Have you ever visited a website — only to be greeted by an alarming red screen that reads: “The site ahead contains malware”? That’s quite the deterrent, and chances are, you left the page in a hurry. That’s what happens when Google and other search engines blacklist a website.
Blacklisting websites is how search engines protect browsers from malicious content. Google and other search engines send bots or crawlers to scan websites and flag anything suspicious. If your website is deemed a threat it can be removed from search engine results, flagged, and added to website blacklists which can have devastating consequences, especially if your website captures and converts leads.
You may not know that your website has been infected with malware or malicious code — but you’ll figure it out when Google or another search engine detects it and marks your site with the warning label. The same warning could also appear next to your domain name when prospective customers try to search for your business directly.
Being removed from Google or another search engine’s results page means your rankings and visibility will plummet. Users won’t be able to find your website via Google search result pages (SERPs), and even if they visit your website directly, they’ll be deterred by that infamous warning message. Ultimately, low visibility causes traffic to tank, which could inevitably hurt sales. Your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts will become a sunk cost, and the longer the warning sign remains on the site, the more the damage multiplies.
These consequences can be devastating for small businesses, in particular. For instance, one website owner saw a 50% drop in traffic to her small business’s site after being blacklisted. Ultimately, she had to hire an expert for $1,000 before she could resubmit her site to Google. And this was a relatively inexpensive fix: It can cost up to $10,000 depending on the extent of the damage.
This makes it incredibly important to identify and fix malware problems as soon as possible.
While many types of malware are difficult to detect with the naked eye, some common malware attacks do show symptoms that all visitors should be aware of:
Another way to quickly identify a potential malware infection is to analyze website traffic drops on webmaster tools like Google Analytics and Bing Analytics. Then, follow up on Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools to see if any web pages were deindexed from search results. A sharp decline in organic traffic could be a tell-tale sign that your website is experiencing security issues.
So why does Google blacklist sites if it’s so harmful to small businesses? Though it may seem like search engines are punishing site owners for having malicious links or content on their sites, that’s not the case. Google and other search engines blacklist sites in order to protect web users from hackers. Promoting safe browsing benefits everyone, from hosting providers to website owners.
Once your site is malware-free, the next step is to create a Google Search Console (formerly Webmasters) account and request a review or recrawl of your site. If Google fails to detect malware during its scan, it will take your site off the blacklist and remove the warning label.
Even if you mitigate the problem and restore your site as quickly as possible, however, those who did see the warning screen may not be keen to revisit your site anytime soon. This is one reason preventing cyberattacks with the right website security solution should be your first line of defense.
You can’t rely on Google or other search engines to catch all malicious links or content on your site. After all, not all infected sites are blacklisted. Research from the “SiteLock 2019 Website Security Report” found that only 15% of sites containing malware were blacklisted by search engines last year. Take adequate precautions by implementing automated security tools, and you won’t have to worry about how to get your website off the Google blacklist.
To secure your website and avoid being blacklisted, take these three steps.
1. Safeguard incoming traffic. The first step is to implement a web application firewall, which will act as a gatekeeper for incoming traffic. A WAF will block bad bots that could inject SEO spam, malicious links, and other nefarious content — all of which could flag you as a candidate for blacklisting.
2. Detect malware before search engines. Don’t wait to implement an automated malware scanner until after you’ve been blacklisted. Instead, implement an automated malware scanner to find and remove malware before Google or other search engines find it first. A good scanner should help prevent infection and blacklisting.
3. Properly evaluate external links. Any links being used on your website for advertising, affiliate marketing, or linking to another site should be properly vetted. If Google notices that your links lead to dozens of spam sites, it might blacklist your site, even if you aren’t hosting malicious content. Also, avoid the deceptive black hat SEO practice of purchasing links.
Being blacklisted can cause permanent damage to your small business, but don’t blame Google: It’s only trying to protect web users. You should share that goal. By having robust cybersecurity strategies in place, you can prevent malware from entering your website and avoid having to get your website off the Google blacklist in the first place.