Search engine optimization (SEO) is a long game. Improving your website to rank higher on search engine results pages helps you attract more traffic. Plus, it helps build a trustworthy reputation. But, some people want to take shortcuts by using what is called black hat SEO. If this happens, your business could pay the price.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Black hat SEO is any activity that seeks to increase a website’s ranking and reputation using methods that violate the terms of service of search engines like Google or Bing.
In the early days of the internet, many marketers used black hat SEO tactics to increase their visibility, drive traffic, and build trust. But, as search engines evolved and sought to improve the quality of search results, they imposed penalties for unethical practices.
Today, threat actors have adopted this old-fashioned subterfuge to exploit companies with established reputations and steal from unsuspecting online shoppers.
Why do people use Black Hat SEO?
Honest SEO (aka White Hat SEO) takes a long time to pay off. Once your site ranks well for competitive keywords, you appear to be a reliable brand that potential customers will trust. Attackers have realized that the best way to quickly rank a site is to hijack a website with an already established reputation.
Attackers can clone your website – known as domain spoofing – and then use Black Hat SEO tactics to drive traffic to their duplicate site. Someone could spoof a website to sell shoddy products to take advantage of the reputation of a trusted store. They could also be using the spoofed domain as part of a phishing scam. As the fake site looks almost identical to the genuine brands, the scammers can trick the customers into sharing their credit card details.
Once thieves have your personally identifiable information, they can make fake purchases and sell your information on the dark web.
The good news is that modern scanning and anti-virus solutions can help catch phishing sites early. However, Black Hat SEO attackers can boost a spoofed domain’s ranking and lure in unsuspecting victims before the fake site is detected and shut down.
What is the impact of domain spoofing on your business?
At the age of social proof, trust with consumers is paramount. Your online reputation can make or break your business. When people use black hat SEO to copy your website, there are serious repercussions.
You are losing traffic. As fraudulent websites direct potential customers by mistake, your site will receive fewer visitors. You will lose sales and see lower returns on your marketing spend.
Consumers lose trust in your brand. Black Hat SEO causes people to land on a spoofed website. Then they might find badly turned content, spammy links, fake comments, and fraudulent advertisements. This bad user experience could cause people to look at your brand in a different light.
People leave bad reviews. These negative comments may be directed to a scam site, but victims will blame you if it was under your brand name. Bad press can deter other customers.
Search engines could punish your business. Sometimes a real business will suffer the consequences if their site does not meet search engine standards. A Google penalty can ban a site from search results. Traffic will crash and recovery may take a long time.
Reduce the chances of customers visiting a cloned website
If customers fall prey to financial fraud or identity theft and believe it to be your business, you could have a public relations nightmare on your hands.
It is better to anticipate this threat. Here are seven steps to help you prevent black hat SEO from misleading your customers to a spoofed website:
Install a TLS certificate
A Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificate is a digital security protocol that authenticates a website’s identity and establishes an encrypted connection between the website and the user’s browser. Users can see the padlock and HTTPS prefix in your domain URL, giving them confidence that you’ll keep their personal information private and secure.
Secure your source code
Ideally, your developer should add security measures to protect your website from potential attacks. One such tactic is to disable copy-and-paste functionality on your site so that attackers cannot easily copy your source code.
Companies should have vigilant security teams that proactively monitor their domain and traffic for suspicious behavior. When you have defined processes and strategies for handling data and managing risk, you can improve how you identify and defend against threats.
Use the rel=canonical tag
A common aspect of website spoofing is creating duplicate pages of a genuine site and then making subtle changes to the URL, such as changing a letter. Adding the rel=canonical tag lets search engines know that a specific URL is the primary copy of a site page, making it harder for scammers to duplicate your site.
Study your website analytics
Quite often scammers play for a quick win and may not take the time to change all internal links. Even if visitors land on a cloned site, they can click on links to access the legitimate original domain. Check your website analytics to identify incoming traffic from a cloned site with a similar domain name.
You can also improve your chances of spotting a duplicate site if you build lots of internal links on your website. Fortunately, this is also a good SEO practice to increase your site’s performance.
Once you identify a spoofed site, act quickly to remove it. First, provide the IP address. Contact your host and ask them to block all requests to the IP address of the fraudulent site.
Next, send the provider or content delivery network a takedown request. Provide clear details about the attack and any potential threats to your business or customers.
It also helps to protect your brand by copyright. You can share copyrights and trademarks to speed up the removal process and add another layer of protection to your website.
Hire a Certified Ethical Hacker
It’s much harder for someone to damage your business with Black Hat SEO if they can’t also duplicate your domain or breach your website. Hiring a certified ethical hacker will help you find security holes and vulnerabilities and stay ahead of the curve.
Restore your reputation after a parody
The tips above help you stop the scammers. But by the time you take these steps, the impact of Black Hat SEO and a fake website may already have done the damage. In the worst-case scenario, criminals have sold counterfeit products, stolen credit card information, and impersonated consumers, all under your brand name.
What can you do to get people to trust you again?
Address the situation publicly
Don’t try to hide the problem. Create content that speaks directly to your customers, telling them that you are aware of the situation and working hard to repair the damage.
You can create a video for YouTube or Instagram, where you publicly apologize to anyone affected. Even if it wasn’t your fault, it’s good to take some responsibility and accept that your security team can do more to protect your customers.
Remove fake reviews
People using black hat SEO will often add fake reviews online to add credibility to their fake website. Contact search engines and third-party review platforms like Trustpilot and ask them to remove any fake reviews.
Add multi-factor authentication
E-commerce stores should always have these security measures in place to protect customers. It should be noted that cybercriminals can abuse the CAPTCHA system. Fraudsters will add these tests to spoofed domains to trick visitors into thinking they are on a legitimate, secure site.
Communicate openly about your policies
Share your communication policies with your customers. For example, if you’re using two-factor authentication, make that clear so people know they expect it. If they don’t get a two-factor authentication request on their phone or email, they might know they’re not on a genuine site.
Site spoofing can confuse customers and steal money from them and their businesses. Keeping an eye on black hat SEO is part of good online hygiene today.