Did you know that around 93% of users begin their web surfing experience by typing their query into the search engine? This whopping figure should not surprise you.
As internet users, we have become accustomed to the convenience of finding exactly what we need within seconds via Google. Whether we’re looking for an open pizza shop that’s nearby, a tutorial on how to knit, or the best place to buy domain names, we expect instant gratification and quality answers that satisfy our search intent.
The value of organic traffic has put search engine optimization in focus, as it is the cornerstone of building better online visibility. Google now generates over 3.5 billion searches per day and users perceive its SERP (search engine results page) as a trustworthy indicator of websites’ relevance.
When it comes to effective SEO practices, we are all familiar with the basics. Savvy and strategic usage of keywords is recommended, as well as optimizing ALT tags, coming up with appropriate meta descriptions, and focusing on producing original, useful, and valuable content. Link building and link earning are also a part of the puzzle, as well as diversifying traffic sources and employing a great content distribution strategy.
But what about web security? How does it influence your SEO efforts? Google is all about making the internet a safer and more enjoyable place, so you might need to tighten up your web security.
SSL is Not a Security Plus Anymore, but a Necessity
Google has always advocated a secure web and suggested websites should move to HTTPS by acquiring the SSL certificate. The main reason is simple: data gets encrypted in transit, preventing any misuse of privacy and sensitive information.
The HTTP vs. HTTPS discussions in the context of SEO fired up in 2014 when Google announced secure websites might experience a slight ranking boost. In the following year, it became clear this ranking signal carries even more weight. At the time, Google reported that having an SSL certificate might give sites competitive advantage and serve as a tiebreaker between two websites that are, more or less, of the same quality.
The huge collaborative study conducted by Brian Dean, Semrush, Ahrefs, MarketMuse, SimilarWeb, and ClickStream, analyzed 1 million Google search results and noticed a reasonably strong correlation between HTTPS sites and first page rankings. Needless to say, this does not imply that getting an SSL certificate automatically gives you a better ranking position, nor is it the most important ranking signal the algorithm relies on.
Google has also published a three-phased plan towards a more performant and safer web and announced a release of Chrome 68 update for July 2018, which will mark all HTTP websites as not secure within the most popular web browser. It is a bold, but a logical step, that will ensure protected traffic across the world wide web, for all users, no exception.
HTTPS websites are expected to become default, but many webmasters are still puzzled about how to get the SSL certificate and why is this of such great significance.ere are just a couple of undeniable benefits, both in means of SEO and holding a favorable brand image:
- Ranking boost for HTTPS website is expected
- The optimal level of security and privacy is achieved
- Websites typically load faster
- Your business website has more credibility and builds trust (according to HubSpot Research, 82% of respondents said they would leave the site that’s not secure)
- All sensitive data (e.g. credit card info) is safely protected
Shortly put, with HTTPS, authenticity, data integrity, and secrecy are preserved. If your website is HTTPS, it makes a good enough reason for Google to reward you as someone contributing to the overall web safety.
SSL certificates can be purchased, but there are also initiatives for a privacy-secured world wide web that offer credible modern cryptography free of charge, such as Let’s Encrypt. Just keep in mind that certificates provided by this certificate authority organization last for 90 days and then have to be renewed. There is an option of automation of the renewal, which is definitely a plus.
Avoid Becoming a Victim of Cybercrimes
Cybercrimes have evolved: they have become more diversified, more sophisticated, and harder to detect, which can hurt your business on multiple levels. In the most severe cases, companies are forced to pause their business operations until the website security flaws get sorted out, which can result in lost revenue, dropped rankings, and even Google penalties.
As if getting attacked by hackers isn’t stressful enough.
Now, let’s discuss the most common scams and hacker attacks and the way they can damage your SEO efforts.
● Website Defacements and Server Exploitments
Website defacement is an attack on a website that changes the visual appearance of the site. They are typically the work of defacers, who break into a web server and replace the hosted website with one of their own and they make one of the major issues when it comes to online security. In most cases, hackers take advantage of server vulnerabilities and get administrative access using an SQL injection (a code injection technique). Another common method comes down to misusing file transfer protocols (which are used for transferring files between a server and a client on computer network) for acquiring sensitive information (login details) which are used to replace the existing website with another one.
Statistics say there have been at least 50.000 successful website defacements in 2017, and in most cases – we’re talking about mass defacements of wholesome websites. These hacker attacks have one main goal: they are set out to discredit your company and harm your reputation. Sometimes, the changes made are subtle (e.g. hackers alter the prices of products in your online shops), other times – they upload inappropriate content and make drastic changes that are hard to miss.
There is no direct SEO penalty for website defacements, but the way your website appears on the SERP gets changed. The final damage depends on the made alterations, but it’s likely your website won’t be relevant to the queries it used to, which will make your rankings plummet.
The worst types of hacking attacks target servers on the whole, which can lead to dreadful consequences. By gaining access to the main server (i.e. the “mastermind computer”), they can easily exploit it and control numerous websites which are hosted there.
Here are some ways to prevent falling as a victim here:
- Opt for a reliable web application firewall (WAF) – it applies a set of rules which cover common attacks such as cross-site scripting and SQL injection, that way protecting servers
- Keep your CMS software up to date – CMS stands for content management system, which is a computer application that supports the creation and modification of digital content and it supports multiple users in a collaborative environment.
- Download and use only trustworthy plugins and themes (e.g. trust the WordPress directory, avoid downloading free themes, download counts and reviews etc.)
- Choose secure hosting and mind the safety of the IP neighborhood
- If you’re using your own server, reduce vulnerabilities by restricting server access
Unfortunately, there is no 100% protection in cyberspace, but with the high level of security – you can significantly reduce the chances of a successful attack.
● Malware Distribution
Malware distribution is extremely present when it comes to cyber attacks. According to the official report by the Kaspersky Lab, a total of 29.4% of user computers suffered through at least one malware attack in 2017.
Usually, hackers use the technique of spoofing or phishing to present themselves as a trustworthy source. If the victim falls for it and downloads malicious software, or clicks on the link that releases the virus, their computer gets infected. In worst case scenarios, the website can get shut down completely: the hacker can use remote controlling to enter the victim’s computer.
Fortunately for the overall web security, Google does not waste any time and usually reacts promptly to blacklist all websites that are dangerous or guilty of distributing malware.
Unfortunately for you as a victim, even though it’s not your fault – your website gets labeled as spam until further notice, letting all of your SEO success so far go down the drain.
If you, god forbid, do get alerted by Google within your Search Console about phishing, unwanted software, or hacking, you should take action immediately.
It is your responsibility, as a webmaster, to quarantine the site, assess the damage, identify the vulnerabilities. Although it seems unfair, it is up to you to clean up the mess and request a website review from Google.
Remember, Google is always on the side of users and their safety. Rest assured, you will be provided with full support to sort things out.
It’s advisable to continuously update your antivirus program and run regular scans, take advantage of the multi-factor authentication options to optimally secure your online accounts, and monitor your site’s health vigorously.
Useful Website Security Tips
More often than not, we believe the chances of us becoming the victim of cybercrime are highly unlikely. The truth is, it can happen to anyone. You don’t even have to run a wealthy business or be in the government to become a potential target. In addition to financial reasons or personal beliefs, hackers often attack sites out of mere fun, or to practice their skills.
Don’t make rookie mistakes regarding your website’s security. Otherwise – whether or not your SEO efforts are paying off will be the least of your problems. In addition to what we’ve mentioned in the previous section regarding the recommended practices for avoiding website defacements, spoofing, phishing, and malware infection, have the following tips in mind:
- Obviously, creating a strong password that’s unlikely to get compromised (follow Google’s tips for secure passwords)
- Fix any security holes (e.g. poor monitoring of administrative access, possible data leaks, etc.)
- Make sure to register your domain name with a reliable registrar and purchase secure web hosting
- Rethink who has access to your file transfer protocols and database
- Make sure to backup your website and come up with a recovery plan in case you get hacked
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The fact is, you can never be too careful – take it from someone who is directly involved in the web industry.
Over to You
Undoubtedly, improving your online presence is mandatory as consumers rely on Google for getting instant information about your business and the products/services you offer, but they also use it to filter through their options and cherry-pick what’s best for them. If you keep in mind the above-mentioned security tips and switch to HTTPS, while also investing in white hat SEO, you can expect to gradually climb up the SERP.
Web security should definitely become your top priority, and not just for the sake of reaping SEO benefits.
It is of paramount importance for safe surfing experience of each individual user, as well as for trustworthy online transactions. It reduces the chances of escalation and distribution of malware and viruses and stamps out other malicious criminal attempts that include identity thefts or hacking activities. No industry is immune, so regardless of the main focus of your business, you should try your best to maintain the highest level of website security and build trust with your customers and clients. In fact, as a webmaster – you have a responsibility to do so.