As a small business owner, you've likely spent a lot of time developing a solid search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. Imagine that all of your time and efforts have paid off, and now your site ranks high in the search engines, attracts many new prospects, and is trusted by visitors. The hardest part is behind you, so what could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately, a lot. In fact, there are many cyberthreats that can damage your search engine rankings. The top three cyberthreats we're focusing on in this article include getting blacklisted by Google due to malware, content scraping, and insecure connections stemming from the lack of a secure socket layer (SSL) certificate. Here's how these cyberthreats can damage your search engine rankings and how you can defend against them.

1. Getting blacklisted by Google

If your site is blacklisted by Google, it can cause a lot of harm to your SEO rankings. Blacklisting is a practice used by search engines to protect site visitors from malware attacks. Malware is software developed for malicious purposes, and cybercriminals often use it to steal sensitive information or redirect your website visitors to malicious sites. Google and other search engines regularly scan websites for malware, and if malware is detected, the infected site will be blacklisted.

As a result, when potential customers see your website in their search results, Google displays a warning next to it to deter visitors from clicking on the infected site. If the malware infection isn't addressed by the website owner, the site can be removed from the search results so users can't find it at all.

2. Content scraping

Content scraping--when automated bots copy your website content and publish it on other sites--also negatively affects your SEO ranking, and it happens more often than you might think. According to SiteLock, 60 percent of website traffic comes from bots, and many of these are malicious. Earning a high search engine ranking is in part dependent on the quality of your content, and the presence of duplicate content elsewhere on the web can hurt your ranking. If crawlers discover the same content on another website before finding it on yours, they will often yield a higher ranking on the other site for that content.

Even worse, because Google crawlers work to figure out which piece of content is the original, they might penalize your site for displaying duplicate content, which can bury your domain even deeper within the results page and sometimes can remove your site as a result completely.

3. Lack of an SSL certificate

When ranking your site, Google also checks for a SSL certificate. An SSL certificate encrypts customer data such as credit card information and login credentials as it moves between a website, user, and the server. If you submit an online payment, login to an account, or subscribe to a newsletter, an SSL certificate prevents cybercriminals from stealing that sensitive information as it is transmitted. You can tell if a website has an SSL certificate if the URL begins with "https" and has a padlock icon in front of it.

While the lack of an SSL certificate is not a cyberthreat in itself, it means your website visitors are making insecure connections to your site, which puts their sensitive information at risk. For this reason, Google now considers a site's SSL status when determining its ranking. In general, websites with SSL certificates rank better in the search results. While an SSL certificate doesn't protect your website, it does protect information traveling to and from the site.

Protect your search engine rankings with website security.

There's no doubt that a hacked website can have serious consequences to your SEO efforts. That said, there are a few easy and important steps you can take to protect your site.

  1. Use a daily file-based inside-out malware scanner to find and remove malicious content from your website. This type of scanner accesses your website code and scans it for malicious content. The best malware scanners will also automatically remove malicious software when found. Investing in an effective malware scanner is one of the most important ways to keep your site safe from blacklisting and to maintain your search engine rankings.
  2. Implement a web application firewall (WAF) to protect your site from scraping and malicious bots. Because of this, a WAF is a great way to keep your site ranking high in search engine results pages.
  3. Be sure to add an SSL certificate to your website to keep your visitors' information safe. An SSL certificate also protects your search engine rankings, since Google favors companies that take proactive security measures to protect their websites and customers.

High search rankings are a key factor in establishing your brand and ensuring customers are able to easily find your site in a search. To maintain your reputation and customer trust, it's essential to protect your website from cyberthreats like malware and scraping caused by insecure connections. By using a website malware scanner, implementing WAF, and adding an SSL certificate, you can greatly increase your website security while defending your hard-earned search engine rankings.