The effectiveness of your website depends on a variety of factors. One of the top factors is how well you’ve optimized your site to appears in search.
Whatever industry you are in, the number of competitors in your industry who own websites is staggering. That means you have to really have a strong SEO strategy in place to compete.
When most people think about SEO, the first things that come to mind are keywords, links and content. But it goes deeper than that. One thing many people neglect is website security.
So, how does website security impact SEO performance? Let’s look first at the concept of site security.
Site security involves putting things in place to protect your site from cyberattacks, data breaches and other issues. It also applies to the efforts you have in place to create stability after malware and hackers attack.
Here’s a crazy stat for you.
On average, websites suffer 58 attacks every day. With so much peril existing in the form on online security attacks, Google wants to make sure it only serves up search results that link to sites that not only provide the best info, but also offer high levels of security to protect site visitors.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into how website security impacts SEO, and how your search rankings could be impacted.
Over 90% of internet users begin their web surfing experience by typing their query into a search engine (i.e. Google, Bing, Yahoo). You want your site to appear in these searches for relevant keywords. But if you aren’t focused on security, your site could be blacklisted.
Blacklisting is a situation where the search engines refuse to list your pages.
That generally happens as a result of poor SEO and shabby site security. When a website gets blacklisted, it loses almost 95% of its organic traffic, which directly affects revenue and can crush companies that rely solely on online sales to produce revenue.
Typically, when a website ends up blacklisted it means it contains something harmful to users. Malware is one example.
To avoid blacklisting, your first step should be to focus on site security. If your site isn’t blacklisted, you still need to make sure to apply proper security tactics like having an SSL certificate in place or having a secure transaction platform set up.
If you’re aren’t blacklisted, you may let down your guard and think all is fine, but you can still get hit by hackers. A recent report from GoDaddy shows that about 90% of cases of infected websites were not flagged. This means that operators could be continually targeted without their knowledge, and this is deceptively dangerous.
2. Crawling Errors
Bots generate half of all web traffic. Your website and its traffic cannot benefit you without the support of a bot. A bot is a software application that fetches, analyzes, and files information from web servers.
That process is called crawling. The bad news is that not all bots are friendly. Google’s bots crawl the Internet and index sites for search based on what they find.
But bad actors keep building nasty bots that are also out there crawling around.
These bad bots are used to scan websites for software vulnerabilities to execute attacks.
As per reports, at least 19% of bots crawl sites for wicked purposes like content scraping, vulnerability identification, or data theft.
Whether the attempts of these nefarious bots are unsuccessful or not really doesn’t matter (although you should prefer they are not).
Constant attacks from automated software can prevent Google’s bots from adequately crawling your site. The technical way of describing this is Crawling Errors.
The confusing thing about bots is that legitimate bots may encounter a fault on your website. This happens when an application with an infinite loop or endless script execution is running on your website simultaneously.
Most websites use server-side caching to serve pre-built versions of their pages to take care of this growing issue. That practice has an added benefit of reducing load times for your real visitors. Reduced load times can boost your SEO, so make sure your site is set to both protect against bad bots as well as accommodate the good ones.
To catch bad bots, you should be vigilantly on the lookout for things like spikes in traffic from odd sources, frequent failed login attempts or failed purchase attempts, spammy comments and other oddities that just don’t seem right.
3. SEO Spam
Businesses use SEO writing best practices to optimize their websites’ content to rank high on search engines like Google. I’ve said this over and over again on podcasts, in articles and in person (whenever anyone will listen), but content is the cornerstone of any marketing strategy, especially SEO.
That content, however, can end up working against you if you don’t protect it.
When spammers use your site to rank content that won’t rank otherwise, it’s called SEO spam. This is one of the most-known black-hat SEO techniques.
Hackers use it for generating revenue at the expense of the destruction of your website. If Google or any other search engine finds your website to be engaging in SEO spam, they will ban your site.
Obviously, that’s not a desired result.
Below are some of the types of SEO spam attacks you need to know.
- Spam Keyword Insertion
- Spam Link Injection
- Creating New Pages
- Display Banners and Ads
- Spam Emails
Make sure you are on the lookout for these. You should continuously review your links to ensure you don’t have any of these on your site. Remove them asap when you find them.
How hackers gain access to sites?
To better understand a hacker’s mindset and approach, I connected with Ali Qamar, an internet security champion and editor at Privacy Savvy. Ali has a strong background protecting sites from all of the craziness we just discussed above, so I wanted to get his insight into how you can protect your own site. Here’s what he had to say.
“Regardless of what kind of hacker someone is, identifying system weaknesses, which only requires systematically thinking through possible actions and some logical reasoning, is all a hacker goes after mostly. If you simply focus on filling your essential system security holes, most hackers will prefer moving onto the next ‘easy’ targets.”
In the case of websites, hackers gain access to websites through outdated plugins or themes and weak credentials. According to Qamar’s advice, if you at least maintain a basic focus on ensuring things like these are taken care of, you position your site to send hackers packing before they do any harm.
“Usually, outdated themes and plugins contain security holes, known as vulnerabilities, that hackers exploit for breaking into your site. Take care of these holes, and you are in a good place. They can pass through your weak credentials by deploying bots onto your website admin login page. Having weak (easy to guess) credentials makes hackers’ jobs easy because bots developed by these malicious actors today can let them try out thousands of credential variations within a few minutes,” continued Qamar.
That brings us to the point that hackers can crack weak passwords in seconds to access your admin dashboard in no time. If that happens, they will start injecting SEO spams (again a black-hat technique that Google hates) into your pages and posts. If you leave your site vulnerable to these holes, you can rest assured hackers will be chomping at the bit to get into your site and make your life miserable.
Quick ways to detect SEO spam
So, now that you understand the importance, let’s look at how you can detect SEO spams.
Consider the following as red flags hinting at the presence of SEO spam on your site:
- Warnings in GSC (Google Search Console).
- Unexpected ads.
- A sudden increase or drop in traffic.
- Unusual anchor texts like “cheap Levis jeans” or “buy viagra.”
- New posts and pages getting created without you knowing.
If you notice any of these things, I highly recommend acting quickly. Hiring an SEO agency is the best approach, as you want to be sure you catch everything, and you eliminate all the issues. When one issues makes it through, thousands usually follow. So, trying to go it alone can be a daunting task.
One easy way to get rid of SEO Spam
If you’ve uncovered SEO spam on your site, one way you can clean SEO spam out of your website is through a website security scanner.
Like anything else online, the market is packed with a ton of different options for security scanners, but MalCare Security Scanner is my top recommendation (which is a free plugin for WordPress).
Once you have this plugin installed, it will begin monitoring your site and will alert you to any issues.
If there is any sort of malicious attempt to hurt your site, you will know. You can then take action to remove the negative issue or put additional security measures in place.
Further steps to protect your site from attacks
Aside from having a malware detector in place, you need to take additional actions and put additional pieces in place to ensure your site’s security.
Simply cleaning the spam from your site doesn’t guarantee that it will stay secure (or even that it is secure after removal).
To ensure your site is fully protected, make sure you have the following in place:
- Install a security plugin
- Use a F
- Protect your login page by the principle of password complexity.
- Ensure that all users’ credentials are unique.
- Limit the number of failed login attempts.
- Lock your LAN (Local Area Network) down.
While SSL or HTTPS is ideal for many reasons, it is no longer considered a net security superman.
Yes, Google has always advocated a secure web and suggested websites should move to HTTPS.
This is because data is encrypted in transit, preventing any misuse of privacy and sensitive information. Great, isn’t it. But it is not enough. You must take your website security measures beyond HTTPs for better SEO today.
Website security affects everyone out there. And, the problem is not going away any time soon. In the future, the top SEO agency, in-house talent, or independent contractor will need to have a good working understanding of cybersecurity.
As an industry professional, you need to be aware of the potential risks and educate others on the same. That will not only help with SEO but with your business as a whole.