Experiencing a rankings decline can be the result of something you’ve done or someone acting against you with a negative SEO campaign. It’s important to determine the root cause as it could be a simple fix on your end. For example, a broken WordPress plugin can cause critical errors that hurt your rankings. However, if you were indeed hit by negative SEO, things get more complicated.
Let’s look at the steps you can take to determine if a negative SEO campaign is to blame for your rankings drop.
Run an Audit on Google
The first step is to understand how Google is treating your site. Replace “domain.tld” with your domain. You will get a list of pages returned to you. Here are the things to pay attention to:
- Missing pages. Are there important pages missing from the list? If so, look at the source code and robots.txt of these pages to determine if there is a problem, such as content problems, page blocks or technical issues.
- Demoted pages. It’s also possible that key pages are being demoted. If the index page is not in the top spot, it’s almost a guarantee that something is not right. It could be an on-page optimization problem, slow speed or a Google penalty.
- Unrecognizable pages. Do you have pages that look unfamiliar? A common mistake is to have a misconfiguration in your CMS that affects indexation. However, spammy or off-theme pages could be the work of a competitor.
Use Google Analytics
Google Analytics offers a comprehensive view of your site’s performance. By viewing certain metrics, you can get a better idea of how your site is performing and if it’s consistent with your raw logs. I recommend focusing on bounce rates, session duration, site speed, traffic channels and referrals and landing pages. Do you notice inconsistencies based on your rankings?
Use Google Search Console
Google Search Console is another great tool for determining if you’ve been the victim of negative SEO. If Google thinks you have been hacked, it will send a message to let you know. Likewise if there are crawl problems, accessibility issues or manual actions. You can also spot an issue by reviewing search analytics and links to your site. Obviously, low quality links need to be removed.
Apply Crawling and Technical Tools
A crawling or technical SEO tool can also help determine if you’re a victim of negative SEO. A few things to look at are:
- Site speed. How is the crawl site speed compared to what’s showing in Google Analytics? Is something trying to slow you down?
- Are your pages vulnerable to open redirects? One or two spammy links won’t hurt your site, but links from a group will.
- On-page factors. By looking at on-page technical issues, you can determine if there are internal mistakes or a true negative SEO campaign. Things to look for include bad blog comments, poor site speed, broken links and images and not having SSL.
There is no way to stop yourself from being a victim of negative SEO, but there are ways to protect your site. This includes being vigilant and having a number of tools to rely on. When you identify where you’ve been hit and how, you can make the appropriate fixes and bounce back.