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The Surprising Link Between Cybersecurity Incidents and SEOby@deborahoyewole
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The Surprising Link Between Cybersecurity Incidents and SEO

by Debbie OyewoleApril 18th, 2024
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Comparing Accenture's cybersecurity findings with Clutch's SEO research, it's evident that businesses prioritize boosting sales via SEO over cybersecurity
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Imagine having a thriving business booming with significant revenue generated through organic traffic by SEO.


But there’s a hidden threat - cybersecurity - around the corner, which may sap all this revenue and make you go bankrupt.


Honestly, many businesses may be at the loom of this painted scenario.


Here’s why!


Comparing Accenture's cybersecurity findings with Clutch's SEO research, it's evident that businesses prioritize boosting sales via SEO over cybersecurity, with only 35% securing their data.


By now, you’re considering how your business can combine these elements for growth.


Think about it this way:


SEO focuses on boosting business visibility through organic traffic, while cybersecurity prioritizes business protection and customers' trust. Which of these (SEO and Cybersecurity) would you want to let go?


Absolutely none!


In this article, we’ll uncover the intersection between SEO and cybersecurity, explaining how critical it is to balance both entities for the desired digital visibility of your business.


So, let’s get down to it!


Cybersecurity and Marketing Statistics


The Role of Cybersecurity in SEO


As SEO is critical to a website’s visibility, so is cybersecurity.


Check this out:


Website security is one of Google's ranking factors. In their documentation, Google prioritizes people's digital safety when visiting websites. This means that Google is more likely to rank a secure and safe website with a good user experience higher than those without.


According to Google,


Implementing cybersecurity in SEO helps websites rank higher, drive organic traffic, increase conversions, and help businesses grow.


Put it another way, failure to consider SEO strategy with infused cybersecurity practices could run a business down, leading to bankruptcy.


Common Cyber Threats Impacting SEO

Malware

Malware is malicious software designed to harm users' computers, networks, or servers. Hackers often inject malicious scripts and codes into websites when they find possible vulnerabilities.


Once a hacker can access a website’s code, they could inject malicious Javascript codes that may redirect users to another site, duplicate your website, or steal valuable information.


In 2021, one of the most widespread malware attacks recorded was with the Colonial Pipeline Company, one of the largest fuel pipelines in the United States.


This attack led to the shutdown of the business for five days, leading to fuel shortages and a significant increase in gas prices. According to TechTarget news, this threat occurred due to an employee’s exposed VPN account password used in another location. This scenario caused the website to shut down, leading to inaccessible business.

Phishing


Phishing is a cybersecurity threat that aims to steal a user’s data, tricking the user into believing that information is from a legitimate source or one they are familiar with. It is another cybersecurity threat that hackers may leverage to disrupt business operations and reputation.


Here’s how it works:


Hackers could imitate your website and use it as the source of a phishing attack without you realizing it. And when this happens, victims may flag your website for abuse and blacklist your website, which may cause your business to come to a sudden, screeching halt.


As phishing is the most common cyber threat, its rate keeps growing, and businesses must ensure proper security against it.


According to Stations research on phishing,

DDoS attacks

DDoS, distributed denial-of-service, attack is an internet security threat where attackers bombard a server with fake internet traffic to prevent real users from accessing a website or service.


Hackers usually launch a DDoS attack to crash a site, causing a business to lose its digital asset - website.


Some common signs of DDoS include a sudden decrease in website speed, a weird increase in requests to a particular page or endpoint, odd patterns in traffic, etc. And when all this happens to a site, Google bots and actual humans might experience difficulty accessing the site.


Imagine what it would be like losing thousands of dollars because customers cannot access your site.

What Happens When a Website Gets Hacked?

A hacked website is like a virus-infected community. The infection does not only affect the website but could spread to other things, such as customer data, business reputation, and much more.


Businesses may not quickly notice the impact of cyber threats, but there are some signs to watch out for.


So, what are the pointers to a hacked website?


Here are some elements that may signal a website is under attack.

Downtime

When a website constantly experiences downtime, it may be worth investigating the root cause. This is because attackers could infringe your site with a DDoS attack.


Downtime could devastate businesses because customers need access to your website to make purchases, leading to you losing multi-million dollars in a moment.


It’s usually the worst nightmare businesses can experience in a competitive digital world.

Domain hijacking

Domain hijacking may look like a broad daylight robbery of all your business assets and investments.


Imagine having a domain name that has established high authority and ranks well on Google, only for you to lose access to such a digital asset to hackers due to a mistake or cybersecurity negligence.


It’s a scary scenario you secretly dread.


Recently, in May 2022, Hypixel Network, a Minecraft server, was hacked, losing all domains owned by Hypixel Studios. This is a business with over 10 million active users.


On their Twitter



This is not to scare you as a business owner but to help you understand why cybersecurity practices are germane to all SEO strategies you may invest in.

404 errors

An HTTP error 404, a not found error, usually signifies that a web page has been removed/deleted and can no longer be found on the site’s server.


Having a 404 error is a common practice to signal to Google that a page is no longer available. However, it could be a severe issue if the volume of 404 errors is vast and impacts essential pages on your site that you haven’t deleted.


Google understands 404 when they are carefully used, but when they begin to affect user experience on your site, it could affect your site’s SEO. In many cyber threats, attackers may delete all your website files, leading to a high volume of 404 errors.


Checking your Google Search Console and log files can help you investigate the errors and understand if they result from malicious activities on your site.

Wrongful Google Updates/Penalties

Whenever a site is hacked, Google may stop sending traffic to such a site, leading to a drop in organic traffic. This is because Google prioritizes users' safety as they use the internet.


If you are a site owner and experience a sudden drop in organic traffic on your website, this may be because your site is wrongly penalized or being hit by an update in Google’s algorithm.


Barry Adams, the chief editor of State of Digital, once highlighted a state of event on a website he was closely involved with that experienced Google’s penalty wrongly after a cyber attack. With this occurrence, he concluded that:

He advised site owners to ensure safety measures to avoid being a victim of cyber attacks.

Browser Denylisting

Generally, blacklisting or denylisting is a security measure put in place to block or deny access to enlisted entities.


Google’s Safety First measure,  Safe Browsing, uses the blacklisting mechanism to identify and block malicious websites from being accessed by internet users.


If your website is permanently flagged to site visitors as unsafe due to cyber threat infestation, this could lead to a damaged reputation, low engagement, and a drop in traffic.

Loss of Website Files

Some cyber attacks are launched to steal critical assets on a website.


When hackers gain access to your site’s SSH (Secure Shell) or FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server, they can modify or delete your website files and database data, leading to massive errors.


For instance, if a website is hit with ransomware, site owners may only have access to site data once a ransom is paid.

Businesses often suffer identity theft or compromised site files even after gaining access to the stolen files.


A brand’s compromised website may impact the brand’s identity. Whereas in SEO, brand identity impacts traffic and conversion.

Reputation Damage

Damage to a business’s reputation revolves around losing customers’ and investors’ trust, bad media coverage, and others.


Imagine attackers using your business information due to your hacked website in a phishing scam. They may even imitate your business to lure people into revealing their confidential information.


Reputation damage is costly to amend, and you need to protect your digital assets from being compromised.


A typical example of a cyber attack is Sony Pictures Entertainment's cyber attack in 2014 that exposed the company’s data, such as unreleased films, confidential emails, and the personal information of its employees. The business spent millions fixing the damage.

Cybersecurity and SEO Intertwines

Cybersecurity is broad, the same as SEO. However, both meet at a unique spot, making their marriage valuable to business success.


Some elements of cybersecurity help in SEO, and some aspects of SEO help cybersecurity.

In the next section, we’ll look at cybersecurity elements, their impact on SEO, and vice versa.

Secure Server Configurations and SEO

A server is a system (either software or hardware) that uses HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) to store, process, and present web pages to Internet users whenever they request.


It serves as the bridge between websites and the internet, connecting your website to your target audiences.


Maintaining security measures on the server is critical to prevent hackers from tampering with it. SEO-wise, servers can impact a website’s performance, speed, and crawlability.

SSL/TLS Certificates, HTTPS, and SEO

SSL, Secure Sockets Layer or TLS, and Transport Layer Security certificates are digital data files that establish a secure connection between the internet and the server. SSL/TLS certificates and the HTTPS protocol can protect data, build trust, and improve SEO.


When a website uses HTTPs instead of unsecured HTTP, Google prioritizes such a website and ranks it on SERPs, leading to more website traffic in SEO.

Website Speed, Performance, and Cybersecurity

Optimizing website speed and performance is critical in SEO to offer a great user experience and rank well on Google.


Google understands that people care about browsing a fast website, making them prioritize page speed as a ranking factor on mobile and desktop.


As you leverage SEO to achieve a high-performing website with a good user experience, this eventually helps mitigate the impact of performance-based cyber threats, such as DDoS, ransomware, etc.

Mobile-Friendliness, Responsiveness, and Mobile Security

According to GS stat, in 2024, 59.91% of internet users browse using their mobile devices.


Source: GS


With the popularity of mobile devices, it’s recommended for businesses to optimize their website for mobile-friendliness and responsiveness. Doing this will help site visitors have a great user experience both on mobile and desktop.


Likewise, Google uses the mobile version of a site’s content for indexing and ranking, making mobile-friendliness a ranking factor.


According to them,

Therefore, the more users access the web with mobile devices, the more businesses keep optimizing for mobile-friendliness for SEO.


At the same time, these practices help achieve mobile security practices such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), strong password policies, HTTPs, and many more.

What Can You Do to Ensure Cybersecurity Works Alongside Your SEO Strategy

As security and safety are basic needs of humans, this still applies when people use the internet. Therefore, cybersecurity is essential even from the early stage of a business.


To make sure you’re not pursuing business advancement alone, ensure you prioritize security alongside.


So, where do you start from?

Strategically Plan Technical SEO into Your SEO Process

SEO is a business growth process that optimizes web pages for search engines using keyword research, link building, internal linking, technical SEO, etc.


It’s common for many businesses to want to create more content or web pages with the intention of brand growth. As you do this, plan technical SEO alongside.


Technical SEO is broad, but some aspects will help you uncover cybersecurity-focused elements that will enhance your site performance and secure your site.


Some of these elements include;


  • Checking out for site vulnerabilities
  • Checking out for expired plugins
  • Checking out for expired themes
  • Ensuring CSP, Content Security Policy, is effective against XSS attacks
  • Checking for HTTPs or pages with HTTP


When you continuously monitor the technical SEO of your website, you will be able to identify errors that may signal cyber threats quickly. The goal is to recognize the earliest warning signs and act promptly.


Check Google Alerts and GSC notifications for updates during a technical audit. You should also check website codes for strange JavaScript codes, error messages, and strange pop-ups.


Also, use SEO tools like Ahrefs and Majestic to review your backlink profile to track down spammy backlinks from SEO spammers.


Google offers a checklist to help you determine whether your website is hacked.

Leverage Cybersecurity Tools

You need to include website scanning for malware in your day-to-day activities.


Get a reliable file malware scanner to review your website code and check web pages for malware or strange PHP or HTML files on your server.


Also, scan your website with a vulnerability scanner to understand your website’s strength in terms of vulnerabilities and critical security bugs.


Finally, analyze your log files to understand if there is any suspicious activity.


Log file analysis will help you understand site visitors’ data (IP address, hostname, session, duration, page view time), request information, response information, search engine used, operating system, etc.


If you find any suspicious activity in the log file, you can prevent the hacking process by acting quickly.

Integrate Cybersecurity into your SEO Strategy

As you try to avoid leaving opportunities on the table for your competitors using SEO, you need to do the same for hackers with cybersecurity.


Hackers are your worst enemies, not competitors. The good news is that you can avoid experiencing this worst scenario.


Remember that a hacked website could damage a brand’s reputation and cause customer trust and revenue loss.


Beyond hacking, Google prioritizes secure and safe websites for ranking. Don’t miss out on increased organic traffic and high conversion by leaving out cybersecurity.


You can hit two birds with one stone by choosing a holistic SEO strategy that ingrains cybersecurity into its processes, such as Technical SEO, Content SEO, and Link Building. Technical SEO will help you unfold any underlying cybersecurity issue.


Do not focus on organic traffic alone; think of cybersecurity alongside. Leverage a holistic SEO strategy with technical SEO for monitoring!