If there is one element of the customer journey modern audiences appreciate most, that’s likely security. Valuable content, personalized touchpoints, user-friendly design, and other factors are all crucial, by all means. They pale, however, in comparison to feeling secure, knowing that one’s data and transactions are safe as can be.
Audiences and potential customers are not alone in appreciating cybersecurity, either. Search engines do too, which is closely intertwined it with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This is why SEO audit tools focus on cybersecurity vulnerabilities, too; cybersecurity affects your SEO ranking quite substantially.
If this connection feels unclear, join us as we explore it in this article.
Cybersecurity in 2023
Initially, contextualizing the state of modern cybersecurity should warrant a brief segment. That’s because cyberattacks are on the rise, posing a more substantive problem than one might suspect, and because users and search engines mind browsing safety much more than before.
Cyberattacks are indeed on the rise, as wpfullcare.com notes. Catering to WordPress, the largest CMS in the world, they report a significant uptick in requests for monitoring and security services since the pandemic began.
WordFence confirms this uptick in their latest report. The first quarter of 2022 was particularly notable as regards credential stuffing, they note. While such attacks have diminished in recent months, Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) attacks are also on the rise – foreshadowing ominous trends.
High-profile cyberattacks have also pushed the issue into the public consciousness. From the infamous 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal to last year’s Toyota hack, audiences have become increasingly aware of cybersecurity risks. This only coincided with Google’s focus on safe browsing and, arguably, strengthened it – especially as competitors followed suit.
How cybersecurity affects your SEO ranking
It’s the latter point that is most relevant in this article’s context because it directly affects SEO. For one, as search engines prioritize user safety, it’s only natural that cyberattacks would harm search rankings. This relation goes much deeper, however, and also relates to modern audiences’ aforementioned awareness.
#1 Blocked traffic lowers engagement signals
Initially, you’ve most likely seen warnings on unsafe websites yourself. Examples may include:
- “This site may be hacked” warnings on Google’s search results pages
- “Your connection to this site is not secure” warnings about HTTP sites on Chrome
- “Back to safety” warnings about suspicious sites on Chrome
This push is what Google dubs “safe browsing,” and it’s far from new. What makes it even more substantive is that while Google dominates the search engine market, Chrome dominates the browser market.
Why this matters in terms of SEO is simple enough; all such traffic is either explicitly or indirectly blocked. In turn, less traffic and fewer engagement signals directly lower an attacked or insecure page’s SEO score.
#2 Attacks and breaches lower user trust
What’s more, most users won’t try to bypass these warnings – so traffic and user engagement losses are a given. The reason for that is a loss of user trust, which warrants a segment in itself.
Put simply, a loss of user trust is the bane of SEO, as it affects those same metrics over time. This is the second way in which cybersecurity affects your SEO ranking; a perceived lack of safety reduces traffic. This hurts both your business, through revenue loss and lessened brand trust, and your SEO through fewer quality signals.
If you’ve performed a website audit before, you likely know well how deeply this can impact performance. Cyberattacks can sabotage your branding efforts, creating negative connotations which can persist long into the future.
#3 Content changes introduce block listing and penalty risks
If the above doesn’t seem entirely synonymous with SEO harm, SEO spam certainly should. Indeed, SEO itself is a prime target of hackers – as GoDaddy reports. In the malware family distribution category, almost 74% of attacks included SEO spam practices.
Through such practices, and primarily by adding links to external content, hackers can benefit in such ways as:
- Redirecting users to malicious websites
- Establishing link farms for their own black hat SEO
- Sabotaging competitors by inserting black hat SEO into hacked sites
This final potential use should highlight just how destructive cyberattacks can really be. Beyond user trust, search engines monitor and penalize suspicious SEO activities. As such, a cyberattack of this kind could directly incite SEO penalties and even block listing, with grave consequences.
#4 Negative reviews diminish trust and rankings
Such a state of affairs can also lead to negative reviews by dissatisfied or even spoofed users. As SEO seeks to improve your customer experience, it values reviews greatly – as do users themselves. Therefore, negative reviews and bad press can also have tremendous consequences.
In this sense, cybersecurity affects your SEO ranking quite directly. Negative reviews and bad press persist long after an attack is over and typically have adverse effects on user engagement. Reviews are a prime trust signal, after all, and most users do read them.
In addition, local SEO also hinges heavily on reviews for rankings – so poor reviews can even harm local visibility. Dissatisfied or even spoofed customers will not hesitate to bring negative reviews to your Google Business Profile (GBP).
#5 Downtime gives competition an edge
Finally, even assuming all other dangers pass, there’s the inescapable factor of downtime. While some cyberattacks are easy to recover, many may require you to pull your website down. Beyond all other effects of this, like diminished trust and lost revenue, downtime also pushes your SEO back.
How impactful this factor can be, depends on a cyberattacks severity, of course. However, any notable downtime can, quite directly, harm your SEO. From missing a scheduled post to seeing a user engagement dip, this window can give your competition an edge. This is, after all, why malicious competitors might even resort to cyberattacks, to begin with.
To summarize, cybersecurity has substantial value as regards both SEO and business performance. Users and search engines alike take note of your website’s security, and negative perceptions can cause considerable harm. Cybersecurity affects your SEO ranking significantly from lost traffic, trust, engagement, and revenue to search engine penalties over suspicious behavior. Thankfully, there are measures toward improving cybersecurity that you can consider – starting with integrating cybersecurity into your web design. You can opt for a secure hosting provider, install SSL certificates, and implement anti-XSS measures like Web Application Firewalls (WAFs). Finally, you can adopt cybersecurity best practices if you haven’t yet, such as regularly updating and backing up your website and using two-factor authentication (2FA). In combination, such practices can help ensure your website’s security – for which your SEO will thank you.