The SEO Implications of Getting “Hacked”

Websites are increasingly being hacked on autopilot. Intruders are using scripts to crawl the web and infect sites using outdated or insecure software. Including plugins, add-ons, and themes. Security is necessary for web marketing to be successful, and SEO is particularly vulnerable.


1. Spammy Content
Intruders typically want to use a website’s existing authority in Google to push the most spammy content. Usually with affiliate links to casinos, adult content, pharmacies, etc. New pages, outside of the view of your normal website, are often created. Once Google finds this kind of spammy content on your site, your rankings can suffer. And your site might even be classified as “Adult in Nature.” That can mean a complete loss of search viability for prospects with “Safe Search” turned on in their search engine of choice! Google has said that even comments are taken into account when considering overall page content, so having entire sections of pages vulnerable can be particularly dangerous.

2. Thin and Duplicate Content Penalties
The pages that intruders create are usually low quality content. To build pages of unique content on hijacked websites, shortcuts are followed. These shortcuts can mean a Google Panda penalty for your site as well! Thin pages and duplicate content matching other hacked sites are enough to set off Google’s alarms.

3. Ads and Affiliate links
With Google’s new updates centered around quality, it’s easy to also set off alarms when your site is suddenly hosting ads and affiliate links for all sorts of things. Google’s quality guidelines take into account various factors such as ads above the fold, links to known affiliate networks, etc. If these are in your intruder’s monetization strategy, your rankings in Google are very likely to suffer!

4. Over Optimized Content
Outdated and aggressive SEO techniques are still often used by intruders, and that can mean over optimization penalties as well. Repeating a keyword several times in a title tag, or endlessly in page content, is an aggressive SEO technique that used to actually work. But not with modern Google! With spammy automated content created by an intruder, hacked websites are again vulnerable to Google penalties.

5. Growth and Loss of Indexed Pages
For years, Google has been wary of sites that grow their page count by a thousand percent overnight. And when the intrusion is fixed, it can look like a massive cull to Google, as 90% of the site’s content is suddenly uncrawlable. This instability is bad both ways in the world of search engine crawlers, and can take a while to undo.

6. Spammy Inbound Links
To get the intruder’s pages to rank on search engines, an automated link campaign is often created. The words “automated link campaign” carry the connotation of low quality, and that’s especially true here. Links can be from other compromised websites, adult sites, and just the absolute worst of the web! There are various ways to research what links have been created, but it’s difficult to catch them all! Many will have been de-indexed by Google, but still counted. Link cleanup & disavowal could potentially go on for years.

7. Getting Onto a Blacklist
There are sites, including Google, that may be warning off potential visitors to your site. Google will warn potential visitors right from their search results! But Antivirus software programs from Norton, McAfee, and many others are also scanning websites. Once you are on one of their blacklists, they can potentially block visitors. You won’t even see those attempted visits show up and bounce in analytics. They don’t even get to view your site and trigger analytics code before being blocked. And it can be hard to get off of these blacklists, too. Most companies don’t even think to check blacklists after cleaning up an intrusion.

So what can you do about this? Well prevention is key!
When it comes to website intrusions, prevention is crucial. Even large companies do not pay enough attention to security until an intrusion happens. Software updates are just the beginning for prevention. Consider monitoring admin logins, file system changes, and more. Catching an intrusion early on will be vital as well. If warnings are in webmaster tools, it could be a long road back for website visibility.

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