Last week, a prominent non-profit website was hacked by a group known as ISIS. Because of the non-profit's popularity and well-known name in the St Louis area, several news organizations picked up on the story and reported it on TV and radio. Both that site and the marketing company that set up the site were attacked and taken offline. Now, while this attack could have been easily prevented by keeping their WordPress installations up to date, they didn't do so.
But what if the opposite happens - your site isn't hacked, but the search engines report it as dangerous?
As powerful and intelligent as the Google search algorithm may be, it is not perfect. In recent news, Google has attempted to improve its users’ experience by finding hacked sites that could be potentially dangerous and posting a disclaimer on the results pages. At first glance, this sounds like a great addition to the search engine. Who wouldn’t want a cleaner, safer internet? Unfortunately enough, many websites have been misclassified by the algorithm and labeled as a hacked site when they are, in fact, legitimate web pages.
How Does This Affect Your Website and Visitors?
If your website has unjustly been identified as a ‘hacked site,’ this is an incredibly problematic error that you need to address immediately. The biggest losses are twofold. Firstly, you lose a lot of trust from your visitors and audience that can do long term damage to your credibility. After all, who would want to follow a link to a page that Google (the strongest and most advanced internet entity) has deemed hacked, unsafe, or malicious? Which brings me to the second loss.
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This mistake has the potential to send would-be visitors of your site running away in droves and could seriously damage organic traffic to your website. To see if you have been classified as a hacked site, all you need to do is perform a Google search for your site and look at the results page. You will see the text, “This site may be hacked” or “This site may harm your computer,” in blue lettering below the link to your page.
On the other hand, there is still the possibility that your website was indeed compromised. This is especially problematic because we do not always know when our websites have been hacked. Cyber criminals are incredibly clever and they may not have raised any ‘red flags’ that draw your attention. This poses a serious threat to anyone who visits your site and puts their information in harm’s way.
The First Thing You Need to Do
The very first thing you should do if you notice you have been classified as hacked is to actually determine if your website has been compromised! Without further investigation, you do not actually know whether the Google classification is right or wrong. If you are lacking knowledge of web security, it is high time to reach out to an expert. If it turns out that your website has not actually been hacked, then you can proceed to make the necessary corrections with Google.
What Can I Do If I Have Been Mislabeled?
Google is, of course, already aware that some sites have been misclassified as hacked. To take corrective action, you need to notify Google of the mistake and supply your URL, keywords, and comments via their web form. Unfortunately, they do not specify a turn-around time on this page so there is no time guarantee concerning when this mistake will be corrected.