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How Web Security Vulnerabilities Can Impact Your SEO Performance

How Web Security Vulnerabilities Can Directly Impact Your SEO Performance

How Web Security Vulnerabilities Can Directly Impact Your SEO Performance

As part of Solutions Review’s Premium Content Series—a collection of contributed columns written by industry experts in maturing software categories—Jenna Bunnell, the Senior Manager of Content Marketing at Dialpad, shares some insights on how vulnerabilities in web security can affect SEO performance.

You know that SEO and cybersecurity both play into successful digital CX strategies. A good search ranking makes you appear trustworthy. Often, online retailers have to plaster their checkouts with cybersecurity certificates to get the conversions they need. Website security vulnerabilities are a top priority of the hundreds of factors determining your SEO ranking.

Google wants to create a safe user experience, and if your site is deemed to be insecure, you could be downgraded in the search results or removed entirely.

How Web Security Vulnerabilities Impact SEO

In the SEO world, the worst thing that could happen to your site is blocklisting. This means Google will not show your site to anyone at all. You’d think that you’d have to do something pretty extreme to get this punishment, but Google wants to create a safe experience for all searchers. Showing up with website security vulnerabilities is the quickest way to get your domain struck off Google.

So here are three common vulnerabilities that might affect your site and how to prevent them from impacting your hard-earned SEO ranking.

Get an SSL Certificate

A Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate ensures that the link between you and your website visitors is encrypted end to end, protecting both of you from bad actors and other web security vulnerabilities. Google rarely gives out specifics on how their algorithm works, but they confirmed that SSL certificates played a role in your search ranking back in 2014. And yet, as recently as 2020, only 56% of businesses had fully encrypted their traffic.

With cyber-crime becoming common, your average customer is more alert to SSL certificates than they used to be. They’re displayed prominently in browsers like Chrome and Safari, which actively try not to take users to sites without one. If you expect to take the user’s card details without an SSL certificate, you’ll see an increase in your bounce rate. This is a critical customer satisfaction KPI that Google pays attention to. The worse your domain’s user retention, the worse your SEO ranking.

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The link between SSL and SEO is pretty direct: Google will give you a boost if you have one and prefer to show the user anyone else if you don’t have one. It’s a small investment, usually less than $100 a year, but by patching over this simple website security vulnerability, you’ll boost your SEO and consumer confidence. The increased activity on your site will boost your SEO ranking even further over time.

Prevent SEO Poisoning

In 2019, GoDaddy found that 73% of website hacks were used for gaming the SEO algorithms. The practice is so common it’s been given a name: “SEO poisoning.” This is when hackers break in through a vulnerability in your site with tactics like an SQL injection attack. Once they have access, they can modify the content on your site. Maybe they’ll flood your site with their content, or perhaps they’ll quietly replace all the links on your blog posts with domains of their choice.

Not only does this interfere with your SEO strategy, but it can also lead to one of the penalties listed above. Google’s “Penguin” updates specifically targeted sites with suspicious links. If your SEO links have been secretly poisoned, it could be a long time before you figure out why your ranking has taken such a hit.

If your hack becomes a news story, this could do severe damage to your brand. According to strategist Hamilton Helmer, branding is just that which enables you to charge a higher price for a commodity than your competitors. Not only is brand damage terrible for your marketing and SEO, but it could also directly cut off any flexibility you have around your e-commerce pricing strategy. Hacks like this often throw up suspicious activity in the analytics data. Looking at your web traffic might throw up a past hack attempt, but to actively prevent one, you’ll need to catch this activity early.

Tools such as SiteLock and WebsitePulse give you tools to monitor activity on your site’s pages and server closely. If, for example, they find that your links are all suddenly changing, they’ll alert you in just a few minutes and give you the tools to move quickly.

Control Bots and Crawlers

As cyber-crime becomes more and more automated, artificial intelligence and website security become more deeply intertwined. At least 25% of all traffic on your website could be “bad bots,” automated software designed to carry out spam, fraud, and more at a vast scale. So-called “grinchbots” made over $80 million last year purchasing and reselling Playstation and Xbox consoles, worsening the supply chain issues they were making a profit from.

In the same way that Google’s bots scan your site for helpful content, this increasing flood of bots is raking through your site for web security vulnerabilities they can exploit. If you don’t take preventative action, there can be so many of them that Google’s bots can’t get in. This means that your on-page SEO efforts will be for nothing. Google won’t see your content and update your search ranking accordingly. 

Sites that use server-side caching aren’t so exposed to this problem. Sending every user a pre-built “image” of the site rather than making them all a new one is much more efficient for your server. As well as speeding up your site – a handy SEO boost in the eyes of Google – you’re also able to handle the strain of more bots on your site. Additionally, tools like AWStats can give you a report of every bot that has been through your website, how many times it’s visited, how much bandwidth it took up, etc. You can also get the bots’ IP addresses, allowing you to blocklist them from your site entirely.

Protecting Yourself From Website Security Vulnerabilities

As you can see, it’s pretty simple to patch up the most common website security vulnerabilities that could affect your SEO. Cybersecurity is a deep subject, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. But by following these three steps, you can get on with your SEO efforts knowing your website is safe from attacks.

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