Cybersecurity is at the forefront of our minds when it comes to protecting our personal data and financial assets – but is it the same for our SEO performance?
For modern-day businesses, securing a space on Google’s first page is a top priority. It drives organic traffic, high-value leads, and increased profit, which is why we put so much effort into website planning and developing an intricate eCommerce SEO strategy.
However, Google also takes user safety into account during the ranking process. If a website’s poor security has made it prone to cyberattacks or data thefts, Google will penalize that website by pushing it down into the depths of its SERP. In some cases, the website might even be blacklisted completely.
There are other negative, long-term consequences to a security breach, including:
- Website downtime
- Reputational damage
- Sensitive data loss
- Financial loss
Don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s unlikely for a small or new website to become the target of an attack. The average website experiences 62 attacks per day, regardless of size or popularity.
When all it takes is one successful attempt for your site to become compromised, it certainly pays to understand just how cyberattacks can affect your SEO performance, along with how you can prevent them.
How Cyberattacks Affect SEO
We’ve already looked at some of the disastrous effects that a cyberattack can have on your business, but what are the effects that directly impact SEO performance?
SEO spam attacks are on the rise – Sucuri documented that during 2019, almost 62% of their client’s sites contained SEO spam.
An SEO spam attack involves hackers gaining access to legitimate websites through existing vulnerabilities, commonly via SQL injection. The hacker fills the legitimate website with spammy keywords and links, essentially turning it into a link pool with the intent of redirecting users to their own malicious website.
Spam attacks have serious SEO consequences. It causes significant reputational damage, harms unsuspecting users, and plummets your organic search rankings into oblivion.
With Google being the main source of traffic for most website owners, the consequences of browser blacklisting are potentially devastating. However, it’s important to note that Google only flags 90% of infected websites. This means that your website could be targeted repeatedly without you even knowing.
Bad Site Reviews
Receiving positive online reviews, particularly on Google My Business and Google Maps, has a favorable effect on your SERP ranking. However, if users notice or are impacted by any security issues on your site, they may feel inclined to leave a negative review, which, as you can imagine, has the opposite effect.
Also, because these reviews stick around on the internet for everyone to see, it can harm your reputation and lead users to boycott your website.
Search engines use bots for crawling, indexing, and ranking purposes, so it’s normal to have significant crawl activity on your website. However, not all bots are friendly – Imperva’s Bad Bot Report found that malicious bots amounted to 24% of website traffic in 2019.
Malicious bots carry out nefarious crawling activities like data theft, content scraping, and vulnerability-testing, all of which can significantly harm the health of your website. Even the mere presence of repeated malicious bots on your site can stifle your legitimate traffic and push your website further down the rankings.
If you’ve invested in creating the perfect eCommerce content strategy, you’ll know that content scraping, in particular, can result in serious SEO penalties.
Content scraping is when a bot copies or “scrapes” your website’s content and places it on another website. If Google finds this duplicate content, your website may be penalized or blacklisted.
How to Improve Website Security to Protect Your SEO
There are plenty of actions you can take to keep your business safe online. As well as using HTTPS, a VPN, and strong password hygiene controls, here are some other website security measures you should implement.
Perform Regular Site Vulnerability Audits
Just as we analyze our customers to identify their pain points – sometimes before they even know that they have them – we need to inspect our website to uncover hidden vulnerabilities too.
If enlisting the services of a specialist isn’t an option, online vulnerability scanning tools are efficient at uncovering weaknesses in your website’s infrastructure. It can inform you of a host of security-related issues like expired certificates, outdated protocols, mixed content, and more. Perform vulnerability audits alongside your technical SEO audits to maximize security.
Perform Regular Network Audits
A network security audit involves evaluating static and activity-related data for current and potential security risks. Static data might include the health of your operating systems and policies, while activity-related data relates to things like user login activity, data access, and transferred files.
Network security audits can unveil risks like outmoded system packages, poor firewall configuration, and outdated security policies, all of which make you vulnerable to attacks and reinfections.
Regular audits have become increasingly important as we respond to ever-changing innovation. Every time you introduce the latest hardware or software as a service (SaaS) tool to your infrastructure, you create a new endpoint that is a potential security risk.
Performing regular audits prevent attackers from taking advantage of any holes in our system as we scale our business.
Use a Firewall
A firewall is essential for server security, helping to protect your network against unwanted traffic, unauthorized access, and malicious software. Depending on your business’s size and security requirements, you might invest in either a hardware or software firewall – these days, it’s common to use both to offer multiple layers of protection.
Businesses with a cloud-based business model, like SaaS companies, will benefit more from a cloud firewall, which offers considerable perimeter security.
Regardless of the type of firewall you use, make sure that it is properly configured and regularly audited.
Use Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS)
An IDS works in a similar way to a firewall, with a specific focus on monitoring real-time traffic for malicious activity and intrusion attempts. It can detect traffic patterns and common signatures of attack and is able to not only block these attempts but alert administrators to any such suspicious behavior.
Your IDS should be placed after your firewall to deliver second-layer security.
Install Anti-Virus and Malware Scanning Software
Fundamental to any security strategy, virus and malware scanners can detect infected code and files. Not only will they alert you if anything is found, but they can also quarantine and remove the infection. Running scheduled scans is a common best practice in cybersecurity.
Harden Your WordPress Security
Of course, hardening your CMS is critical even if you’re using Drupal, Joomla, or Magento. However, if you’re using WordPress’s CMS like the vast majority of website owners, it’s essential to be extra vigilant in your security measures.
Sucuri reported that of all their CMS infections in 2019, a staggering 94% of them occurred on WordPress infrastructures. This is because attackers are known to target WordPress, specifically hunting for broken-by-design vulnerabilities and outdated software.
Unfortunately, it isn’t hard for attackers to hit the jackpot – Sucuri found that a worrying 56% of all CMS applications were out of date at the point of infection.
Plugin developers consistently update plugins and themes to correct bugs and vulnerabilities. Failing to update these software additions means that attackers are able to exploit the vulnerabilities of these outdated versions and infiltrate your site. A common cyber attack is for a hacker to hijack a site’s Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) applications to send spam emails.
Imagine you’re a B2B company using email marketing automation for SaaS. If clients received a host of spam messages from your business’s email, they might be inclined to believe that your SaaS product is as secure as your website.
Along with regular updates, one of the best (and easiest) actions you can take is to install a reputable security plugin equipped with monitoring, scanning, and blocking features.
Another effective measure is to use an online automated smoke testing tool to check how reliable plugins are with the latest version of WordPress (it’s a good idea to get to grips with smoke testing meaning, types, and advantages if you aim to build your own plugins or software in the future).
Businesses need to consider cybersecurity and SEO as two interrelated tasks. As you update your website and create new content, make sure to consistently monitor your link campaigns for suspicious activity and perform regular audits, scans, and updates across your business’ digital infrastructure.
These measures are sure to strengthen your security astronomically; protecting sensitive data, retaining customer loyalty, and keeping your SERP ranking high.
Remember, when it comes to addressing cybersecurity, a preventative strategy is always the best strategy.
About the author
Koa Frederick – accelerate agency
Koa Frederick is the Senior Vice President of SaaS Strategy at accelerate agency, a SaaS digital marketing agency that exclusively partners with enterprise tech companies to scale their SEO and content marketing. Koa has extensive experience in growing SaaS brands via organic leads and B2B Referral programs and loves to write in her spare time.
Here is her LinkedIn.