We don’t often talk about negative SEO in financial marketing. Normally, we like to take a positive approach to SEO.
In other words, what can you do to increase the quality of your content, website structure and technical architecture, in order to improve your search rankings in Google?
Negative SEO is similar to the above in one respect – both approaches seek to put your firm on top in Google Search, in order to gain maximum brand exposure and lead generation. Negative SEO differs, however, in its approach. Instead, the focus is on undermining competitors in the search engines, to make room for your website to move up and supplant them.
If we were to take a sports analogy in football, the “positive SEO” player would be focused on doing all they can to improve their skills, in order to win a game. The “negative SEO” player, however, would be concentrating more on winning through hurting the opponent’s players (e.g. through mind games or trying to cause substitutions through deliberate injury).
There no doubt that both approaches can result in victory. However, there’s certainly more dignity and personal reward in the first approach.
When we bring this back to financial marketing and SEO, we can also see similar tactics used by IFAs in Google Search. Some are actively trying to secure top rankings by offering great, quality content which answers users’ questions, and meets their needs.
More rarely (but occasionally), there are those who want to get there by manipulating their competitor’s links, content or reviews.
Let’s look a bit more closely at what negative SEO is, and how it can affect your financial website.
What Is “Negative SEO”, And Is It Even Real?
Google has stated in the past that negative SEO isn’t “real.” But that isn’t entirely honest.
Think about it. How easy is it for you to cause your rankings to decline, just by accidentally shifting some variable in your website settings? If it is possible for you to do that inadvertently, then isn’t it possible that someone else out to do you harm could do it deliberately?
One very common way people try and hurt financial websites, is by posting links to your website on lots of other dubious websites.
These latter websites typically fall into one or more of the “Four Ps” (porn, poker, payday loans and pills). If you had even a few websites like this linking to your financial website, it wouldn’t take long until your Google rankings were affected.
Tactics such as these are sometimes called “Black Hat SEO” – commonly defined as any web activity which violates Google’s terms of service on acceptable use.
On the flipside, anyone who strives to follow these TOAU is known as a “White Hat SEO.” For instance, if Google were suddenly to turn around and say it is wrong to buy links in their TOAU , then the White Hat SEO person would immediately recommend to clients that they cease buying links.
This area is a bit murky, however, as not all Black Hat SEO tactics fall into the category of “Negative SEO”. Moreover, sometimes SEO can be both positive and negative!
For instance, suppose a really great publication website is linking to your competitor’s content (say, an article on defined benefit pensions). However, you have a much better article on your website which would give the publication a far better link. So you approach the webmaster and ask if they would consider replacing your competitor’s link with yours.
In this scenario, was your activity really Black Hat? Or was it White Hat?
Moreover, if the publication replaces the link, did you hurt your competitor? Did you go out of your way to do so? Or did you primarily benefit your own financial website?
There’s no easy answer to these questions, and good, decent people in the SEO and financial marketing world would probably offer different opinions.
That said, most IFAs would agree that leaving fake reviews on a Google My Business page, or linking to a website on lots of other dubious ones, is definitely crossing a line.
Have My Financial Marketing Been Hit By Negative SEO?
It’s worth stating now. In our experience, most IFAs do not know how to engage in negative SEO even if they wanted to.
Moreover, those that have done it tend to be pretty bad at it. We recently saw one financial adviser in Ireland try and make a direct copy of one of our client’s websites, for instance. It didn’t take long for it to be spotted and shut down.
Doing negative SEO properly requires quite a lot of expertise, planning and focused effort. Quite frankly, most IFAs have got better things to do than try and trip up their competitors in Google.
That said, it does happen and it pays to be vigilant. You do not need to be a big firm with lots of money and brand exposure to attract unwanted attention from hackers, and malicious users.
Negative SEO attacks tend to happen in a short window of time. We’re taking weeks, not months or years. So if your financial marketing suddenly sees a sharp dive in search engine rankings, it is worth asking the question. Have we been the target of a negative SEO attack?
If you suspect something sinister is afoot, there are some great tools you can use to assess your link profile:
Many people ask if there’s anything they can do to prevent a negative SEO attack on their financial marketing. For most IFAs, it isn’t cost effective to push tonnes of resource and investment into protecting their SEO. Morever, the same holds true for most people who might consider targeting you.
However, your best means of prevention is to maintain a clean, healthy link profile on your financial website. If you have a strong set of backlinks, then it will be harder for any link-based negative SEO attack to significantly harm you.
If your financial website is weak on links, then it is worth building them up. Think of links like antibodies. The more you have and the more robust they are, the less likely you are to get ill!