Search engine optimization is widely used by businesses around the world to get the attention of their target audience. In this method, businesses optimize their website content by providing relevant information to get a good rank for their websites on the SERPs. This whole process takes a lot of time and efforts. However, these efforts can end up going in vain if your website falls prey to an SEO spam attack. SEO spam, also known as search engine poisoning, is a technique used by website hackers to malign the image of certain businesses by reducing their ranking on the SERPs. This is done by hacking the websites and including black hat SEO elements to the website. SEO spam is one of the most popular types of malware with about 44% of malware infections being misused for SEO spam campaigns.
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SEO spamming and using black hat SEO techniques is similar. However, what makes SEO spamming different is that it is done by hackers and not the business itself. SEO spam can be divided into the following types:
1. Web Traffic Spam
A web traffic spam is a type of spamming that creates a turbulence in the traffic that you receive on your website. This turbulence can be of two types. The first type is when you receive traffic on your website from backlinks that are not relevant to your website information. Such type of traffic will not be interested in the information on your website and will end up increasing your bounce rate. High bounce rate will decrease your overall website score and make you rank low on the SERPs.
The second is the traffic that is received by your website but does not really exist. These are suspicious web links that are a part of your website referral traffic. You should keep checking your referral traffic from time to time through your analytical tool. It is easy to identify these suspicious links as they will either have no website or have blank fill-in webpages. The web traffic spam does not have a direct impact on your overall ranking. However, it does harm your traffic analytics and misguides your decision making.
2. Search Engine Spam
Search engine spamming techniques are generally used by businesses to put down their competitors. As the name suggests, this type of spamming is done with the sole purpose of decreasing a competitor website’s online ranking to increase the spammer’s own website rank. SEO black hat practices are commonly undertaken in this type of spamming. These techniques include keyword stuffing, keyword cloaking, irrelevant link building, etc. Keyword stuffing is majorly done in places that may go unnoticed by an online user. These include NoScript, meta description and alt attributes. With time, search engines have evolved to catch a few of these black hat SEO techniques. Keyword stuffing, for instance, is one such SEO spam that is no longer an obstruction for the search engines. The latest algorithms of the search engines are capable of ignoring such spamming.
Keyword cloaking, on the other hand, is a technique which involves tweaking of your website coding to include keywords. This way the keywords are added to your website without being a part of your content. Such type of spamming has a great impact on your SEO ranking.
3. Linking Spam
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A linking spam is also known as a referral spam. In this type of spamming, the hackers try to defame your authority by backlinking irrelevant and bad website links to your website. Before 2016, if bad websites were linking back to your website, Google used to penalize your website. However, with the Penguin update in 2016, Google now gives a website with link spam a chance to delete such bad links and regain their authority. One could also reverse the damage by gaining some good backlinks. But how does link spam take place? The answer is unnatural links. The earlier algorithms of search engines were naive to understand linking spam. This gave rise to fake backlinks or unnatural backlinks. Unnatural links can be built by hackers or can be found in sources such as link networks or link farms. You can easily identify such spam platforms. They generally have heavy advertising and outbound links. The inbound links will be comparatively much lesser.
Signs You are Being SEO Spammed
With more and more businesses running the race to rank high on the SERPs, SEO spam is becoming a lurking danger for every business website. Often websites don’t even realize for a long time that they have been spammed. So here are some clear signs to look for when checking for SEO spam on your website.
1. Unusual Change in Analytics
Google Analytics is a tool that helps you keep a tab on the activities that take place on your website. It helps you to know how well your content is performing and how much traffic you are receiving. Since this tool keeps a complete tab on your performance, it will record every traffic and change that happens on your website. If it has suddenly started recording unusually high traffic on your website, be alert. It could be a hacker trying to add you to a link farm. You could also check for other changes in your website that you may not have made.
Another Google tool to look for signs of SEO spam is the Google Search Console. If you have a website signed up with the Google Search Console, it will keep warning you of unusual activity taking place on your website. Generally, these warning will come to you when Google finds spam on your website and penalizes you.
2. Crawl Errors and Faulty Backlink Profile
Google Console not only alerts you when spamming activity is caught but also enables you to check for it before penalizing. If you open your Google Search Console and check the Crawl section, it will give you the number of crawl errors and non-existent web pages on your website. This data also provides you with the detail of the source of the bad link.
Apart from crawl errors, faulty backlink profile is something you should keep your eyes open for. Gaining backlinks for your website is not that easy. If all of a sudden the number of backlinks you are receiving increases drastically, be worried and not happy as it is a clear sign of SEO spam.
3. Automatically Created Pages
Having a high number of web pages indexed by the search engine is good for your website. But it is not good to have extra pages being indexed without your knowledge. SEO spammers tend to create hidden web pages and diverting web pages, which end up bringing down your authority and eventually your SEO rank.
Effects of SEO Spam
While you may not immediately notice the effects of SEO spamming on your website, it will soon have adverse effects on your website. These effects will include.
1. Your Website’s SEO Rank Drops
If your website is hacked by an SEO spammer, they will try to make you a part of a link farm. Once you become a part of a link farm, you will have innumerable low-quality backlinks to your website. This will make your website unreliable for the search engines and make them lower your SEO rank. Also, if the spammer adds inappropriate outbound links in your content, the search engine may not rank your website at all.
2. Your Website gets Blacklisted
Search engines cannot just let you rank low and continue to share content and links that are bad. Eventually, they will have to take some actions against your website for spamming. Apart from ranking your low on the SERPs, Google may even go to the extent of blacklisting your website and marking it as a malware infected website.
3. Your Online Reputation gets Tarnished
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SEO spam does not only stop at keyword stuffing and web page diversion. These troublemaking hackers may also go to the extent of adding inappropriate and sexual content on your website. These can be in the form of porn-related or Viagra ads. Having such type of content on your website will not only be repulsive for the user but also a driving factor in increasing your website bounce rate. Online users will also abolish using your website altogether.
4. Your Website is Comprehensively Destroyed
Hacking your website to add SEO spam is not an easy task. A hacker has a tough time finding their way into your website coding. But once they do find their way in, these hackers completely destroy your website. All a hacker needs to do is find their way in by identifying an easy password of the broken plug-in. Once in, these hackers can add nasty malware and viruses in your website, which can get transferred to your user’s device. Such a website falls under the risk of getting permanently blacklisted by the search engines.
Saving Your Website from SEO Spam
1. Find the Open Gate
If your website has been SEO spammed, you can still save it. Start from where it all began. Find out that entry point from where the spammer had a chance to tamper with your website. Scan through all your website files and look for compromised files and delete them.
2. Use Proper Antivirus
Though you will not consider antivirus software a necessity, it is something that can save your website from getting SEO spammed. Activating your on-server antivirus will ensure that your web directory is free from malware and other suspicious files.
3. Regularly Scan Your Website
Being aware of what is happening on your website regularly is a good practice. It will keep you updated of not only the good things but also suspicious activities if any. Try using SEO repair tools such as Sucuri to scan your website and find spammed files or web pages. Such scans can also help you find how these spammed files originated.
4. Keep Passwords Updated
If you have a WordPress website, it will be well-protected with the help of passwords. If in case your WordPress website is spammed, there is a strong chance that the hacker will get access to more information. This can worsen the situation for your website. To avoid this, make sure you keep updating your passwords from time to time. Also, keep track of all the users you are allowing access to your website portal.
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5. Reinstall and Resubmit
For a compromised WordPress website, it is essential that you uninstall and reinstall all the plugins and themes to get rid of the affected files. Do keep in mind to take a backup before uninstalling. Alternately, you could also reinstall your WordPress version to get rid of unwanted malware.
SEO spamming is something you will not consider happening to your website. But how can you be sure? You cannot! SEO spamming is real, and it keeps happening with many businesses on a regular basis. Do not sit on the assumption that it will not happen to you and get an SEO specialist to take a look at your website.