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SEO, Tips & tricks

SEO Wars: How Competitors Can Attack Your SEO Rankings And What You Can Do About It

25 September 2020

Search engine optimization is a constant battle to stay at the top of the search results. In this battle, your site must fight daily against other similar sites and blogs in your industry who could snatch your top of the search results status at any moment. But what should you be doing about these competitors? How can you protect your site? In this blog post we’ll lay out exactly how competitors can attack your SEO rankings and what you can do about it.

What Are Negative SEO Attacks

Search engine optimization (SEO) is an essential part of digital marketing strategies as customers and markets can be accessed by search engine results. SEO can often make or break a business, as individuals never get past the first page. Negative SEO attacks are attempts by competitors to suppress your rankings and ultimately get ahead of your site in the search results, letting them garner all the customers that you had rightly earned.

Understanding how negative SEO attacks take place, and how to prevent them, is just as important as SEO strategies that bump you up the rankings. We’ll explore some of the most common negative SEO attacks so that you can stay vigilant, protect your site’s rankings and enjoy the traffic that search engines drive your way.

The Most Common Negative SEO Attacks

Negative SEO attacks are increasingly common so you have to be aware of how competitors may attempt to hurt your SEO rankings. Black-hat SEO tactics are often employed by unscrupulous competitors. If search engines catch wind of these unethical practices, those dubious organizations are likely to get into trouble. But if you don’t know what you’re looking out for, you’ll struggle to catch them red-handed. Read on to discover the most common negative SEO attacks and how to prevent them.

Duplicate Content

One of Google’s aims is to provide high quality search results for their users. This means that the algorithms prioritise unique content across the first page of searches, and any sites containing duplicate information will be dispensed with, buried down the list. You may think that your site does indeed provide quality and unique content, but unfortunately competitors can leverage Google’s rejection of duplicate content to suppress your rankings.

By scraping information from your site and reposting it elsewhere on the internet, competitors can quickly duplicate content from your site across the web. Even if your site was the original source of this information and therefore deserves to get top ranking, competitors can bypass this to create the unjust situation where another site with copy from your site appears higher. By pasting information from your site onto a forum or some other site assessed as having higher authority by Google, you can be bumped from the first page.

Gradually, your rankings and authority rating will be eroded by these practices. Because your site hosts content that’s available elsewhere, your hard-fought SEO rankings will be compromised by competitors acting in bad faith.

Bad Link Building

One traditional SEO strategy that’s been turned on its head and is now used to damage an organization’s SEO is the age-old practice of link farming. The history of link farming began with early attempts to improve websites’ SEO by building interconnected web pages that linked back and forth, multiplying the number of links to certain domains and indicating to Google’s crawlers that these sites were valuable and worth rating highly. This practice took a hit in 2012 with Google’s launch of a new algorithm called Penguin. One of Penguin’s purposes was to better assess where link farms were being used to boost SEO even in the presence of poor content, and to issue penalties to sites that were deemed to be using this strategy. Link farming became a risky business in the wake of Penguin, as an unsuccessful attempt could actually harm your SEO.

Fast forward to 2020. Google’s algorithms are better than ever at assessing the value of the links in and out of a website, making link farming harder than ever. Now, competitors can turn this tool on its head to damage your SEO. By creating a whole host of bad links to your site, Google’s algorithms will suspect you of link farming, and penalize your site appropriately. Site owners unfortunately have little say in who links to their site and where, making websites damagingly vulnerable to bad link attacks.

Outranking Your Site

Outranking your site is, naturally, a goal of your competitors, and in the SEO wars you’ll always be tussling for that ranking. Competitors may undertake illegitimate attacks on your SEO to ensure that they get ahead, and you should be wary of black-hat SEO activities which suppress your rankings and boost your competitors.

Fortunately, you’re already doing the right thing to avoid this: pursuing a vigilant and dynamic digital marketing strategy with combined SEO agendas. Ensuring your SEO is on point will keep you up in the rankings, and ensure your competitors aren’t getting ahead.

A Copyright Complaint

Issuing a copyright complaint is one of the quickest things a competitor can do to attack your SEO. Search engines have a legal obligation to act on copyright complaints – even if the truth is that there is no such breach of copyright. This means that any search engine will automatically remove your site from their listings on a temporary basis whilst the copyright claim is assessed.

Although these absences are usually strictly time-limited, and the copyright complaint will be quickly dismissed once its invalidity becomes apparent, this can still be a damaging option as you’ll be missing from the rankings. Even a short absence can lose customers for your business, and ultimately harm your SEO.

What to Do to Protect Your Site

Protecting your site is a never-ending task, one which is constantly evolving as new threats and hazards emerge. Having a strong focus on SEO is essential to your digital marketing strategy and you can fold these protective habits in with your optimization strategies to have an all-encompassing SEO strategy.

Check For Duplicate Content

Because duplicated content on high-authority sites can be so harmful to your site rankings it’s essential that you find and remove duplicated content. Pay attention to the traffic your site is receiving as this can offer early warning signs that content has been duplicated across the web. If your unique content isn’t generating as much interest and traffic as you would expect, it’s quite possible the content has been duplicated elsewhere.

To search and discover where content has been duplicated, use a tool such as Copyscape. This generates a report indicating the likelihood that content has been copied, and you can take steps to have it removed by issuing a takedown notice.

For larger sites where fluctuations in traffic won’t provide the tell-tale signs of duplicate content, a tool such as Awario can be invaluable. Awario can monitor the web and notify you if your content appears elsewhere.

Spot and Remove Bad Links

For now, Google claims that their algorithms are intelligent enough to distinguish between good links and bad, and that site owners don’t need to worry about the impact of bad links on their rankings. However, the experience of site owners across the world speaks volumes and you may still feel like you need to take action against bad links.

Tools such as Disavow lets you notify search engines that you’re rejecting certain links to your site. In some cases it could be the case that Google already knows the disavowed link was bad, and that it had nothing to do with you. However in any case rejection of the link can’t do any additional harm to your rankings, so to be safe disavowing links can protect your site.

Set Up Google Webmaster Tools Email Alerts

The best way to protect your site from any attack on its rankings is by paying close attention to how your site is performing. This should already be a part of your digital marketing strategies, of course, but leveraging all the online tools is an important way to spot an attack in action. Google’s Webmaster Tools can generate alerts whenever your site’s rankings start to dip. These warning systems are your first line of defence.

Look For Social Media Mentions

Tracking mentions across social media can be another valuable way of getting the early warning signs that competitors are acting in bad faith. Your followers are often the first to notice if your web presence shifts, and mentions across social media can indicate where attacks on your rankings may be coming from. Leveraging this wider community can protect your site.

Secure Your Website

The damage that content scraping and duplication can do to your rankings is immense, and acting quickly once you’ve discovered duplicate content is essential. However, it’s better if the content isn’t duplicated in the first place! Securing your website against content scraping can mean that your rankings are defended from these types of attacks. Disabling RSS and restricting access to the XML site map can prevent bots from stealing your content, ensuring you stay unique – and ranked!


If search engines discover your competitors engaged in black-hat SEO activities, they’ll be harshly penalized. But that doesn’t always put off unethical actors who see opportunities to get ahead in the rankings through these means. Whilst Google and other search engines do take steps to prevent these attacks, ultimately responsibility for your site and your rankings lies with you. A thorough digital marketing strategy shouldn’t just include SEO, but also protecting your rankings from negative SEO.


Vanessa Kearney is a writer and editor at Coursework Writing Services and Essay Help. She is passionate about digital marketing and strives to support businesses in their digital strategies.