How to monitor your backlinks for Negative SEO

Since Google’s release of its Penguin algorithm in 2012 there has been a lot of hype within the SEO community about the threat of negative SEO. I want to provide you with an effective way to protect your website from any negative SEO attacks, free, using Google Webmaster Tools.

What is negative SEO?

Most people associate negative SEO with their competitors trying to lower their sites rankings in the search engines by building a huge amount of spam links to their website. The objective is to trigger a Penguin penalty or manual unnatural links penalty. In truth this scenario is very rare, I’m sure your competitors are more concerned with taking care of their own business than trying to mastermind a plan to take down your website in the search engines.

I prefer to classify negative SEO as any type of inbound link to your site that could potentially harm your search engine performance or online reputation. This includes links you have built yourself, from previous low quality SEO, being hacked and scraper sites.

Why is it important to monitor backlinks?

If you don’t regularly perform backlink analysis to see who is linking to your website you won’t be able to prevent negative SEO until it’s too late. It’s a way of protecting your search engine visibility and online reputation long term. Even if you aren’t actively engaged in SEO you can still become a victim of negative SEO, or worse get hacked.

Case study of a negative SEO attack

A client who recently hired us for some consulting work wanted to figure out why their search engine rankings had dropped so drastically and what they needed to do to get them back onto the first page. The impact on their businesses bottom line was huge and meant they were losing thousands of dollars of revenue each month.

After a comprehensive backlink audit we discovered their site had been hacked and hundreds of spam links built back to their site. The hacker was able to enter the site through a vulnerability found within the helpdesk software they were using (Zendesk for those interested). They then created a huge number of spam keyword pages on the site, pointed hundreds of spam links to these pages and redirected them to multiple affiliate sites.

Unfortunately this hack had gone unnoticed for months and the damage had already been done. The important thing now is they have the answers they need and a solid action plan for recovering the sites rankings and lost revenue.

You can see from this example the importance of having a simple backlink monitoring plan in place (something we provide as part of our ongoing monthly SEO campaigns).

How to Prevent Negative SEO

Here is a step by step guide on how to effectively monitor backlinks to your site and prevent your website from falling victim to negative SEO.

Step One: Sign into Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools Dashboard

If you haven’t verified your website yet you need to do this first. There are several options to make the verification process simple. Follow Google’s instructions here before moving onto step two.

Step Two: Download your latest links

  • Click on Search Traffic in the left hand menu to expand the available options
  • Click on Links to Your Site
  • Under the Who links the most column click the More>> link
  • Click the Download latest links button and choose your download format and click OK

Download Latest Links

You can choose to download the list of links in either CSV or Google Docs format. To keep things simple this guide will focus on the CSV option as most people are familiar with Excel. Google Docs is very similar so the following tips can easily be translated to that format as well.

Select Download Format

Step Three: Filter the data

  • Expand the Links and First Discovered columns so you can clearly see all the data
  • Freeze and bold the top row to make life easier when scrolling through the data
  • Consolidate the individual links by domain

I like to consolidate the links by domain to make the auditing process much faster. Often you will see multiple links from the same domain shown; this is common with sitewide links so consolidating them by domain makes it much easier to sort through the data. Here’s how:

  • Insert a new column to the right of the Links column and title it Domain
  • Extract the root domain name from the list of individual links into column B. To do this use the formula:


Typing this in manually will ensure you don’t get any unrecognised text errors as a result of styling issues.

Filter Backlink Analysis in Excel

  • Remove any duplicate root domains from column B. If you are unsure about how to do this reference the following excel tutorial here.

Step Four: Review the data

  • Go through the First Discovered column and highlight any unnatural link patterns you find

Negative SEO commonly consists of building a large number of low quality spam links all at once. Any days or periods with an unusually high number of links found could indicate a negative SEO attack.

  • Review the Links column and highlight any suspicious links you come across

You want to be thorough and ensure you identify all low quality domains linking to your website that could already be impacting your search engine performance or lead to a potential penalty in the future. Look for the following:

  • Links from foreign sites
  • Links from unrelated or low quality blogs
  • Links from unrelated or low quality forums
  • Links from unrelated or low quality directories
  • Links from low quality article sites
  • Links from bad neighbourhoods (porn, gambling and payday loan sites)

Step Five: Manually review all suspicious links

  • Click on any suspicious links you have highlighted and review the page and the link

Step Six: Disavow all low quality spam links

  • Create a disavow file including all the spam links you have identified and submit this

If you choose to do this yourself and don’t fully understand what you are doing you could do more harm than good. Google provide the following warning:

Google Disavow Links Warning

For more information on how to disavow backlinks go here.

It’s always recommended to consult with an SEO professional or have them carry out regular link audits and maintenance for your site to ensure the best results are achieved.

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You now understand how to easily monitor your backlinks to prevent negative SEO and protect your websites rankings, online reputation and revenue. Google Webmaster Tools provides a simple and free way for you to do this effectively. Building your brand online is hard, but it’s even harder to build it back up once it has been destroyed. Preventing negative SEO from impacting your website is one way you can safeguard against that happening.

Don’t forget to share this article with anyone you feel will benefit.

Nathan Whitaker About the author

Nathan is the co-founder and Strategy Wizard at eMagic. He is responsible for the development and execution of our effective SEO strategies. He is passionate about search and delivering unrivalled results for our clients and industry partners.

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