Why SEO Should Be A Serious Concern Following A Cyberattack
While other search engines are available, Google is the dominant force when it comes to internet enquiries. As of January 2023, Google accounted for 85% of all desktop searches. By comparison, its nearest competitor, Bing, had a shade under 9%.
With the sheer volume of searches Google deals with, it’s easy to see why companies and brands are doing everything they can to appear as high up on the search engine’s results as possible – known as ranking. This is where search engine optimisation (SEO) experts come to the fore to help companies rank higher than their competition.
It’s common practice for many companies to use an SEO or digital marketing agency for better online visibility but what happens to your Google ranking in the wake of a cybersecurity attack, and should you be concerned? Let’s find out.
What is SEO?
In a nutshell, SEO is concerned with helping a company rank as highly as possible on the search results pages of search engines, with Google being the primary focus. It is commonly adopted as part of a digital marketing agency’s arsenal to help improve its clients’ website ranking and visibility.
The ultimate aim is to increase traffic to a brand’s website, which in turn increases leads, conversions and enquiries. No one thing can improve SEO, it requires a holistic approach to digital marketing from link-building campaigns and conversion rate optimisation to web design, content creation and social media marketing.
How a cybersecurity incident impacts Google rankings
We know that a breach in your cyber defences is less than ideal, to say the least. But not only should you be worried about the legal and reputational implications of being hacked, and the potential loss of sensitive client data, you should also be concerned about your online ranking.
Naturally, you need to put out the biggest fires first, but failing to resolve your cybersecurity issues can have huge implications for your online ranking results. From undesirable warnings to users through to bad reviews and periods of inactivity, your ranking can be impacted from various angles.
Negative website reviews
Users who have a bad experience while using your website, or who may have been the victim of data theft due to your cybersecurity issues aren’t likely to leave a glowing review.
Rather, if they have had a negative experience then they will share those problems with the world through a negative review – which can be particularly detrimental to your ranking if left through Google’s review section. Sites that build up a collection of negative reviews can see their ranking impaired and this can sometimes take months to recover from, as the reviews linger around for all to see.
Insecure connection or hacked site warnings
If your site is suspected by Google to have been hacked or cannot create a secure connection between your domain and users, a warning message will appear in your search results.
Experts at Artemis Marketing, a leading SEO and digital marketing specialist say, “Google has confirmed that the message is now a ranking factor, so it can be losing you traffic in multiple ways”.
As for hacked sites, the SEO experts say, “we know that the behaviour of users affects search rankings – if your site is hacked and not being clicked, this indicates to Google that you are being ranked incorrectly and are a less useful result”.
Downtime can be a red flag
Websites can be out of action for a variety of reasons but typically they will be restored to working order swiftly by your IT and web development experts. If your site is down because it or your company as a whole has been hacked then the longer you are inactive the more you will find your ranking dips.
Now you need to spend the time figuring out how and why your site was attacked, while also removing the threat. This isn’t always something you can resolve in a few minutes.
The first few hours won’t have a huge impact on ranking as Google’s crawling bots will note the error message displayed and try again later. But, when they try to crawl your website later and are met with the same error message your pages will start to be ‘deranked’ as the time elapsed moves into days rather than hours.
Sabotage from rivals
One of the reasons why you should ensure that your cybersecurity is as robust as possible is due to the risk getting hacked has on your business success. Companies that suffer a data breach, must undertake the expenses of recovering the data if possible, safeguarding further losses, investigating the cause, plus dealing with the legal issues in the fallout.
It is not unknown for companies to sabotage their rivals by enforcing a tanking of their ranking either through hacking your site to slow it down or by spamming links to your site – which Google uses as a negative ranking factor. Maintaining and auditing your backlinks is key to online reputation management as is monitoring your site speed to look for signs of unwanted code.
Of course, we are not completely useless when it comes to protecting our online search ranking and there are several preventative measures we can take.
Your website needs a place to live, which is known as web hosting, but there are different levels of security when it comes to hosting.
These protection levels are often associated with cost as Ruby P. Jane writing for TechRadar explains: “Free web hosts often don’t have the same level of security as paid hosts because they can’t afford to invest in it. Paid web hosts, on the other hand, usually have better security because they can afford to invest in it.”
A hosting provider with a good reputation for security can make the world of difference to how protected your site is and help keep your hard-earned SEO ranking intact.
It can be all too easy to ignore the requests from your device to install the latest software versions but do so at your peril. Often the reason new versions are implemented is to bolster security against emerging threats, so to run an outdated application or software version is to tempt fate regarding your cybersecurity.
Strong passwords are fundamental to online security but often it’s at the human input stage where data breaches occur and hackers gain entry. Ensure strong password management throughout your organisation, such as multi-factor authentication and a password management tool to ensure that only a handful of people in your company have access to your master accounts and passwords.