Do you know that your website’s security (or lack thereof) is a ranking factor? However, even with so many companies nowadays are focusing their investment in SEO, they tend to lose sight of a very important fact: cybersecurity, and so, cybercrime can affect your SEO performance.
In this article, we will discuss the importance of cybersecurity in SEO, and how your website’s security can affect its performance in general.
How Cybersecurity Issues Can Affect SEO
Here are some common cybersecurity issues that can affect your site’s SEO performance and especially your SERP ranking.
- Broken Links and 404 Errors
The 404 error message simply means that the content that used to be somewhere on your site is no longer there (content missing or not found). Crackers and hackers often delete web pages, images, or files, which can lead to 404 errors across your website.
The thing is, Google’s and other search engines’ crawlers can also recognize this 404 error, and too many 404 errors or those that are attached to your site for too long can damage your site’s SEO performance.
One of the biggest cybersecurity issues for any website is downtime. When our site is down, our customers can’t access our content and can’t purchase our product/service (for eCommerce sites). So, competitors can take advantage of this condition and grab your prospects.
Also, prolonged and/or frequent website downtime can affect your SEO. Ensuring your site is always running well and ready to be indexed by Google’s bots is very important. If it’s only a short downtime, it might not be a major issue since Google will try to re-index it later on the same day. However, if the downtime is too long, it can hurt your site in serious ways.
Depending on the target keywords, 35% of sites that experience 8 hours of downtime will experience a drop in SERP.
- Branded as a malicious website
Cybercriminals might infect your site with malware (simply put, a computer virus developed for malicious purposes). For example, cybercriminals might sneak malware on your site which will then steal your visitor’s sensitive information or redirect your visitors to scam sites.
If Google (and the other search engine detect any malware on your site, then it might blacklist your site and warn potential visitors that your site is dangerous. If you don’t address this issue right away, Google might ban your site permanently from the SERP.
However, even when your site is not blacklisted, this issue might also affect your SERP ranking. So, any inclusion of malware, virus, or spam to your website is always bad.
- Content Scraping
Content scraping happens when automated bots crawl and copy your website content and then publish it on other sites. This can lead to duplicate content issues and will also affect your SEO performance. If Google’s crawlers discover your content on another website before yours and you haven’t implemented a canonical tag, then Google might penalize your site for displaying duplicate content (even though it’s actually yours).
Also, the presence of web scrapers can slow down your site (and page speed is another important SEO ranking factor). So, it’s important to take care of these bots and protect your website as soon as possible.
Indirect SEO Consequences of Cybersecurity Attacks
Besides the damages discussed above, there are other potential consequences to your website that might not seem to be related to your SEO performance. However, they will affect user experience and also Google’s perception of your site’s security, which in turn can affect ranking.
- Negative Reputation: besides various technical damages and direct impact on SEO performance as discussed above, your reputation might be damaged significantly after a cybersecurity breach. Online reputation is something that can be very tough to build, and yet very easy to lose. Losing trust from your customers and investors can be very hard to reverse, and in some cases might be permanent.
- Customer Data Breach: loss of valuable and sensitive customer data like personal information (name, address, phone number), passwords, or worse, bank account, and credit card numbers can be devastating.
How You Can Improve Your Cybersecurity for SEO
Although implementing cybersecurity can be a very broad subject, here are some essential things to focus on:
1- Make sure everything is up-to-date
Make sure all platforms (i.e. WordPress), scripts, and plugins are up-to-date. Cybercriminals often exploit security holes that actually have been fixed by a patch or update. Update every software you use.
2- Strong passwords and 2-factor authentication
It is very important to use strong passwords and use 2-factor authentication for all your team members.
3- Clean Your Website and Database Regularly
Keep the habit of deleting any files, applications, and databases you no longer use regularly. Also, keep track of changes and ensure your files are structured properly.
4- Use secure hosting
Pretty self-explanatory, make sure you choose a secure and reputable hosting service. You might also want to get a managed hosting service that will ensure your site’s plugins and software are up-to-date at all times.
5- Backup your data regularly
In case your data is compromised or when your site is inaccessible during an attack, you can then reboot to your backup immediately. Your hosting provider should also provide backups, but it’s wise to also keep your own.
6- Use IDS (Intrusion Detection System)
IDS can detect and then prevent intrusion attempts on your website and/or servers. Once it detects a suspicious event, it will block the attack and alert you.
7- SSL encryption
Use SSL encryption on your login pages to prevent cybercriminals from accessing your private data.
Your website’s security is actually a very important ranking factor in SEO. Google now only recommends websites they perceive as secure on their SERP, beginning with how they announced publicly that HTTPS (SSL certifications) is indeed a ranking factor back in 2014.
In 2020, it’s becoming more clear that Google only wants secure websites on their top SERP rankings. So, make sure your website and servers are well-protected from various cybersecurity attacks: audit your system security regularly, make sure everything is up-to-date, and follow the best practices we have shared above.
About Author: Mike Khorev is an SEO expert and digital marketing consultant who helps small and mid-size businesses generate more leads, sales and grow revenue online. He offers expert advice on marketing your company the right way through performance-based SEO digital marketing, web design, social media, search engine marketing and many other online practices. Learn more about Mike in Linkedin.