Smart real estate professionals work hard to develop quality websites that rank high in search engine results. But what if it could all be taken away overnight?
Unfortunately, unscrupulous hackers can do just that by using negative SEO to sabotage your rankings. Here’s what you should know about this serious threat to your business.
What Is it?
Negative SEO is when someone attempts to diminish the search engine ranking of a competitor's website. To ensure that users get accurate search results, Google regularly updates its algorithms to control the search environment. Unfortunately, it is possible to leverage some of Google's algorithmic rules to negatively influence a competitor's rankings.
Ironically, negative SEO has been increasing in response to the improvements Google has tried to make to penalize the use of black hat marketing. When someone uses unethical tactics to try to improve their rankings, Google flags that website and lowers its overall ranking. Sadly, unscrupulous agents can take advantage of this by using a hybrid of those black hat tactics to take down a competitor's site and clear out prime real estate near the top of the SERPs.
There are a variety of black hat and unethical techniques people can use to sabotage a competitor's search engine rankings, including:
- Hacking your real estate website
- Building countless spammy links that direct to your website
- Copying your unique content and distributing it on sites and message boards all over the web
- Pointing direct links to your website using spammy keywords such as poker online, Viagra and many others
- Creating fictitious social profiles to ruin your online reputation
- Removing the most productive backlinks to your website
There are several off-site and on-site tactics that can be employed to ruin your website's rankings. In many of these cases, the malicious party does not require access to the backend of your website. That said, when they do attain access, hackers can be especially destructive, ruining your rankings, online reputation and long-term standing with Google.
How They Hack
Website hacks can occur as either malware or spam. When they get access to your web server, hackers can alter existing pages or upload new pages that are riddled with links to the scammer’s website or other bad neighborhoods to harm your rankings. They can also use malware to turn your website into a zombie that unleashes viruses and spam into cyberspace.
Because botnets can harvest sensitive identity and financial information, Google will immediately flag your site and warn users not to visit it. You may get a notice from Google warning you that your site has been hacked, but this isn't always the case.
A newer hacking threat has recently surfaced in the form of so-called cloaked PDF pages. With this tactic, hackers use PDF files, which are generally more trusted by Google, to embed spammy links on a competitor's website that direct unsuspecting visitors to bad neighborhoods or unscrupulous websites.
Landing on Google's Blacklist
If Google suspects that your real estate website has been infected with malware, it will blacklist your site. This is called quarantining; but regardless of the relatively innocuous term, it means your site has been flagged or removed, which means you will lose your search rankings. Unfortunately, if your site is blacklisted, you will likely lose at least 90% of your traffic.
You will usually have to pay a lot of money to a security specialist to clean your hacked files and inoculate your site from future attacks. If you haven't recently backed up your web data, you could also lose everything, since many hacking bots permanently delete existing web pages and files from the server or alter them beyond repair.
Protecting Your Real Estate Website
These days, it's not enough to create a website and leave it alone. A healthy, safe website will require ongoing maintenance.
If you are like many real estate website owners, you might use WordPress. While it's a great free open-source software, WordPress isn't perfect. Any vulnerability in the WordPress core software, plugins or themes are often posted publicly. Malicious agents can take advantage of outdated WordPress plugins and themes if you fail to make regular updates. It's quite common for busy real estate professionals to overlook or put off the mundane task of installing updates. Unfortunately, this can make them the target of a malicious hacker.
Fixing a hacked website can cost thousands of dollars, not to mention all the lost revenue from clients being unable – or afraid – to access your site. To prevent hacks, it's very important to keep your website updated. You should also back up your site regularly and invest in some professional real-time monitoring to catch potential hacks in their infancies. Most commonly, busy real estate professionals choose to entrust a complete digital marketing agency to protect their websites, search engine rankings and online reputations from the all-too-real threat of hackers.