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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.

ransomLast week, many webmasters and SEO’s received a scare in the form of extortion emails from a supposed SEO threatening to plague a site with negative SEO if they do not pay a ransom of$1,500.

It seems the emails concerned even the most prominent members of the SEO community such as Dan Petrovic and Steve Webb. Even more interesting, despite assurances from Google that they would investigate the threats, a fair portion of the community appears to be at least moderately troubled by the threats. This gives an indication of just how easy people perceive negative SEO to be.

The email cuts straight to the point opening with, “This is an extortion email.” It then goes on to explain exactly how the individual(s) will enact specific tactics which can hurt a site’s performance in Google and potentially cause a site to be deindexed by the search engine.

The full text of the emails is as follows:

Hello,

Read this email very carefully.

This is an extortion email.

We will do NEGATIVE SEO to your website by giving it 20,000 XRumer forum profile backlinks (permanent & mostly dofollow) pointing directly to your website and hence your website will get penalised & knocked off the Google’s Search Engine Result Pages (SERP) forever, if you do not pay us $1,500.00 (payable by Western Union).

This is no false claim or a hoax, download the following Notepad file containing 20,000 XRumer forum profile backlinks pointing to http://www.negativeseo.cn.pn/ (this is our website and go and see on this website, you will find our email address [email protected] from which this email right now is being sent to you) :

http://www.mediafire.com/download/eizjwnpq2rsrncu/20000-XRumer-Forum-Profile-Backlinks-Dofollow.txt

Just reply to this email to let us know if you will pay just $1,500.00 or not for us to refrain or not from ruining your precious website & business permanently. Also if you ignore this email and do not reply to this email within the next 24-48 hours, then we will go ahead and build 20,000 XRumer forum profile backlinks pointing directly to your website.

We are awaiting your wise decision.

RS

Thankfully, it appears the entire situation has been nothing more than empty threats. Despite several credible SEO figures reporting the extortion emails, no one has reported paying the extortion amount and there are no signs that negative SEO is being put into action against these sites.

Negative SEO has been a topic of debate for a while now, especially since links became dramatically more risky with the introduction of Google Penguin. It is entirely possible competitors could simply point hundreds or thousands of low-quality or negative backlinks towards your site with the intention of causing your site to be penalized or possibly even completely removed from Google’s index. Buying links went from being a tool for cheating to algorithms to a weapon for destroying, or at least handicapping, competitors.

Google acknowledged this issue with the introduction of the Disavow Links tool, by giving webmasters a way to protect their site. The problem is, everyone seems to be using it wrong. According to Marcela De Vivo from Search Engine Watch, the Disavow Links tool isn’t best used after a site has been penalized. Instead, it should be used in combination with a link audit before you ever run into trouble.

It makes sense, the entire point of a backlink audit is to check the quality and status of all of the links in your profile. If you’re auditing properly and regularly, you won’t ever have to worry about algorithm updates or manual actions. You could catch every low quality link and disavow before search engines identify them.

Auditing isn’t difficult either. All you have to do is download your backlinks from your Google Webmaster account or any other backlink tool, and look for any links pointing back to your site that you either don’t recognize or look questionable. Usually fishy or spammy links are easy to pick out. Then, you can take action by emailing the owner of those sites and asking for the link to be removed. If that fails, all you have to do is turn to the disavow tool.

Running these types of audits is like exercising for your website. When done regularly, audits keep your site healthy, removes any unhealthy links from the profile, and makes it easier to fight off outside attacks. If you’re regularly auditing your links, you’ll quickly spot any negative or blackhat SEO attempts. Everyone living in fear of Penguin updates is spending too much time being reactive. If you proactively manage your backlink profile, penalties will seem far less menacing.

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.

I recently wrote about the release of Google’s Disavow Links tool, but there are some more questions popping up that need answering. So, let’s cover a little bit more about the tool.

First off, the tool does not immediately take effect. This is one of many reasons Google suggests publishers try to remove questionable links first by working with site owners hosting links, or companies that they may have purchased links through.

Instead of disavowing the links immediately, “it can take weeks for that to go into effect,” said Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team at a keynote during the Pubcon conference. Google also has reserved the right to not use submissions if it feels they are questionable.

It is important to be accurate when making your file to submit to Google. Because of the delay in processing the file, it may take another few weeks to “reavow” links you didn’t mean to discount.

Once you have submitted a file to Google, you can download it, change it, and then resubmit.

The tool is mainly designed for site owners affected by the Penguin Update, which was focused on hitting sites that may have purchased links or gained them through spamming. Before, Google ignored bad links, but now they act as a negative mark against the site.

This change prompted fear in some of the SEO industry that site owners would create bad links pointing to their site, or “negative SEO.” This tool helps to ensure that negative SEO is not a worry by allowing you to disavow any of those types of links.

Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land has even more information about the tool, and Matt Cutts has a 10 minute long video answering questions.