Hackernoon logoHow Hackers Use SEO Spamming To Hijack Your Ranking Positions by@briandordevic

How Hackers Use SEO Spamming To Hijack Your Ranking Positions

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@briandordevicBrian Dordevic

10 years of Strategic planning for Search Engine Marketing and Technical Lead for web apps.

Are you receiving a bunch of messages or comments from suspicious domains on your website, or you notice some issues with the traffic, and you are not quite sure what it actually means? In this specific guide, you will find how hackers implement their links over your website and steal your traffic and ranking positions, and how to overcome those threats successfully and permanently.

Ranking on Google's first page has become even complicated and harder over the past few years, and the strategies have changed in various ways. As the strategies of experienced SEO marketers have evolved, so hackers' strategies have developed and produced so-called negative SEO by applying the techniques and threatening your ranking positions.

If you are determined to build a reputable and trustworthy online presence of your business brand, understanding the principles of SEO SPAM & negative SEO is something you should definitely take care of, protecting your website from malicious hacker attacks and securing its solid ranking positions on search engines.

Understand How SEO Spamming Works Against Your Ranking Positions

The day the hackers implement their links over your website or blog, the SEO spamming starts to happen. They (the hackers) can do it by inserting their website's links, adding spam comments to your posts and pages, establishing bots on your log-in pages that try to break the password and username of your account, or creating completely copied content from your website.

The main targets of those infiltrated links are your best-positioned pages on search engines. And the main purpose of those unethical practices and techniques is to redirect your visitors to third-party websites that are extraneous to the host website.

Although most users think that the main victims of SEO spamming are the websites that rank exclusively on the first pages of search engines, the reality is quite different.

Since one of the most important hackers aims is to redirect the traffic from a particular website, they most commonly choose smaller websites and blogs that are not paying too much attention to the website's security and are considered an easy target.

5 Types of SEO Spamming Attacks and How it Affects Your Website

Hackers have various manoeuvres when it comes to attacking a particular website. The arsenal of SEO spamming tactics is often combined with other practices to fulfill the hackers' aims. However, there are five most common types of SEO spamming attacks, and here is how it affects your website:

1) Spam Keyword Injections

For example, let's imagine hackers want to sell a certain cosmetic product online. The first step the hackers will undertake is to list your best-ranked pages on search engines. The second step is to implement the spammy keyword, e.g., buy cosmetics online on those pages.

Since hackers have injected the keywords they need into your website, this website will start ranking for theirs instead of your keywords.

Whenever the user searches for this kind of cosmetic product, your website might be listed on search pages, even if your primary created content is not related to this product in any way. This is happening because of implemented keywords through the code, and in most cases, you, as a website owner, will not even notice that this harmful trick is applied on the website. Besides, you might experience a drop in sales or a loss in revenue very soon.

Other harmful practices spammers perform are connected to

keyword stuffing (frequent repetition of keywords without sense throughout the copy, which is penalized by Google)

and

keyword masking, which prevents websites owner from detecting the assistance of those harmful keywords on a website.

2) Spammy Link Injections

Hiding the spammy link under your regular links is another SEO spam technique that harms your website ranking positions in SERP. In most cases, these spammy links are taking visitors to websites that sell illegal substances.

As your visitors are redirected to a website where they might pay for a product they will never receive, your brand identity, reputability, and trustworthiness might be endangered.

Since this constitutes a bad user experience, your website might get on a blacklist of this visitor who will not click on your web page's link next time.

3) Spam Emails

Spam emails are the form of SEO spamming that can harm your business ranking positions and business overall the most. In this case, hackers target your customer email addresses and database. The consequence of this SEO spamming technique is that your customer starts to receive spammy emails from your account, which may result in blocking your emails, or labeling you as a spammer.

4) Hijacking the Banners and Ads

If you have placed the ad banners over your website, this could be a great chance for hackers to switch your banners with theirs and put some malicious links that will lead visitors and potential customers to other websites and links.

5) Duplicating Your Content and Creating New Pages

One of the most common hackers' practices over websites with numerous pages is duplicating the content by creating new pages. These duplicated pages are used to insert the keyword links pointing to third-party websites, enabling those spammy pages to rank and overtake your SERP ranking positions easily.

Copyscape.com could be a good solution when you want to check if your content is duplicated and published without your permission on other websites.

Abusing the Code: How SEO Spamming Really Function

When hackers insert undesired links and keywords on your webpage, they do it through the code and reverse it, hiding the originated source of malicious code. This means that the owner of a particular website will not be able to find out the origins of the code.

Furthermore, more skilled hackers can even prevent the code's detection, making it look normal with PHP re-verse function. In this way, hackers inject and harm your headlines, meta titles, and other content. The malicious code might also be placed in HTML, JavaScript, or other files on your website.

Using your ranking positions in this manner, let us observe this situation as parasitism, where your website and content take the role of a host, while in contrast, the malicious website has the role of parasite and grows on your damage.

Fatal Flaws on Your Website that Hackers Use to Hijack Your Ranking Positions

Although hackers can use many defects over your website to hijack your traffic and visitors and redirect them to third-party websites, five fatal flaws are crucial to this process:

  1. Loose website security
  2. A specific plugin or plugin library component which is outdated and is now exposed to hackers
  3. Outdated WordPress versions
  4. Untested website themes
  5. Weak passwords

How to Know if Your Website is SEO Spam Infected

Knowing your website is targeted for SEO Spamming is the first step in ending and overcoming this issue.

There are so-called spam scanners, advanced tools that can help you revise all the databases, folders, and libraries for SEO spam viruses.

Of course, once again, Google services will be your best ally when trying to identify the undesired practices over your website.

Running a check through Google Search Console (Security and Manual Actions - Security Issues) will show you all the data connected to your website, such as which specific keywords drive traffic to your website, the list of backlinks to your website, 404 pages, site health, server errors, etc.

How will you know if something is wrong? Well, if you notice that traffic comes from the keywords you have not specified, this will be one of the assured signs that your website is hijacked.

Registering your website on Google Search Console provides in-detail notice via email every time Google detects the malware on your website. Google Search Console is notifying you that your site has been blacklisted due to the presence of malware and supporting you with information such as location or the specific files that cause the issue and negatively affect your site's reputation. In this warning message, Google sends specific info with a link on hacked content so that you can react instantly.

Remember the problem of duplicated content? Make sure to inspect your website through Google Transparency Directory that will give you insight if your website is blacklisted as a consequence of violating Copyright or DMCA Claim.

Googles Safe Browsing Site Status provides you with another option to scan your website and awareness if your website is compromised. Google Safe Browse supports not only you but the users as well, displaying a warning or a notification to the visitors trying to access your website.

A web host provider will also inform you about suspension if there is a malware detected on your website. The suspension is done because of exceeding allotted server resources or putting other websites at risk if you use a shared server.

How to Remove SEO Spam Permanently?

Seo spam can be removed either manually or with the support of installing reliable plugins.

Manual scanning and cleaning of the database might be a little bit more complex process because you have to be sure that you will delete only malicious functions. Deleting non-malicious functions can endanger the operation of your website, and you have to be aware that there is always something you can miss.

Manual scanning and cleaning are done in a few steps:

  1. Enter the hosting dashboard and cPanel > phpMyAdmin.
  2. Find your database on the left-side list and choose Export.
  3. Leave the default settings at Quick export and SQL format.
  4. Download the database and open it as a .txt file in Notepad.

Now it's time to check the most common PHP functions hackers use, such as base64decode, gzinflate, eval, or shellexec, and remove these functions by editing malicious text or deleting the record. Once you have clean the database, make sure to import it back on the website using phpMyAdmin.

On the other hand, using reliable security plugins can help you detect and solve multiple issues. The better ones can detect all malicious codes, identify the hacks, and provide you an efficient removal of SEO spam.

If you want to secure high protection for your website and prevent further SEO spamming, you should check some of those three services for SEO Spam Removal.

Sucuri endeavors to protect your website from SEO spamming and similar future attacks, providing you with: DDoS protection, Malware detection, and removal, blacklist removal. It works on sites built on WordPress, Joomla, Magento, PHP, etc.

Astra Security is a well-known tool for website security and protection. It provides solutions for websites and eCommerce stores built over CMS such as WordPress, Joomla, Magento, Opencart, Drupal, etc. Astra Security offers the Astra Firewall that can protect your website from hackers, bad bots, spam, and over 110 other threats. With its machine learning-powered malware scanner, you can automatically scan and remove the spams, while Security Audits enables you to check the code and find the potential threats.

If you run a not so demanding website or blog on the WordPress platform, MalCare will be just the perfect solution for you. MalCare offers a malware scan & removal (even from the WordPress base as they claim), WordPress Firewall, and Login Protection, etc.

Since the website is one of the most valuable assets of your business, don't be another easy target. Make sure to protect your website well. Keep your ranking positions on SERPs and nurture your online brand reputation in a manner you've built over the years.

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