The threat of negative SEO is daunting, but very real. Any competitor of yours could utilize negative SEO to hurt your SEO rankings and improve their chances at beating you for a top slot in Google.
What is Negative SEO?
Negative SEO is a set of activities (often performed by a site's competitors) aimed at lowering a website's rankings in search results by performing activities that Google openly frows upon or doesnt allow. Typically these activities are conducted off-page (like building unnatural links to the site or scraping and reposting its content - which Google sees as spammy); but in some cases, "they may also involve hacking the site and modifying its content." (source)
If you have noticed a sudden drop in your rankings, its not likely that negative SEO is to blame. The effects of negative SEO take longer to pick up on, creating a slow decline in your site influence and authority - causing you to slip over time.
There are many different ways a competitor might attempt negative SEO against your site, but these are the most common 3 forms of negative SEO to be wary of in 2017:
1. Link Farms. A couple spammy links here and there won't hurt your SEO severely, but with link farming - the negative links are often created across multiple inteconnected sites that use exact match (and unrelated) anchor text to link back to your website. According to MarketingLand.com, this happened to a Wordpress Podcast site called WP Bacon. "Over a short period of time, the site acquired thousands of links with the anchor text “porn movie.” Throughout 10 days, WP Bacon fell 50+ spots in Google for the majority of keywords it ranked for. This story has a happy ending though: the webmaster disavowed the spammy domains, and eventually, WP Bacon recovered most of its rankings." (source)
2. Content Scraping. This is one of the most common forms of negative SEO I have seen. Content scraping is when a portion of content from a website (or the entire site all together) is copied and pasted to a low quality, spam site. Google penalizes duplicate content. Typically though, they are "smart" enough to be able to tell what is the original source of content - unless the spammy content is somehow crawled first. So the spammers (likely competitors) will copy and paste the site content and then immediately submit it to Google for crawling, hoping to outsmart the system.
3. Incorrect Local Listings. Anyone who has done work on local listings knows how arduous the process is. You must manually go in and make changes to a variety of business information across the web to ensure it is correct and consistent. For negative SEO, a competitor might go in and make updates to your local listings - providing incorrect information to your audience and to search engines. Too much inconsistent information across the web is bad not only because it can be penalized by Google, but also because it sends wrong information to your audience.
Unfortunately there is no real way to protect yourself proactively from negative SEO. The only thing you can do is be vigilant about monitoring your site's rankings and reasons why there may be declines. The techniques outlined above are just a few negative SEO methods. To learn even more about the ways in which your site can be effected by SEO, take a look at this article from MarketingLand.