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What is Website Security and Does it Affect SEO?

Written by Angela Tempest

April 30, 2019

There’s no doubt that there are lots of elements of SEO (search engine optimisation) to get your head around.  One of the ones that make sense even if you aren’t up on SEO is website security.  After all, we heard daily horror stories of websites getting hacked and people having all kinds of nightmare problems.  But for a blogger or small business, what is website security, and does it actually affect SEO?

What is website security?

One of the sad things as the internet has grown is that thieves and criminals have found more ways to use it for their nefarious purposes (love that phrase!) and this means website owners have to be savvier than ever.  The risk of having your website hacked is far bigger than at any time previously and while it might not see as important as say, a bank’s website, it can still have a big impact on your business.

Why does your site need to be secure?

But I just have a blog, I hear you say.  There’s no payment processing or anything on there, I just write about what I love.  And that’s cool but this still doesn’t mean you should neglect website security.  Here are some solid reasons why.

Less chance of attacks

The obvious reason for website security is to ensure your website isn’t hacked or attacked.  There are cyber attacks somewhere every 39 seconds and over 40% of these target small businesses because they are perceived to be ‘easier’ to attack than the big guys.

Stay on Google’s good side

Nearly half of the websites on the first page of any search are secure and that number has increased after Google stated their emphasis on secure websites.  Your Chrome browser will often warn you if a site isn’t secure and people will bounce away for fear of something nasty lurking. 

However, if you do get problems and don’t handle them, you have the potential to be ‘blacklisted’ by Google.  Stats show they blacklist or quarantine around 10,000 suspicious websites every day.  These come up with the warning such as ‘this site may harm your computer’ when you try to go to them.  By ensuring you have solid website security, you don’t have to worry about falling into their blacklist zone.

Increase conversions

If your website is secure, people are more likely to convert on your site.  That can mean buying something but also something as simple as signing up for your email newsletter or your opt-in freebie.  That’s because they feel confident that their data is protected behind your security layer.

Stop the spread of malicious software

Another reason is to help stop the spread of malicious software and be a positive part of the online community.  Hacked websites often infect other websites or even hijack people’s computers.  If you take steps to make it harder for your website to become a victim, you reduce the chance that your site then targets others.

Website clean-up can be expensive

The final reason can be filed under ‘prevention is better than cure’ because while you can get your website cleaned up after a hack, it can be expensive.  It can also lead to downtime and potential loss of revenue. 

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What is HTTPS?

One of the most popular ways to secure your site is with an SSL certificate.  This changes the little piece of information at the front of your website address from HTTP to HTTPS and this means you have a website security certificate on your site.

The HTTP problem

When you have a simple HTTP website without the security certificate, a browser looks up the IP address for the website and connects, assuming it is the right serve.  Data is sent in ‘clear text’ and this means that a whole range of people can see this – anyone from government agencies, your internet service provider or more worryingly, hackers and cybercriminals.

And this also means there’s nothing to say you are actually connected to the website you thought you were. 

It might look like the site you were expecting, and it might have all the features you would anticipate finding but there’s no guarantee these are the real deal.  They could be an elaborate trap to capture your personal information and steal from you.

How HTTPS solves it

HTTPS adds that ‘secure’ element to your website and makes a substantial difference which is why Google and other search engines rate it.  It ensures you are directed to the actual website you have typed into the address bar.  Also, information is sent over a secure connection and that means no-one can easily intercept that information.

But how do you get that important ‘S’ on your website address?  The answer is called an SSL certificate.  This clever piece of website security binds your domain name, server name or hostname with the identity of your organisation (in other words, your company or blog name) and location.  This is added to your site usually by your website host or you can buy them separately.  Once installed, the secure element to the HTTPS will show.

Other steps to take for website security

While having a website security certificate is an important part of ensuring site security, there are a few other items to add to your website security checklist to help avoid those problems.

  1. Strong passwords

We’ve all done it – used passwords on multiple sites and opted for something a little obvious.  Apparently one of the most used passwords is 123567 (!) and hackers have clever tools to help them guess these passwords. 

By using strong passwords with 8 or more characters that mix lower and upper case letters, numbers and special characters like a question mark you can help make accessing your site harder.  And don’t worry, tools such as LastPass are ideal to save these passwords so you don’t need to remember them all!

  1. Two-factor authentication

Another option to add another layer of security is two-factor identification.  Lots of sites will have you set up a way to send a special code (such as to your mobile phone) that you then input to confirm you are you.

  1. Secure networks

Working at the local Starbucks is cool but always remember these are unsecured networks that are much easier to hack than what you have at home.  So be cautious about what you do when you are away from the security of your home network.  And never clicks links, emails or messages that looks even remotely suspicious, no matter where you are.

  1. Multiple email addresses

It is easy to have more than one email address today, even if you don’t have a website.  Use these for different purposes and this helps reduce the risk of your information being hacked.  You could have one for social media accounts, one for banking and financial accounts and so on.

Does site security impact SEO?

We started all of this by wondering if website security plays a part in your SEO and how Google ranks your website.  And the answer is that it definitely does play a role.

For starters, I mentioned blacklisting above which is the worst case scenario.  Here your website virtually vanishes from search engines and it takes a lot of work to get it reinstated.  But that’s not the only way security can impact SEO.

If your website isn’t secure, malicious bots can crawl around your site and cause problems.  Which is bad enough, but this can also stop Google’s good bots from doing their job.  This means your site doesn’t get indexed and doesn’t show up on search engine results.

Finally, the whole business of being hacked and having malicious code on your website can slow things down significantly.  And with the emphasis on mobile-first that Google now has, a slow website is a real problem.

Secure your website

Website security is one of those jobs as a website owner that is less complex than it seems but can have a massive impact if you don’t do it.  Many hosting companies offer free SSL certificates and walk you through the process of adding them.  And if they don’t, you can also purchase them.  From SEO benefits to reassurance your site is safe, it is definitely a job to add to the top of your to-do list.

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