Marketers must pay close attention to their backlink profiles because they might be vulnerable to competitors' black hat linking practices.

Google recently updated the wording around its Webmaster Tools “Can Competitors harm ranking?” help page, leaving some to wonder if brands can use negative SEO to harm their competitors online. If this is the case, publishers will need to be more vigilant about their search marketing strategies to verify that competitors aren’t damaging their online visibility.

The search engine previously asserted that websites’ search rankings couldn’t be damaged if competitors used black hat techniques against them.

Search Engine Watch reports Google’s initial iteration of the site stated: “There’s nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. Last year, it qualified the information by announcing there is “almost nothing a competitor can do.”

The new guidance leaves the claim out, and instead advises companies to take action if they think their rankings are being impacted by competitors’ practices. Google explains that while “[It] works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index,” implying brands might have to protect themselves from harmful practices at the end of the day.

Matt Cutts answers questions about negative SEO in a Google Webmaster Tool update.

Search Engineer Matt Cutts is featured in a video on the updated page, telling marketers to report spam content they find on the web as a way to police sites using black hat techniques to outrank brands that employ SEO content best practices. Relevant, high-quality web content outweighs SEO fads in the long run, Cutts elaborates, so it behooves marketers to build strategies that withstand the test of time.

In a recent blog post, Brafton listed six ways for marketers to improve their link profiles if they are suffering at the hands of the latest Penguin update or malevolent backlinks from competitors. Best practices like building new landing pages, publishing fresh content on a daily basis and growing a social media presence are ways to enhance search performance organically.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.