In recent years, the marketing world has been shaken by a new phenomenon that has become a dirty word: Negative SEO or NSEO. The other words associated with NSEO are “De-ranking” and “de-indexing” or, in more common parlance, the “disappearance” of your link from search engine pages. Many people are wondering how real the threat of NSEO is, and what its concrete impacts on a company’s online business can be. We should start by explaining that SEO is the optimisation of your website’s visibility and by extension its position in the search engine result pages; this is done by discovering and using a number of criteria that are factored into search engine algorithms. The more closely your site matches the criteria used by search engines to determine whether content is relevant, the more other sites will post links to your site, and the higher your website will rank in the search results. This basically amounts to raising your site’s visibility without having to pay for advertising space. When a content marketing projet goes online SEO must be performed quickly to gain a top spot in search engine results in order to secure a large audience and make a quick and lasting marketing impact. This is precisely the time when the site is at risk of an NSEO attack that could cause it to lose its high ranking. But before going on to further describe and analyze NSEO, here is a bit of historical background.
The Birth of the Internet: from a mere gadget to an essential tool
At its inception (1995-2000), the Web was used by individuals and academics solely for the purposes of sharing information and communicating globally. The idea of individuals creating a website, inventing a concept and being able to put it online quickly was novel at the time.
Efforts to implement a high-quality content strategy can be destroyed by one NSEO attack. Hence the importance of being vigilant and protecting your website from such attacks.
From the year 2000 on, as interest in this new communication medium grew, more and more people began to use the Internet, and consumers especially became interested in exchanging information about products and services; it was at this time that price comparison websites appeared. Companies came into direct competition due to this new and unanticipated use of the Internet.
Around 2005, marketing departments started telling management that it was important to be present on the Web, although at that time the commercial side (sales of new products, before and after-sales service, etc.) was not yet part of that presence. With sites like eBay and PriceMinister, exchanges and sales of secondhand goods developed exponentially. Marketing departments quickly realized that it was to their advantage to use Internet too: there were opportunities for product advertising and promotion, for using new marketing tools, maintaining customer databases, tracking customer behavior, etc.
As the Web and especially the social networks developed, marketing departments kept control over the company website without necessarily working with their IT departments, although they were in charge of DATA and network services. They gradually turned their sites into sophisticated and highly customised marketing machines that became the chief source of data on customers’ online behavior in addition to data from their retail outlets. Social networks also made it possible to communicate directly with customers.
Today, the situation can be described as follows: the company website has become the cornerstone of sales and marketing activity for companies across all sectors. Another interesting fact is that IT departments are often not part of the team when projects are being implemented, although they should be included not only in the technical side (hardware, back and front office software), but also in Web security in order to protect the investment made by the marketing department.
The aim is not to pit company departments against each other, but to show that historically Internet has arrived in businesses from an unexpected direction and responsibility for Internet activity sits between two departments with different cultures and ways of working. Therefore, website security and NSEO attacks were not necessarily on the marketing department’s radar screen, especially when they were under pressure from the sales department which was following its own agenda. This created a kind of no-man’s land between SEO as it was understood from a marketing standpoint and Web security as seen by the IT department.
While this situation still exists today, the website is now critical to the life of a company. In addition, the fact that the Web is global and totally open has resulted in the appearance of techniques designed to thwart the sales and marketing strategies used by marketing departments on the corporate website; these techniques are questionable (if not outright dishonest) and extremely devious, and one of them is NSEO.