Website security is an often-forgotten factor until there is a major issue. 

If you are investing in your marketing and search engine optimization, it’s worth protecting your website from the short-term and long-term consequences of a security breach.  

Understanding the following security risks and protocols can help you avoid any negative consequences and protect your online presence.  

4 Ways Security Issues Can Impact Your SEO 

1. HTTPS as a Ranking Signal

Google has been encouraging security for many years and pushing website owners toward stricter security protocols.  

For many years now, having an SSL certificate on your website has been a ranking factor. An SSL certificate allows for HTTPS connection and it is a much more secure way for data to be processed on the Internet. 

In the past, SSL certificates were only required for e-commerce sites where visitors were submitting transactions, but they are now required on all sites. 

Most website browsers like Chrome and Firefox will add a Not Secure label or notification next to URLs if a site doesn’t have an SSL certificate properly configured. An SSL certificate is managed on your hosting server, so make sure to always renew the certificate each year. 

Last year, Chrome started to add warning labels related to mixed content and unsecure downloads on HTTP URLs. Mixed content means that some elements of the page are not enabled with HTTPS access.  If you see these warnings on the site, work with a web developer to get this resolved and it may involve adjustments on the hosting server and website. 

While an SSL certificate is one of many ranking factors, these types of security warnings in the browser will quickly deter web visitors and conversions.  

2. SEO Damages of a Hacked Site

Today, there is no guarantee of website security, and any website can be targeted by hackers.

A security breach could occur for numerous reasons due to vulnerable software on the site, a breach on the hosting server, or brute force attacks. If there is a security breach and your site is hacked, it can jeopardize your SEO and marketing. 

When a site is hacked, the hacker may add malicious code and new spam pages to the site with hidden text and links back to shady websites. The malware on the site could also cause a redirect where visitors are quickly redirected from your site to another one. Some hacked sites can be destroyed to the point that a business needs to restore a backup or face building the site from scratch. 

When cleaning up a hacked site and deleting the spam pages, do not redirect these URLs to the home page. This can hurt your rankings even more because you don’t want the search engines to consider these spam pages as credible ones. There will be some 404 errors initially, but Google will remove them from the next indexing of your site.  You can also consider setting up a 410 redirect for the URLs. 

Another way that the hack can affect your SEO is that hackers may link back to the new spam pages on your site. These backlinks will disappear once you delete the spam pages on your site, but you may need to work with an SEO expert to disavow certain links. It’s best to work with a trusted website team or security company as well to properly clean and secure the site against reinfection. 

3. Increased Bounce Rates 

Having any type of security issues on your site can also dramatically affect how visitors interact with your site, causing high bounce rates and less dwell time. 

Security on a website is a basic trust symbol, similar to the health inspection rating at a restaurant. Building trust and credibility quickly with visitors is key to conversion optimization because a visitor will quickly bounce if the site seems not secure. 

If you are running Google AdWords campaigns and digital marketing campaigns, make sure landing pages and forms are properly secure. 

Browsers like Chrome will also show a warning to visitors when submitting a not secure form that delivers information over an HTTP connection. This applies to even basic contact forms on a site. 

Building trust is even more important for an e-commerce site where visitors are submitting payments and more confidential information. Never accept credit card information directly through a website form and instead use a secure payment gateway that is PCI compliant

Setting up security monitoring on your site and monitoring Google Analytics for any deviations in visitor behavior can help you catch and address such issues before your marketing is impacted. 

4. The Dreaded Google Blacklisting 

Having your site blacklisted by Google and other security companies is the worst consequence of a security breach and can cause the most harm to your search rankings. 

There are several security companies, in addition to Google, that will blacklist an infected or hacked site. Common ones besides Google are Norton Safe Web and MacAfee Site Advisor.

Once a site is blacklisted by Google or another security scanner, you can see various warnings and even pop-ups blocking visitors from the site. You may see a label that states “this site is hacked” within the search results. Getting blacklisted by Google can suddenly drop all of your organic rankings. 

There is a full process to get this type of label and security warning removed. First, you’ll need to get the infected site properly cleaned up and then submit the site to Google and other security platforms to be rescanned. The review process can take anywhere from a few days to weeks or months because you are waiting for the third parties to assess the site and remove the blacklisting. 

To avoid all of this hassle, protect your website with preventative measures, such as regular updates, secure hosting and security monitoring. If you have a WordPress website design, regularly maintain the plugins and themes installed on the site since plugin vulnerabilities are a common cause of a security breach. 

As soon as you detect strange behavior on the site or a breach, take action immediately to secure the site and clean up any malware. The longer that a site stays infected, the more likely that Google and other security scanners will blacklist it. 

Mikel Bruce
TinyFrog Technologies
Mikel Bruce is the CEO of TinyFrog Technologies, a San Diego web design agency, specializing in WordPress web design & development and secured hosting & maintenance. Founded in 2003, TinyFrog offers a conversion-based approach to web design and has built over 1,000 websites.

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How Web Security Can Impact Your SEO