How website security affects SEO performance

Maintaining a high ranking through search engine optimization (SEO) takes effort in several areas. You have to research and optimize for the right keywords, make sure you maintain your website speed and mix in video and images to keep your visitors engaged and dwell-time high.

Something that may be lower on the priority list is website security. After all, isn’t that the job of your hosting provider? Spoiler: it’s not. Security is something you need to review and upgrade regularly.

How does website security affect SEO, and what is the cost of a security breach when it comes to your rankings? Here’s what you need to know.

Security and SEO work hand-in-hand

Hacking is an all-to-common phenomenon, occurring on all modes of internet connectivity from internet-based devices to business systems. Whether for revenge, ransom, or data theft, criminals have a lot of motivation to break in.

Too many marketers feel that security is a different skill set than marketing. They relegate security concerns to the IT department and think it’s not part of their job. While a marketer may not know the ins-and-outs, they should understand the basics of security and how it affects a company’s SEO standing.

Having a secure site using HTTPS has been a ranking signal in Google’s search results since 2014. However, HTTPS is only the beginning of website security. There are a lot of other steps to take to protect your website from hackers as well. It’s vital to have anti-malware software that’s up-to-date as well as spam prevention software. With these steps, you’ll be protecting, not only your data assets and website but your search engine ranking as well.

What can a hack do to your SEO?

If your website is compromised, what does that mean for your SEO? Does Google manually penalize sites that have been hacked or have data stolen?

The answer varies based on several factors. Two of the most important variables involve what kind of compromise you experienced and how long it lasted. Google isn’t all-knowing, and if you discover and fix a breach quickly, you may not suffer a search engine impact.

However, if malware or another issue isn’t found by someone in your company and it lasts a long time, there may be an impact on how well your website ranks, and it may last a while. Here are a few of the penalties a breach can cause from most serious to least.

Being blacklisted from Google

Blacklisting is the most severe penalty Google can hand out. It means that your website is completely removed from search results. If a hacker puts redirect codes on your pages so that visitors who click through end up on malicious websites, Google may automatically or manually blacklist your site.

You may also end up blocked through Google’s Safebrowsing software, which helps identify suspicious online content. In either case, visitors will not see your listing or be able to visit your website through search results.

SEO penalties for dangerous content

If Google discovers malicious or dangerous content on a website and decides not to blacklist, they may instead manually drop your search engine results as punishment. The goal of this practice is to avoid Google searchers from having a bad experience by landing on a page with unacceptable content. A drop in search engine ranking means that most users won’t see your website, which achieves Google’s goal. Overcoming manual SEO penalties can take a long time, and some sites never recover their normal level of traffic even after cleaning up the hack.

Search results drops due to downtime

One of the most frustrating results of a hack is that it may take your website down. This is often the intended result of a Distributed Denial-of-Service attack (DDoS). Downtime can not only cost you money and customers, but the Google bots that crawl the internet for content will discover your website isn’t available. This can cause a significant drop in your search engine rankings, even if you’re only down a single day.

Crawling errors

Crawling errors occur when Google bots try to review your website and find pages missing. These 404 and 403 errors won’t impact your site right away, but if they persist, Google will downgrade the search result ranking of the page.

Hackers sometimes delete web pages and files during an attack. Be sure you review your website regularly and check for vulnerabilities to avoid undetected hacks and penalties.

Take care of your security to improve your SEO

You can’t afford to let cybersecurity take a back seat to marketing. Security matters.

Google is quite secretive about their search algorithms, so it’s impossible to know exactly how much security impacts SEO. However, we know that Google is laser-focused on giving users the best content available and protecting them from malware and dangerous content. If you want to rank well on Google, it’s vital that you have the same emphasis.

Maintain security to keep Google rankings

Scan your code regularly for possible problems or malware. Make sure you are aware and up-to-date on security protocols for your content management service (CMS) and take advantage of your coding knowledge to harden your site against hackers.

Of course, your network and server security should also be updated and reviewed regularly, from firewalls to intrusion detection systems. You also need to maintain your HTTPS security and keep your eyes open for other cutting-edge safety protocols that you can implement.

Give consumers confidence with strong security

If you don’t have proper security installed on your website, Google will warn users that the website is not secure. This notice is likely to turn away a lot of your potential customers and damage your reputation with prospects looking for information. That’s why keeping your web security up to date is so important, not just for pure Google rankings, but for conversions on those who do visit.

When you take these steps, your website will be much less susceptible to attacks. If you are hacked, you should be able to detect it and recover quickly, saving yourself significant time, money, and search rankings.


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