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How Hackers May Be Hurting Your SEO

SEOs should be fully aware of the risks posed by website hackers. Learn more about how hacking can severely affect a website's organic performance.

How Hackers May Be Hurting Your SEO

It is oftentimes rather easy to sometimes grow complacent as an SEO when it comes to site security, or put all of the responsibility on I.T. departments when it comes to any form of cybersecurity or hacking prevention practices.

It’s a debatable topic amongst many, however, this is defiantly true:

Website security, or the absence of it, can directly and critically impact a site, and that includes the site’s organic performance.

For this reason, website security should not be ignored when it comes to digital marketing plans.

But first, let’s gain a deeper understanding of what hacking, it itself, is, in order to connect the dots on why it should not be neglected.

What Is Hacking?

Hacking occurs when an individual gains access to a specific website or computer network, sans permission.

Unwarranted hacking most often occurs when people are trying to gain access to sensitive or private information, or to redirect users to a specific hacker’s website.

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What Are Some Common Tools Utilized by Hackers?

Malware

Malware is specifically designed to damage or disable a specific network, with the goal usually being a data breach.

The potential after-effects of a malware attack can be great, including extensive financial losses for an organization.

Spamming

Website spamming usually occurs when a hacker adds hypertext to a webpage that, when clicked on by a user, will link to the hacker’s chosen destination.

Adding spammy links to a hacker’s website on websites that have a high amount of traffic to them has a chance of increasing search engine rankings.

It is essentially a way to shortcut the system of solidified, ethical SEO work.

Effects of Hacking

The ramifications of hacking can be significant and far-reaching. There are a few more common things that can happen when a website is hacked.

SEO Spam

GoDadddy conducted a study a few years ago where they concluded that over 73% of hacked websites were hacked due to SEO spam reasons.

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Something like this could be planned and deliberate, or an attempt to scrape a website that is authoritative and capitalize on strong rankings and visibility.

In most cases, legitimate sites are ultimately turned into link farms and visitors are tricked with phishing or malware links.

Hackers may also employ that use of SQL injections, where a site will be turned over with spam and recovery may be very difficult.

Malicious Code

This can potentially put your website in the sandbox if Google detects it.

If detected, Google will display a warning message when users try to navigate to the site, and therefore encouraging them to stay away.

It can also potentially result in the complete removal of a site from search engines in an effort to safeguard users.

This will both, directly and indirectly, influence SEO value:

  • Visits: Overall organic site traffic will most likely drop significantly.
  • Engagement metrics: Metrics such as time on site, pages per session, and bounce rate will most likely be negatively affected, which will send negative signals to Google in terms of user experience factors.
  • Mistrust: Users who know that your site may be less enticed to visit again if they know that your site has had one or multiple security issues, thus also affecting your traffic, and ultimately, your bottom line.

Unplanned Redirects

Oftentimes, hackers will implement redirects when a website is hacked.

These will send users to a different website than the one that they navigated to initially.

When users are directed to this separate web address, they will usually find that the site contains:

  • Malicious forms of content such as duplicate content that isn’t true.
  • Other types of scams like phishing where users are enticed to click on a spammy link and ultimately reveal sensitive information.

If Google follows your site that has been redirected and sees that it contains questionable content, it may severely hurt overall organic visibility in search.

Backlinks

Search engines carefully assess the overall reputation and value of domains and links that link to one another.

During a hack, links will oftentimes be added to a site, and most likely ones with low value, which can negatively affect SEO efforts.

Your website may ultimately be flooded with backlinks from questionable sources, which will most likely decrease the level of trust Google or other search engines has in a site.

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Blacklisting

Being hacked can put a site at a serious detriment in Google’s eyes. This can affect a site’s presence in SERPs and also result in potentially several manual actions in Search Console if Google flags it.

The kicker is, is that oftentimes they do not. This usually only leads to more attacks, such as via malware, without the webmaster knowing, and puts the site at risk for an even greater loss, both from a visibility and revenue standpoint.

This creates a bit of a conundrum. Being flagged or blacklisted for malware essentially depletes your site’s visibility across the board, at least until the site is analyzed and cleaned and penalties removed.

Yet, not getting flagged when your site contains malware can result in greater risk and penalization.

Common Risks & How to Prevent Attacks

There are a few more common things that put your site at a greater risk of getting hacked:

Installing Plugins or Other Tools From Untrusted Sources or Not Updating Them

Many plugins, such as those used in a CMS such as WordPress, are not all secure.

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Hackers are consistently searching for sites that use insecure or outdated plugins and then finding ways to exploit the site.

As a best practice, it is recommended to research a plugin and read reviews before installing it on your site.

Sharing a Server May Also Pose a Risk in Terms of Site Security

This is because someone could easily upload a spammy or malicious file, or even grant access to other hackers.

Non-Secure Credentials May Also Pose a Risk for Data Security

It is recommended that secure passwords are created for online accounts and make them difficult to guess.

Another more advanced method to prevent an attack is through penetration testing. This analyzes and tests your network’s security and any potential vulnerabilities within it.

Conclusion

Everyone is affected by web security. When building a partnership with a website or client, SEOs should be able to provide some advice when it terms to overall security.

If you’re responsible for the SEO effectiveness of a site, part of your role is to ensure that there are security measures in place to protect it.

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Natalie Hoben

Digital Marketing Specialist at Forthea Interactive

Natalie Hoben is a Digital Marketing Specialist at Forthea Interactive, a results-driven online marketing company.

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