It’s disturbing when something that’s supposed to help you turns out to be your worst nightmare. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a valuable skill that helps both creators and consumers to mutually help out each other. However, sites running on WordPress are often the victims of hackers causing SEO spam or spam injections that take wrongful advantage for their personal uses. They cause damage both in short-term and long-term, and remain well-hidden to complicate their removal.
If you happened to have discovered a WordPress SEO spam hack on your site at its early stages, that’s one part of the treatment. It helps to have a trusted and reputed security scanner that regularly scans for such issues. Or, if you’re someone who regularly checks the Google Search Console or other SEO tools for background statistics, your WordPress site will suspiciously rank for fake merchandise or something illegal on search engines.
The next part of the treatment is the actual resolution – this part is often tricky, as the SEO spam refuses to completely go away. This is why most infected sites become reinfected after getting ‘cleaned’.
What do SEO spam hacks involve?
In WordPress sites, SEO hacks frequently appear in the form of SEO spam (also called ‘spamdexing’. Hackers use your website’s ranking and organic traffic for selling their own content that otherwise won’t be able to rank. Commonly called the blackhat SEO techniques, these are infamous among hackers for revenue generation while spamming and potentially destroying your website permanently.
Usually, SEO is used for meaningful optimization that helps you and many other businesses to target their content. Hackers misuse this ranking system on search engines like Google and integrate SEO hacks and other illegal techniques to bring more traffic to their content. In the end, it results in your website getting blacklisted by Google as soon as the SEO spam or other malicious content is detected.
What’s important to understand when this particular and unfortunate incident takes place is why it happened in the first place. After all, hackers had to gain access to your WordPress site somehow. Finding out potential backdoors and vulnerabilities is the most important part of the clean-up like faulty code, unclear access privileges, outdated plugins or themes, etc.
Cleaning up the SEO spam hacks on your WordPress site
There are a couple of generalized steps one can follow in the event of an SEO hack on your WordPress site:
- Signs of being infected
It can either be in plain sight, or you’d hopefully run across this during your periodic evaluation of the site, but there will be signs of infection.
- There could be sudden variations in the website traffic due to some unexplainable reason, ‘Deceptive Site Ahead’ warnings in Google search results, etc.
- Sometimes, the site could be clearly defaced with unwanted pop-up ads, external redirects to questionable sites, and new pages.
- Google Search Console can give out warnings about the same, and a quick search will show that your site’s displaying content like ‘buy Viagra’, ‘check Gucci purses’, etc.
- Use a comprehensive security scanner
After detecting the presence of malicious content on the WordPress site or other SEO hacks, the first alternative is to use a trusted security scanner. It needs to be a comprehensive cleanup since all potential scam scripts should be wiped out completely to avoid reoccurrence. Both old and new kinds of malware must be wiped out without a trace and the scanner should detect all backdoors.
- Find the SEO hack manually
This is more complicated, but you can depend on the Google Search Console for details of the SEO spam on your site. Under ‘Security and Manual Actions’, it provides a comprehensive report on the site’s SEO health and if any blackhat techniques are detected.
The Google Transparency Report allows you to enter your site’s URL and find out if it’s unsafe to visit due to the presence of suspicious content. Sometimes, Google search in incognito mode could provide some insight into spammy keywords used on your site.
Beyond this, all that’s left to do is to comb through the entire site if you’re experienced and comfortable enough. The signs and symptoms should be your first indication, as the addition of new pages, ads, and spammy keywords. You’ll need to go through all the core files and folders, look for recently modified files, check databases, look for suspicious code, etc.
After this, for a complete cleanup,
- you can take a backup of your WordPress site,
- install the latest version of the WordPress core,
- replace all of your plugins, themes, extensions, and
- if blacklisted, report to Google that your site has been officially cleaned (which you want to be double sure of).
A couple of steps you can take in the future to make sure this doesn’t happen again is to regularly update, use strong credentials andremove unnecessary extensions. Sometimes, the best protective measures from our side will still not be enough. That’s where web app security testing steps in.