Are the Russians Coming for Your Website?

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hackerRussian hacking exploits have been all over the news recently, but what you may not have realized is that this is nothing new, it just so happens it has affected some ‘major players’ recently. In fact, the number of hackers from Russia, China, Eastern Europe and even right here in the good old USA trying to get into business websites of all kinds has been increasing for some time. Not only can this be bad news for the security of a website in general, but it can also seriously damage a site’s ranking in the SERPs.

Are Hidden Hackers Wrecking Your Site’s SEO?

You may be wondering why we are even suggesting you worry about your site being hacked. Yours is simply a small local business in the Midwest, what could the Russians possibly want from you?

According to Google, hackers are rarely specifically targeting a certain business at all. Instead they are making use of hundreds – sometimes even thousands of bots – that scurry around from site to site until they find one that can be exploited.

Even though the hacker’s bots may not be after your site specifically, they will ‘take it’ if they can and if they do it can have a serious impact on your site’s SEO.

Digital Vandalism

Some hackers don’t really have too much of a plan behind their efforts, they are basically out to cause trouble for the sake of doing so. Often, once they take a site over they replace the content with offensive, or nonsensical copy. The biggest aim is to embarrass the website owner. They may not know who that is, but it’s often supposed to be a lesson to those who fail to pay enough attention to their site on a daily basis.

While a business owner may be too busy to notice what’s going on though, Google – or rather their bots – certainly will and they will pick up that the site has been hacked. They will attempt to notify the website owner via Google Webmaster Tools, but obviously that message will only get through if the webmaster actually makes use of them, which far too many people do not.

In the meantime, in the interests of protecting the public, Google will slap a hacked site warning on the affected website. You may have seen these. They are big red screens that advise browsers not to proceed, as they may be headed into dangerous territory. Almost everyone complies with these warnings and so very quickly a once busy site can see its traffic decreased to zero.

The DDoS Attack That Isn’t

DDoS attacks – when so much traffic is deliberately aimed at a site that it chokes its servers and shuts it down – are better orchestrated affairs and these are usually aimed at specific sites. Most often you will hear about DDoS attacks that shut down the likes of Amazon, Sony and other multi-million-dollar concerns.

The chances that your business’ website will be deliberately targeted for a DDoS shut down are slim – unless you have a particularly aggressive competitor with a taste for black hat SEO – but traffic surges caused by pesky spam commenters can mimic the effects.

Comments can be very useful to a website. They can help drive engagement and to a certain extent Google will approve. However, by allowing them you are opening your site up to a potential hack. In addition to leaving spam links that are terrible for your SEO if too many bots arrive to comment on your site at once they can cause a bottleneck that causes a situation very like that caused by a deliberate DDoS.

How can you prevent all of this? With vigilance. Proper security should be maintained on the site at all times – there are plenty of tools available to help you – and if you do choose to allow comments they should be properly monitored on a regular basis.

Finally, get into the habit of navigating to your own site once a day, not to the backend, but to the front, in the same way your ‘regular’ visitors do, to make sure nothing looks odd or is failing to function correctly. Doing this will only take five minutes from your day but it could save you days – even weeks – of hassle trying to ‘cure’ a site that has been taken over by those odd foreign bots.

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