What makes a business work? While every business has its own tricks, for online businesses, there is just one mantra. In order for your website to perform, your SEO needs to be in place.
SEO is the process of getting your website to rank high enough in search results. Effective search engine optimization can lead to more web impressions leading to higher clicks and more business leads.
What makes this SEO traffic so fundamental to your website’s growth is the fact that SEO gives you is free, organic, and most-effective traffic. In order to get this kind of web traffic, you need to stick to some commonly agreed optimization practices as advised by search giants like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Bloggers and site owners across the world compete for a position among the top results.
Some SEO practices that could help your website ranking are:
- Using the right keywords
- Your article should have headlines and be broken up into several sections
- Your content should be original, and it should be able to solve the problems of your customers.
- Search engines reward those contents that are fresh and regularly updated.
- Your images should be optimized too.
These are just a few of the various nuances that improve your online ranking; however, while you are busy trying to grow, some perpetrators may try to leverage your growth.
Your hard-earned SEO results can be hijacked by hackers leading to what is called SEO Spam.
Understanding SEO Spam
SEO spamming or spamdexing happens when hackers implant their links inside your website, blog, etc. They target your top-ranking pages and infiltrate it with their links without you knowing it. These spam links stay on your pages for a long time and want unsuspecting visitors to be redirected to a 3rd party websites that are unrelated to the host website.
These numbers are too huge to be ignored, and so in this article, we will give you a solution to SEO spamming in the latter sections. However, to be able to beat the hackers, we must first understand the Why, How, and Where of SEO spamming.
What’s the purpose of SEO spamming?
Content creators and SEO marketers spend a lot of time into getting their product up and running. After months and often years of hard work, your keywords will finally start driving traffic and business to your website.
These accomplishments aren’t hidden from attackers. They want to piggyback on your high-ranking keywords and pages to hijack your business. SEO spamming is the easiest means for them to steal your traffic.
Spammers use two fatal flaws in your website to hijack your visitors and traffic:
- Your website isn’t secured enough.
- A plugin/library/component to your website is outdated and is now vulnerable to hackers
Types of SEO Spamming attacks
Image Courtesy: Wordfence
Hackers have a lot of tricks hidden in their arsenal when it comes to attacking your website. They can use SEO spamming in conjunction with some other tactics to achieve their objectives. Some of the most common evil practices are:
Spam keyword injections
Hackers would leverage your high-ranking website to promote their products and services. To accomplish this, they will pepper your website with spammy keywords. This is done in such a sneaky manner that you may not even notice this deflection. When someone searches for these spammy keywords, your website will appear in search results. While this may sound like a good thing since you are getting more free visitors, however, this isn’t good for your website. The visitors aren’t searching for your products and may infiltrate your lead-filtering process.
Moreover, this uninterested crowd can hit your conversion rate and, thus, your online success to a low point.
Injection of spammy links
SEO isn’t just about keywords, so spammers would go a step further by injecting spammy links inside your website. These links will be hidden under your regular links. Most of the time, these spammy links will take you to illegal sites selling banned drugs and substances.
When your unsuspecting visitors land up on these sites, they may feel frustrated and may never come back to your website.
This tactic is called link-baiting and is a popular form of SEO spamming.
In this form of SEO spamming, hackers target your customer database and e-mail accounts. Once they have access to that, your customers will start receiving spammy emails from your account. When they receive these fake messages, they may have no other choice but to block your account or label you as a spammer.
Even if you manage to get a grip over your email account and stop SEO spamming, you may not be able to recover your business fully. Your customers may never be able to trust you with their information again.
Hijacking your banners
If you are displaying ads on your website, these can be taken over by SEO spammers. Your banners and ads will be replaced by theirs, and all your traffic will be directed to malicious destinations.
How does it work?
To spam your website, hackers inject code and then reverse it. This is done so that you are unable to discover the origins of this malicious code. A seasoned hacker may even be able to prevent the detection of the code.
Next, the PHP function re-reverses this code and makes it normal. The goal is to let search bots and crawlers view this code and accordingly raise the rankings of your web- page. This is how hackers inject your headlines, meta-titles, and other valuable content. While you can view your content, the underlying links and phrases remain hidden but are visible to search engines.
Let’s take an example to see how SEO spam works.
Let’s say there is a company XYZ that sells some banned drugs like Molly. Since this substance is banned, XYZ can’t sell it openly.
To sell this contraband indirectly, it identifies your top-ranking website ABC. It injects some keywords e.g., ‘buy Molly’ inside one of your top-ranking pages, but you don’t spot that. For you, your website is performing normally.
Now, if someone is searching for ‘where to buy Molly’, he would find the injected website ABC on top of the search results. If that visitor clicked that search result, he would directly arrive at the Cialis payment gateway. This visitor would never arrive at ABC.
In this case, the maleficent website XYZ has become a parasite living off the authenticity of the non-suspecting ABC.
However, if you typed the search result in the search box, you would still arrive at ABC, there would be no trace of XYZ.
SEO spam attack: The HOW?
At this point, you should ask these two questions;
- Why was my website targeted for the SEO spam attack?
- How did the attacker manage to get inside and embed his content?
Hackers don’t target individual websites; they search for several websites at one go and then find the easiest targets.
So, what do the hackers look for while hacking the website? Let’s take the example of WordPress sites.
Outdated WordPress versions
According to a report, 36% of all WordPress-based websites use outdated versions of this CMS platform. Sites that use outdated versions are more likely to be hacked than those who have ready and up-to-date versions of WP.
While WP regularly keeps on making its platform more secure, it is up to the website owners to accept those changes. If you don’t update them, your website will be easily noticed by the hackers for its flaws.
Imperfect plugins and themes
Themes and plugins are great for functionality, but sometimes, they may cause trouble for you.
Often, we install plugins that haven’t been tested by users or, we use those products which don’t have proper security measures in place.
Some users choose to install pirated plugins and themes to save on money.
Nobody can hack your site if it has a very strong password. Avoid using easy and common passwords such as 123456, Querty, etc. More than 23 million people use 123456 as their password, and that makes this one of the most vulnerable and useless keys to a lock.
In all these three cases listed above, our website becomes prone to SEO spam. Hackers can gain entry into our website through what is known as WordPress backdoors. To put it simply, a backdoor is exactly what it sounds like. It is an entry point used to gain access to your website by hackers as and when they want.
How to know if the site is infected?
These are advanced tools that scan all your libraries, databases, folders, etc. for viruses and SEO spams.
Not all scanners can do their job well, so you will have to find the right ones, such as the following.
These sophisticated tools help you scan through your web content thoroughly and show reliable diagnosis in no time.
Google Safe Browsing
Google’s Transparency Report tells you about all the harmful content like unrelated backlinks, etc. but it can’t tell you much about SEO spamming.
Google Search Console
To check if you have any SEO spam issues, go to “Security & Manual Actions” and click on “Security Issues.” Any spam will be red-flagged there.
How to remove SEO spams from your website?
You can manually delete SEO spamming codes, but that is a time-taking task. Furthermore, it requires coding understanding and experience. These malicious codes can’t be easily found, and remain hidden in the various nooks and crannies of your website.
To delete the SEO spamming activity, you will have to install a highly reliable security plugin that can achieve multiple objectives. It should detect all the malicious codes, delete them, and identify hacks. We understand you may not be well-versed with the right tools; thus, it is best to trust an expert on this.
Some of the best service providers for SEO spam removal are the following two.
Sucuri analyzes the complete website and clean spam index, repair SEO spam, and prevent such attacks in the future.
Sucuri solution works on any sites built on WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, PHP, etc.
Malcare works only on WordPress sites. Its intelligent plugin which scans the entire site and performs auto-clean up.
#3. Astra Security
Astra is a trusted name when it comes to SEO spam removal. Security experts at Astra scan your website to reveal all pages, posts, and other areas containing malicious links. They clean those links and re-submit them to Google.
In case, your website was blacklisted due to SEO spam, Astra takes care of that too. Astra security professionals
- Clean the malware,
- Remove malicious links and other injections, and
- Request a review to Google.
Post all this, the Astra firewall is installed on your website for future protection against such attacks.
Your website is one of the most important investments that you have made. If you aren’t careful, it can be subjected to SEO spam attacks that will take away your hard-earned traffic, reputation, and money. Don’t lose them.