How website security and SEO are intimately connected

November 18, 2019  |  Devin Morrissey

Learning how to optimize your website can be a challenge. At one time, it was only about figuring out what Google wanted, which was largely keywords. Now, it’s much more complex.

Google is focused on not only delivering high-quality, relevant search results, but also on protecting people from malware and unscrupulous websites. Not only that, a hack of your website by others can give Google false information that directly impacts your rankings. That’s why it’s vital for your website to have strong web security if you want to do well in SEO.

How security can directly impact SEO

Hacks, or attempts at hacks, can keep Google’s bots from accessing your site and assessing your content and keywords. Your server may report missing pages to Google because of a web scraper or hacker impacting your website.

Why would someone hack your site? Usually it’s to do back-door SEO. For instance, a hacker wants to put a link on your site, or add a web page. Sometimes they even target your domain and redirect it to another site altogether. Sucuri has an excellent example of a common hack they see on WordPress sites. These hacks make your website look like an untrustworthy page, or may even draw penalties from Google that cause your site to be blacklisted.

Sometimes, no matter how much effort you put into SEO, failures in cybersecurity can drastically impact how Google sees your site, therefore also impacting your place in the SERPs.

The first step in security to boost SEO

One of the first things you need to do to protect your website and boost your Google ranking is to install HTTPS. Google named this security protocol a ranking signal several years ago, so it’s obvious that your SEO results will be tied to it.

You’ll need to make sure you have a proper certificate and allow indexing so that Google can still read your website.

However, this is only the beginning. An HTTPS setup does not secure a website, it only secures the connection and encrypts data that is sent. That means that communication between your server and the web browser a visitor is using is secure and data — like a credit card number used for purchase — cannot be stolen.

Other important security steps

Information security, or keeping your stored data secure, is another important part of keeping your website secure and helping it rank well, and the good news is that this security requires the same vigilance that SEO does. As a result, you can monitor both simultaneously.

Platform security

Be sure you’ve chosen a good web host that has strong security on their end. Use security software or plugins as appropriate. For smaller websites using WordPress, you can use Wordfence, iThemes Security, or Bulletproof Security, for example. Overall, you want plugins that address the known security issues in the platform you use.

All websites can also benefit from using SiteLock, which not only closes security loopholes but also monitors your website daily for malware, viruses, and more.

Secure passwords

Believe it or not, the number one most common password is still 123456. In a business environment, it’s easy for usability to overtake security — after all, you want everyone to be able to access the resources they need, and the importance of secure passwords may take a back burner. Unfortunately, this is exactly the mindset that makes it so easy for hackers to access your website and destroy your search engine ranking. Use a truly secure password and consider using software such as a password manager if accessibility is a concern. Password software can generate and store secure keys that are much safer from hackers.

Use automated backups

If there is a hack or other problem, you don’t want to be stuck frantically reconstructing your website if you have to wipe any of your content or other data. Automated backups make it easy to recover your site to its original condition quickly, which may allow you to dodge Google penalties.

Automatic backups mean you don’t have to remember to manually back up your website each week or month. It will give you peace of mind and make it simple to resume business as usual, even if a breach occurs. Most web hosting companies offer automatic backup services, so it’s possible all you need to do is configure it. If you use WordPress, there are plugins that schedule automatic backups as well.

Protect your input Forms

One of the most common sources of website breaches come from SQL injections into web forms that don’t have strict enough parameters. Any time you allow someone to supply outside information, it’s important to secure the form.

There are several steps you can take to prevent a SQL injection, so be sure you’ve covered your bases. For instance, you can use prepared statements so that a user cannot insert malicious values directly into the backend of your website. You can also limit user input so that it can only be of a specific type and length, which helps you avoid coded attacks. Another idea is to create a generic error message so that hackers cannot use the codes to learn about your database architecture.  

Recovering from a hack

What if your website is hacked, despite your security precautions and other best efforts? Is there any way to recover your SEO rankings in enough time to ensure you don’t lose a large amount of business or traffic?

The good news is that there is. Google allows webmasters to submit a reconsideration request after a penalty. Your website has to be fully restored and any malicious files removed, however, which is why automated backups are so important.

Google works hard to help webmasters after a hack. Take a look at their resources if you’re struggling to recover from a hack.

Security and SEO go hand-in-hand

Keeping your website safe is already a top priority in most businesses. What you might not realize is that great security helps protect your search engine ranking as well.

With the right security in place, you’re much less likely to suffer a hack that compromises your website. If there is a concern, implementing the right safeguards and backups will help you to quickly recover and submit your website for reconsideration, hopefully avoiding any hefty drops in your SERP rankings.

It’s imperative to take time once or twice a year to review your security processes and make sure they’re the best they can be, including automated backups of your site, updated security protocols, and so on. Proactive solutions will always be better than reactive ones — and potentially save you a lot of grief in the long run.

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