhelming response to the question on WebmaserWorld agreed with Engine’s statement, and over 70% of the respondents to a poll on Search Engine Roundtable sided with those who believe negative SEO is getting easier.

Considering the latest algorithm updates from Google are receiving the majority of the blame for this trend, it isn’t particularly surprising they remain relatively mum on the issue. But, business owners have every right to be concerned. Hopefully, Google’s next big algorithm they unveil will be aimed at protecting innocent webmasters from the “black hat SEOs” who use such destructive practices.

Any time Google’s Penguin or Panda updates are mentioned, site owners and bloggers alike work themselves into a mini frenzy about the possibility that their totally legitimate website might have been penalized. It’s warranted, in a way, because a few innocent bystanders have been affected, but largely Google is policing those breaking the rules.

Meanwhile, bloggers have tended to downplay just how much rule breaking there is. Black hat SEO is treated as a fringe issue when in reality it is a huge issue. Writers tend to focus on a small aspect of black hat SEO in which competitors use shady links and other SEO tactics to bring your site down, and that is incredibly rare. Google considers all explicit spam to be black hat, and with that definition, black hat SEO is the most pervasive type of SEO around.

It is also the type of spam Google spends most of their time fighting. Matt Cutts, Google’s webspam team leader, took to YouTube recently to answer a question about how many notifications Google sends out to website owners, and 90% of Google’s manual penalties are still spent on blatant spam pages.

Google sends out hundreds of thousands of notifications each month, but the chances of your common SEO or website owner seeing one are rare. There is a chance though. The other 10% of notifications focus on problems that SEOs who have fallen out of the loop or novices may have gotten sucked up into such as link buying, link selling, or even hacking notifications.

There is more than enough talk out there about negative SEO, and how to prevent it or fight back against it, but Matt Cutts says the actual number of occurrences of people trying to use negative SEO is extremely low. He explains that Google designs their algorithms to try to ensure that they can avoid penalizing innocent sites and now that Google has added the Disavow Links tool to their repertoire, it is very easy to shut down “black hat” SEO if it does happen to you.

Cutts, the head of the Google Webspam team took to YouTube to answer the huge number of questions he has received about negative SEO, and also further explain the Disavow Links tool, clearing up any misconceptions there could be. Cutts doesn’t think negative SEO should be a concern for the vast amount of website owners out there, unless you are in extremely competitive spheres. “There’s a lot of people who talk about negative SEO, but very few people who actually try it, and fewer still who actually succeed,” he said.

Many webmasters believed that the 700,000 notifications Google sent out in the first two months of this year were related to link notifications. Not true, says Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts.

According to Cutts, 90% of the messages sent out via Google Webmaster Tools are related to black hat issues. Their estimates are that only 3% of the messages were about unnatural links on a page. You can find out more from Search Engine Land

There are a lot of standard black hat SEO methods that have been around for a while, but those that stray a little on the darker side of SEO keep busy.  There are several new tactics that these people are using.

As SEO becomes a more prominent form of marketing, black hat methods are also becoming more well-known.  The latest term for these techniques is “poisoning”, which I find appropriate.  These SEOs will put their poisoned links (which contain malware and installations of other nefarious elements) into various places where people will find them through either particular keywords or through social media.

As a lot of people are not aware that these attacks happen, they can often give away account information, trusting that the sites they are visiting are reliable.  These attacks come through Twitter and Facebook as well as through standard search engine results.

For more info on this, check out this article by Last Click News.

The iPad is the latest Apple news and it’s been getting a lot of attention.  Considering this, some not-so-nice SEOs are using the fresh keywords to do black hat SEO to infect computers across the globe with malware.  They’re targeting laterally related keywords such as “Apple Tablet” and “Apple iPad Rumor”.

Be cautious if you see some weird results when you do searches on these types of terms.  The eWeek Security Watch has more info on this.