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Website hacking has been on the rise for years and shows no signs of stopping. A site hack isn’t just a minor inconvenience — it can seriously affect your users and cause long-term damage to your search performance.

Why hackers target existing websites

Once an unauthorized person has control of your website, they can misuse it in a number of ways. Some hackers will simply choose to vandalize your site, deleting files and uploading their own material to indicate that your site is now under their control.

Usually, however, site hacks are used to generate profit for online criminals. They can use a hacked site to generate additional traffic for their own sites by sneakily adding backlinks to their pages, or by changing your site’s code so that your site redirects to a URL that they own. They may also alter the metadata of your site so it will pop up in search results for their desired keywords instead of those that are relevant to your content.

More seriously, hackers can pillage your files for sensitive information such as user logins, passwords, and even financial details, for the purposes of identity theft. They may also insert malicious code into your website. This could be used to harvest visitor information. They can also turn your website into an attack site. Your page will then attack your visitors’ devices, infecting them with malware. This could be in the form of keyloggers or other information-stealing programs, code that turns devices into parts of a botnet, or ransomware.

How site hacks damage your SEO

Search engines are looking for trusted sites that provide value to users. If all your site provides is a redirect to an unrelated commercial site — or worse, to an attack site — this will come to be reflected in your site’s search rankings. If the metadata for your site is changed, your site will stop appearing in search results for the terms you’re targeting. Your traffic will drop and your bounce rate will increase, further damaging your search ranking.

Search providers such as Google also take pains to protect users from attack sites. If your site has been converted into an attack site your pages may stop appearing in search results; if they do appear, they may be flagged as dangerous. All of this can be disastrous for your SEO, web traffic, and conversion rates.

What you can do
• Always keep your site’s software updated. Scripts, plugins, content management systems — all these may have security flaws that can be exploited to take control of your site if they’re not regularly patched and updated.

• Use strong passwords and ensure you change any default login data. If your administrator account is called “admin” and your password is “password,” your site is a disaster waiting to happen.

• Keep your website’s files securely backed up. If the worst happens, you’ll be able to erase the hacked version and repair your site.

Countless websites are hacked every day, with catastrophic consequences for web traffic and search optimization. Don’t let yours be one of them.