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COVER STORY

Negative campaigning isn’t limited to politics – your competitors could be sabotaging your website

Negative SEO? When you first hear the words “Negative SEO” you probably think it sounds like an oxymoron. You know, like living dead, original copy, dark light or accidentally on purpose. But two items that don’t seem to mesh are finally doing so. During this election year, we have all seen the dirty tricks politicians have played on each other – negative smear campaigns and truth spinning. But don’t think those tactics are isolated to politics. In the automotive industry, there are growing numbers of companies that like to play dirty as well, and if you are not aware of it yet, you need to continue reading. With the constant uphill battle of your competition “flagging” your ads on Craigslist or leaving negative reviews on listing services such as Dealerrater .com, Google Places or even Merchant Circle, the war has just become a bit more complicated. “Negative SEO” can mean any type of malicious harm intentionally caused to hurt the placement of a website’s search engine rankings. The thought process is, if you can’t become No. 1, then sabotage all of those ahead of you until you are No. 1. Forcing one website to appear lower in the SERP (search engine rank placement) means other websites will climb higher in the SERP. That’s why negative SEO is considered a viable model by unethical website providers and online marketing companies. The most common form of negative SEO is accomplished by linking a website to low-quality, unrelated businesses. Those are called “black-hat” links – they’re the bad guys. Links are among the most important items when it comes to SEO (search engine optimization), but you want to make sure related industry businesses are linking into your website. Links can pass value to your website when done the right way. Links can harm your website when done the wrong way.

There are two types of linking that can be done with any website: internal linking and external linking. Internal linking is linking to resources inside your website/ domain, while external linking links to web pages or other resources outside your website/domain. A link on another website that points to your site can either have value to it and help your site or it can have a negative effect on your website and hurt you. External links that point to your site are a common way negative SEO is applied, and it is very hard to see because it all happens away from your site and is nearly invisible. Related incoming business links: You might have heard the term “link swapping.” That’s when a business asks you to place a link to it on your website in exchange for a link from its website. That can be beneficial if the business is in the same industry as you are. For example, if a used car dealership swaps links with an auto repair/service facility, a towing company or a tire sales business. There is a reason for you to swap links because you are helping your customers navigate to a product or service that you might not offer that could be considered helpful. Value can be associated to both websites in that process. Each of the links from the other website that points to your website counts as an “incoming/inbound link” to your site. Other related links that can qualify are from third-party paid listing services, social media outlets, online video channels and business directory listings. If you are link swapping with other businesses, you always want to make sure the links you are pointing to are valid websites that are still in business. If you are linking to an off-line website, or “dead link,” as it is called, it can easily wipe out the value of hundreds of positive links. Disassociated business links and unnatural links: Disassociated

links are considered an attempt to try to boost the ranking of your site for the sole purpose of increasing your position. Some businesses think all links are good links. Right? Wrong! Make sure links pointing to your website are within your general industry – stay away from disassociated links, such as linking a used car dealership with, say, a flower shop, a hardware store or a movie theater. In addition to disassociated links, there are companies referred to as “link farms” that advertise they’ll sell you hundreds or thousands of incoming/inbound links, which are referred to as “backlinks.” The companies will point those links to your website for a monthly fee. Most of the time, the companies will claim the links they provide will be within the same industry as your business, but there is no real way to guarantee that. Google recently released an update called the Penguin that in part identifies websites in the link farm business that offer unnatural links. If you are found on the receiving end of those links, you could have some serious issues with your online placement. Because there is nothing to keep a competitor from signing up your website’s URL with those kinds of companies, and the links do not appear on your website, that style of attack can easily go unnoticed. Be aware of who is linking to you. Periodically looking into what links are being directed to your website can help detect negative SEO campaigns that have been launched against your business, as well as identify any links that are unrelated to your industry. There are many free websites you can use to check for backlinks. A good free site to check is www.ranksignals.com, which allows you to identify the total number of backlinks as well as get a page rank of the links that are pointing to your website.

BY MICHAEL D. JACKSON CEO OF AUTO SEARCH TECHNOLOGIES, INC. HE CAN BE REACHED AT (949) 608-0809 OR CEO@AUTOSEARCHTECH.COM.

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TNIADA Dealer Connect Dec 2012  

Tennessee Dealer Connect for December 2012