There is no doubt that search engine optimization (SEO) is important for every business that has an online presence. SEO takes up a significant portion of the marketing budget for many organizations and companies. Your website builds a strong ranking over a number of years and this can be crucial to the business.

It is well known that some things are good for SEO, such as strong links and fantastic content. Others are bad, such as broken links and poor design. But many businesses don’t realize just how much damage a cyber-attack can do to SEO efforts. Here we take a look at what can happen to your SEO in the aftermath of a cyber incident. What can you do to mitigate the risk of attacks?

Hacked sites often have their content changed

Cyber-criminals have diverse goals and objectives and hacks can occur for a variety of reasons. Hackers may often look to steal data. However, others may change the content of the websites that they are able to hack into. So, if you suffer an attack you may find that not only have criminals compromised sensitive information, but they have defaced parts of your site too.

There are many examples of criminal hackers modifying sites – including placing malicious links to infect users. Some hacks have been used to spread propaganda about a cause or organization. Some hackers also compromise sites to send spam emails or secretly mine cryptocurrency.

Regardless of the type of attack your business suffers, it can cause damage to your reputation with Google. You can lose your ranking or be penalized if the crawlers find links to dangerous sites and irrelevant content. This is especially true if you do not identify the hack early and respond swiftly enough.

Google blacklisting

Google blacklists compromised websites with text that reads ‘This site may be hacked’. This could put off potential visitors coming to your site. Additionally, this warning placed against your site will undoubtedly see it fall quickly in search rankings. To fix this, contact Google through Search Console to request a review of your site. However, it is important to have taken remedial steps first. The whole process can take a significant amount of time.

Google could become aware of the hack before you do. They may then flag your website without you realizing. The longer this warning appears the more damage it will do.

Remember that user behavior also affects SEO. A user visiting an obviously hacked website will immediately click away. This can indicate to Google that your site is not offering visitors what they are looking for. Your site may then drop in the rankings.

Bad reviews affect SEO

It’s worth remembering that reviews can make a big difference to your SEO. Google has its own Reviews section where customers and visitors can leave their comments. There are also independent review sites across industries. Google uses these reviews as an influencing factor in your ranking.

So, your hacked site could influence negative reviews against you. These reviews will hang around for a long time – in many cases, indefinitely.

Cyber-attacks cause downtime

Site downtime is almost inevitable after a cyber-incident. This continues as you try to address damage and work out exactly how the attack was able to occur. Cleaning your site is very important, but it can leave you offline for a significant period of time. This is always going to be bad news for your SEO.

Google has stated that having a website down for more than 15 minutes will begin to affect rankings. This will only get worse as time goes on.

How to improve the security of your website

Building up a strong position in Google’s ranking takes a great deal of time, cost and effort. So, suffering a cyber-attack that inflicts financial as well as reputational damage can be enormously frustrating. A single cyber incident could weaken your site and lose much of the good work you have achieved over time. This is why it is vital to invest in modern, proactive cyber security to minimise your business’ risk.

“In the absence of a silver bullet for preventing 100% of malicious actors, your organisation’s ability to proactively detect and respond to cyber-attacks can be the difference between swift, low-cost remediation and significant financial and reputational damage.”

Redscan, penetration testing specialists.

You can use the following advice to help protect the security of your business’ website:

  • Conduct regular website vulnerability assessments to identify weaknesses. These could include out of date web applications, configuration errors and insecure credentials
  • Commission internal and external penetration testing to uncover hidden risks such as authentication and validation errors
  • Install a dedicated website security application or plug-in offering features such as spam protection and file integrity monitoring
  • Use HTTPS for encryption and authentication
  • Enforce multi-factor authentication across content management systems
  • Arrange regular cyber security training for staff to help raise awareness of common attack methods such as social engineering
  • Regularly back up your website and databases