In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating effects on the economy worldwide, cybersecurity concerns have recently taken the spotlight. The number of reported attacks in the US alone rose by 69% in 2020 after hackers broke into a number of private computer systems and encrypted the data for ransom. Threats to website safety can also put a business’s search engine optimization (SEO) strategies at risk, as more and more malicious hackers target small businesses with poor cybersecurity measures.

What is SEO Poisoning?

Almost every website now incorporates SEO into its online marketing strategy. A higher search engine ranking leads to organic visibility, which means more people — and potential customers — will see what your business is offering. As digital marketing specialists Ayima point out, an effective strategy will drive organic traffic and boost website performance. This would include initiatives on performance SEO, analytics, as well as paid and biddable media. If even just one goes awry, your website’s rankings may go down in favor of your competitors.

Another aspect of SEO that can affect your search ranking is user safety. If search engines suspect your website is harboring malicious links and viruses, they will punish you by putting you into a penalty box. This means a lower ranking for your site and less credibility for your business. And that’s exactly what SEO poisoning does.

One form of SEO poisoning targets legitimate websites and infects these with malicious links. When a user visits your site and clicks on one of those links, they may be redirected to a page where they are exposed to a number of cybersecurity threats like bots or Trojan files. In the past, SEO poisoning meant hackers would create entirely new pages using hot keywords and adding malicious links to them; now, it’s much easier for them to simply infect a website that already has a high search ranking.

How to Defend Your Site From SEO Poisoning

So how do you protect your website and hard-earned ranking from SEO poisoning? Here are some tips to follow:

Cultivate a culture of cybersecurity: While admins have the responsibility of making sure all operating systems have updated security software installed, it’s essential to educate other users on common tactics used by SEO attackers as well. As the experts from the EU Agency for Cybersecurity point out, some of the most common cyber incidents include stolen laptops and phishing attacks, which may give hackers access to your site. Train employees to recognize these threats and avoid giving their log-in credentials to unauthorized personnel.

Configure your web servers for better security: Aside from redirecting visitors from your website to a malicious site, attackers may also add inaccurate keywords and meta tags into your site pages to make it look like you’re using black hat SEO techniques. It’s important to monitor and secure all web servers and applications to prevent cross-scripting. Do your best to configure your site; there are plenty of guides that can help you, such as the Postfix – Configuration Tips to Fight Spam guide.

Perform routine checks: In order to detect if your site has fallen to SEO poisoning, you can use Google’s “Fetch as Google” tool to check how your site would look to a Googlebot user agent. The tool will trigger scripts a hacker may have installed to present a different version of your site to Google, so your site may be infected if it looks different. Even after a hack has been dealt with, it’s crucial to check your site’s security regularly because it can get hacked again. Install a firewall and keep your CMS, themes, and plugins updated. You want to make sure that your website is as safe and functional as it can be for your visitors.

For more tips and information on securing your website, read more articles on Malware Expert.

Posted by Charlie