Unfortunately one of the downsides of affiliate marketing can be other affiliates. Even though I’d say 99% of them are great and will be more than willing to help you along, there’s a small percentage who will do everything possible to remove competition. Even to the extent of hacking a website or engaging in some form of negative SEO.
In this article, I’m going to show you how to take steps to protect your website. I’ll also provide some tips on how you can find out if your site has suffered from negative SEO (the practice of trying to sabotage a competitor’s website rankings) and how to tackle it.
ON-SITE PROTECTION AGAINST NEGATIVE SEO AND HACKING ATTEMPTS
Here are some methods your competitor or hacker may use to try to access your website.
There are a few things that can be done to help increase the security of a website. These steps should help to stop bots accessing your website as well as help protect it.
BRUTE FORCE ATTACKS
A brute force attack is a method used by people to gain access to your website. Typically software is used to continue to try and access a WordPress site by guessing the password. It uses a ‘trial and error’ functionality, trying thousands and thousands of combinations until it eventually gains access.
Below are three easy ways to help prevent brute force attacks.
Prevention One: Replace Default Username
When setting up your WordPress site, WordPress will often create the admin account for you. More often than not the username will be ‘Admin’. This is the default username and one that many brute force softwares use.
By creating a unique username other than ‘Admin’, you are potentially cutting down the risk of attacks as a potential hacker will not only have to guess the password but also the username. On top of this, I would also set the display/author name to be different to the username.
In order to change usernames, you may need to create a new admin account. You can do this within the WordPress dashboard. Select ‘Users’ from the menu and then select ‘New’.
Make sure you set the ‘Role’ field to Administrator.
Prevention Two: Restrict Login Attempts
Since brute force attacks involve repeated attempts to guess passwords, if you can restrict the number of attempts it can make, you can prevent any unauthorized access.
WP Limit Login Attempts (https://en-gb.wordpress.org/plugins/wp-limit-login-attempts/) is a WordPress plugin that prevents multiple login attempts. If too many login attempts are made, the plugin will temporarily block the IP. It also uses a captcha verification, which helps to prevent many brute force software attacks.
Another great plugin you can use to block brute force attacks is Wordfence (https://en-gb.wordpress.org/plugins/wordfence/). This plugin has many more options that are useful in protecting your website. It’s Brute Force Protection has more customizable options that can highly increase the security of the website.
This plugin has a premium paid version but the free version is good enough for most affiliate websites. By just adding a plugin like this, you can dramatically slow down login attempts on your site and keep it protected.
Prevention Three: Move Login Page
Brute force software uses the default login page URL to attempt to access the site. By using a WordPress plugin you can move the standard login page (wp-login.php) to another location.
A plugin that I have used and would recommend is: Rename Wp-login.php (https://en-gb.wordpress.org/plugins/rename-wp-login/)
Implementing all three of the above might seem a little extreme and over the top. However, if you can do all three I would recommend it, as they will offer the very best protection against brute force attacks.
2. DDOS ATTACKS
DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) is very common and no doubt you have heard in the media about well-known companies being taken down by an attack. It can actually be very easy to implement these kinds of attacks, which is why they happen so often. It can take a long time to recover from this type of attack and can also result in losing a lot of potential sales.
The purpose of a DDoS attack is to send so many requests (fake visits) to your host that it cannot cope, resulting in your website being unavailable to genuine visitors.
There are many services that can help protect your site from a DDoS attack. They work by changing the DNS which should resolve the problem. I have used Cloudflare and find that this is an excellent option.
Incapsula is also recommended if you are looking for an alternative.
I would also recommend having a look at this article written by Shane.
WHAT IS NEGATIVE SEO?
Negative SEO is, unfortunately, a nasty aspect of affiliate marketing and something that you may or may not have experienced. It is a black hat method where competitors may purposely perform bad SEO practices in order to impact on your site’s rankings in the search results.
Negative SEO is not good for any network and I would fully encourage any person doing it to stop. I understand that the aim is to do better than your competitors and rank higher, but it helps the entire industry if this is done by improving your own site rather than trying to actively damage another affiliate’s.
Types of Negative SEO
Below are the types of negative SEO practices that can wreak havoc on your website. I am not highlighting these to recommend you try them. I’m showing you what to look out for so you can prevent them.
1: Mass Backlink Creation
Creating hundreds, if not thousands, of low-quality backlinks to your site. These are of no value, and due to the sheer volume of them can have a negative impact on your target page or home page. There is a rumor that Google no longer counts bad links in their ranking score, however, I would still recommend to monitor your backlinks and remove the bad ones.
2: Damaging Anchor Text
Links back to your site using anchor text that could raise red flags, such as Viagra, gambling or other sensitive terms. Your competitor could also link to your website using your targeted keywords to cause keyword over optimization, which could lead to being penalized by Google.
In most cases, negative SEO attacks combine both a high number of low-quality links and damaging anchor text to cause more harm to competitors rankings.
3: Copying Your Content
Copying any of your content and spreading it across the internet could cause your site to be penalized by Google. This can result in reduced rankings, less site traffic and your article being de-indexed.
4: Removal Of Key Backlinks
Imagine spending a lot of time and effort building some excellent backlinks only to have them removed. This method involves going through your backlink profile and finding those that give a good amount of link juice. They would then usually contact the website owner where the backlink is located to get it removed.
I wouldn’t take negative SEO lightly, it can seriously damage a website and even potentially stop it from ranking again. Preventing negative SEO is challenging, but the first step is to find out as quickly as possible if you have been affected.
How to Spot and Tackle Negative SEO
1. Google Alerts
Google Alerts is a free service from Google that allows you to set up emails to be received when there’s new content on a specific search query. If you’re creating a brand around your site, using your site’s ‘brand name’ as an alert will mean you get an email whenever your brand name is mentioned.
If someone is linking to your site using your brand term, you should receive a notification. As well as your brand, you could also create alerts for items such as website URL, name, and main keywords.
To create an alert simply go to: https://alerts.google.com
Enter your search query phrase and then click ‘Show Options’. Select the appropriate drop downs; the ones highlighted below would be the best options. Once done, click ‘Create Alert’.
You will now receive an email as and when Google finds new content based on the search term you selected.
This is not only good for spotting Negative SEO but allows you to also see what impact your link building is having.
2. Google Search Console Alerts
Within Google Search Console you can be notified if they do spot any issues. For example, if any manual actions have been applied to your site due to suspicious backlinking.
The downside to this option is that the attack has already happened, although the quicker you find out about it the sooner you can get it fixed.
Keep an eye on your backlinks
Monitoring your backlinks and understanding your backlink profile is increasingly important as your site and brand grows and becomes more popular. In doing so, you can keep track of any new backlinks or ones that have been lost.
Building backlinks to your site is one of the most common forms of negative SEO. It would, therefore, be good practice to check your backlink profile at least once per month. The bigger your site or sites become, the more often you may want to check them.
TOOLS TO MONITOR BACKLINKS
There are a number of tools that can be used to monitor backlinks. Some are free or offer an example report. These would give some data but, again, as your site grows you might want to consider a paid option.
1. Google Search Console
You can get a list of links that Google has found via Google Webmaster Tools. Simply go to ‘Search Traffic’ and then select ‘Links to Your Site’. You can download the links and run through them to see which ones you recognize and which ones could potentially be harming your site.
2. Open Site Explorer (MOZ)
The Open Site Explorer tool from Moz is an excellent tool for monitoring your backlinks. Simply enter your URL and get a basic report of 21 backlinks. They also offer a 30-day trial which is easy to cancel, if you wanted to do a one-off report. It is fairly pricey at $149 per month after that, but does provide useful backlink data.
This tool also shows the backlink’s ‘Spam Score’, allowing you to see the risk of keeping that link pointing to your website.
3. Ahrefs and Majestic
I have included Ahrefs and Majestic together as they are very similar. These tools are excellent at providing you with data on sites that are backlinking to you. You can export these backlinks into a handy CSV allowing you to go through them to confirm whether or not you want to keep them.
Both tools provide their stats on how ‘good’ or ‘trustworthy’ the backlink is. Ahrefs also displays how many other backlinks are on that page. You can use this data to decide whether a particular link is causing harm to your website.
Another useful option in Ahrefs is Anchors section where you can check the anchor text distribution of your links. This way you may easily spot some odd anchor texts or cases of your targeted keywords being used multiple times.
These tools can be used not just to monitor backlinks, but also to engage in competitor and keyword research, monitor rankings, and more. They are therefore useful for monitoring your entire site and looking for potential opportunities.
They are expensive, with Majestic being the slightly cheaper option, however, the benefits from using either could certainly outweigh the cost. Personally, I use and recommend Ahrefs as it is a more versatile and complete tool in my opinion.
If you are looking to just monitor your backlinks, then https://monitorbacklinks.com will do the job.
Add your domain URL and click ‘Add Domain’. With the 30-day trial, you can have two domains.
Add a couple of your competitor URLs. You can ignore this if you are only looking to monitor your backlink quality.
Now add in your keywords. This will show your rankings in Google. If you’re only looking to find out the quality of backlinks, then this can also be ignored, although it could be useful information for monitoring rankings etc.
- If you look along the top under the backlinks tab, you will see a list of backlinks that it has found. It can take 24 hours to collect all the backlinks and then some additional time to provide further information.
- You will then be able to see which backlinks are offering more value, which are potentially spam and also be given warnings on those that are possibly damaging.
With the free trial you are somewhat limited in the information you can see. However, at $25 per month it’s not a bad price to get some quick information on your backlinks and to check their quality.
HOW TO REMOVE HARMFUL BACKLINKS
Google has brought out a tool that allows you to discount backlinks. You’re basically telling Google: “Don’t include these backlinks when evaluating my website”. You should only use its disavow tool when you’re 100% sure that the links you’ve submitted are harmful to your website.
I would only use the disavow tool as a last resort. Initially, I would recommend that you compile a list of all of the backlinks that you no longer want. Then find each webmaster’s contact information and drop them an email to request the removal of the offending backlinks.
Be warned. Submitting a disavow report for backlinks that are actually adding value to your site could dramatically affect your rankings. It’s also worth noting that having removed the damaging links, you may not see results right away. You may also find your site bouncing from position to position for some time.
However, the way I see it, it’s not a bad thing if you notice a decline in rankings after removing the suspected backlinks. Ultimately you need to remain in control of the backlinks you have to your site.
How To Submit a Disavow in Google Search Console
To submit a disavow you need two things:
1. A list of the links you want to disavow
2. An account on Google Search Console
The disavow file that you submit to Google should be in .txt format and include some annotations so you can continue to update it. If you do upload a file and then a week later upload another, it will replace the first one. If you continue to update one file then this will help to ensure you don’t miss any previously submitted links.
A sample file would look like this:
For additional safety when removing backlinks from domains you definitely don’t want to have backlinks on, I would recommend to disavow whole domains, not only the pages you found your backlinks on. The reason is that even if you disavow the single page, a link to your website might be on other pages like author pages, feeds etc. You want to be sure you have nothing in common with toxic domains, therefore, disavowing the whole domain is good practice.
Here is the excerpt from the disavow file showing a correct way of disavowing domains:
Once you have completed your list you should submit it to the following URL:
Select the property (website) that you want to remove links from.
Select ‘Disavow Links’ and a pop-up will appear.
Select ‘Choose File’ and upload your .txt file and then click ‘Submit’.
Remember, the effects of this are not instant; it can take Google some time to disavow links.
IMPORTANT: Make sure you only upload a .txt file that contains the links you want to remove. Submitting any other links by mistake could have a detrimental impact on your rankings.
MONITOR CONTENT FOR DUPLICATES
There is some debate on whether or not duplicate content penalties exist. Regardless of this, you don’t want your content to be all over the internet; you want it to be unique to your website.
I do believe duplicate content is an issue; the problem lies with whether or not Google knows your content is the original. If it does, you shouldn’t be penalized but if it doesn’t, then you could experience some problems.
I would recommend using Copyscape to locate any potential content that has been duplicated.
Simply drop a URL in the search bar and it will check to see if the content on that page is found on any other websites. It can be time-consuming but worthwhile if any of your content has been copied.
How To Fix Copied Content
There are several ways in which you can hopefully resolve duplicate content issues. It’s important to remember that some people are new to affiliate marketing and even though it’s annoying, they may simply not know you shouldn’t copy content.
Drop a friendly email to the offending website advising them that they are displaying content that has been copied from your site, and requesting that they remove it. This usually works well.
If it has been done because of Negative SEO then you will often find a lot of copies of the same page on many different websites, which would make contacting each one harder to do.
If you have tried contacting them or there are just too many copies, the best option would be to rewrite the content. I know this might not seem to be an ideal solution, as it does result in more work, but it can work out better for you.
By rewriting the content you can potentially improve on it even more, adding extra images and other useful information which may help with rankings. We also know that Google likes fresh content. Updating a post can, therefore, have added benefits in terms of ranking.
It is, therefore, possible to turn a negative situation into a positive one and actually benefit from being attacked!
PREVENT SEO ATTACKS FROM HURTING YOUR AFFILIATE WEBSITE
I did mention before that it’s not really possible to prevent negative SEO and in some respect that is true. You cannot stop people stealing content or building negative backlinks. You can, however, prevent Google from penalizing your site for the duplicate content and the volume of poor quality backlinks. How?
Have an authority website!
If you build a high-quality authority site within your niche; a site that is built on great content with link juice from good quality sources, then it is harder for it to be taken down by negative SEO. Google will see your site as an authority and therefore ignore a lot of the negative issues.
Big sites can still be hit by negative SEO, and if you are, continue to add great quality content on a daily/weekly basis as well as building good quality links and the effects of negative SEO should be minimal.
Here is an interesting video from Matt Cutts regarding ‘Negative SEO – should you still be worried?’
I know as well as anyone that any form of attack on your website whether it’s a brute force attack or negative SEO is upsetting and stressful. It can have devastating effects on your website and your potential income.
But by adding some security to your website and having a good strategy to spot any potential threats, you can keep your site and income protected.
I do hope this article has been useful and I’m sure that affiliates in the MoreNiche network would prefer to help each other rather than harm one another. If you do have any questions or comments, please use the comment section below.