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How To Stop & Fix An SEO Spambot Site Attack

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How To Stop & Fix An SEO Spambot Site Attack


Spambot attacks are on the rise, with 25.6% of all internet traffic coming from a bad bot, and increasingly sophisticated methods are used to circumvent common security measures.

Enterprises and small websites alike must stop SEO spambots from derailing their optimization efforts and causing steep drops in traffic and revenue.

If you’ve been a victim of an attack, you’ll find the steps here to recover and restore your rankings.

You’ll learn about smart prevention and high-level monitoring systems, too.

What Is An SEO Spambot Attack?

SEO spambots are much like the friendly Googlebots that you want to crawl your site. However, instead of indexing your content, these bots will use vulnerabilities to infiltrate your website.

Why?

They’re engaging in spamdexing.

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Essentially, these spam attacks will use your site in an attempt to rank content that can’t rank otherwise. Bots make hackers a ton of revenue, and their spam tactics cause your site to suffer a significant drop in SEO and revenue.

Additionally, black hat SEO techniques are employed to hide the attack.

A few of the many nefarious things a spambot can do are:

  • Content spam.
  • Content scraping.
  • Credential sniffing.
  • SQL injections to update portions of a site.
  • Link insertions.
  • Redirect generation.
  • Google Analytics referral spam.
  • User-generated content (UGC) spam.

Often, the main goal of spam is to insert links into your website. Hidden links will help boost the hacker’s website and revenue while damaging your site.

We’ve also seen redirects generated to create false URLs that redirect to the hacker’s website.

In each of these cases, the spambot works to leverage the site for its own gain.

Sometimes, display ads are inserted into a site using an SQL injection, but most of these infiltrations are for links or redirects to a website that, in some way, generates revenue.

Recognizing An SEO Spambot Attack

Spambots work diligently to circumvent your normal detection methods. Links are inserted or pages are created with the greatest effort taken to hide them from the site owner.

Sometimes, you’ll find that your CMS has core vulnerabilities, and you’re just another victim of an attack.

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However, a few red flags that something may be amiss are:

  • A drop in traffic.
  • Random site pages.
  • GSC warnings.
  • Google Search warnings.

Enterprises and more established websites will have multiple forms of detection, such as:

  • Firewalls.
  • Logging systems.
  • Monitoring systems.

If you’re running WordPress, there are core vulnerabilities that hackers will spot and use to their advantage.

Diagnosing attacks on your site is possible using plugins such as MalCare or Wordfence, both of which add multiple layers of security to your site.

Additionally, you can use Cloudflare to take preventative measures to stop bots in their tracks by using the bot management system.

Step-By-Step Guide To Remedying A Spambot Attack

Remedying a spambot attack requires a few steps that will help you stop the attack and restore your site.

1. Stop Bots From Doing Additional Damage

During the next two steps, your site will remain vulnerable until you determine how the spambot accessed your site and did its damage. Therefore, before scanning your site, you’ll want to put bot protection in place.

Cloudflare’s bot management system uses AI and machine learning to stop bad bots.

The tool will use a three-prong approach to provide real-time protection:

  • Behavioral analysis will be used to detect any traffic anomalies.
  • Machine learning will use billions of data points to accurately detect bots.
  • Fingerprinting will also be utilized to classify bots that have been detected previously.

Rich analytics and logs will add to your site’s security and allow you time to clean up your site.

2. Run A Site Scan To Determine Impacted Pages

Now that your site has a high level of protection in place to stop additional spambot attacks, it’s time to run a scan on your site. We use the word “scan” very broadly because you can:

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  • Run an analytics report to see pages where site traffic fell drastically.
  • Run a scan using Screaming Frog or something similar.
  • FTP into your site and scour folders for manually created pages.

You can even go through each page on your site manually, looking at the source code for pages that may have hidden links.

Screaming Frog will also help you find hidden redirects.

If you have logs available, be sure to analyze them to see where traffic is originating and find any pages on the site that may have been created by the bot.

A lot of time will be spent determining what needs to be cleaned up on the site.

3. Find How The Site Was Infiltrated

Secure sites aren’t infiltrated. For the most part, attacks from spambots look for existing vulnerabilities that you didn’t correct. Sites may have been infiltrated due to:

  • Bad plugins.
  • Out of date software.
  • SQL injections.
  • Easy to guess FTP/Admin passwords.

Your first step is to ensure that all of the software and plugins on your site are updated. Old scripts need to be updated, and if you notice scripts that you didn’t create, delete them.

Spambots may leave a script on your server to regain access to your site in the future.

Working with someone to go through your logs and uncover how the attack unfolded is recommended.

You want to patch up these vulnerabilities before going through the following steps. Cloudflare should add an extra layer of protection, too.

4. Clean Up Top Pages First

Cleaning up your site depends on what type of attack occurred. If your site has user-generated pages spam or mass page creation, you’ll need to go through the arduous task of determining which pages are wanted and which aren’t.

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You’ll then need to delete these spam-generated pages.

However, you also want to do a few critical things for pages that aren’t generated by spam:

  • Analyze your analytics.
  • Mark pages that are greatly impacted.
  • Start cleaning up your top pages first.

Your revenue-generated pages must be worked on first to help restore their rankings.

When we say “work,” you’ll need to go through all of these pages thoroughly to search for:

Typically, you’ll need to manually clean up and review each page.

Even if a link were simply inserted in the footer of your site, you’d still want to check through all of your pages to ensure that there isn’t something else you’re missing on each page.

Once you’re confident that all of the spam was removed, it’s a waiting game to see what happens to your rankings.

5. Monitor The Site

Monitoring your site should become a part of your daily operations. You’ll want to monitor your site in a few ways:

  • Monitor your rankings and analytics for any changes.
  • Monitor site logs for suspicious activity.

You must pinpoint how the attack occurred and fix the point of entry. However, there are times when the spambot will put a backdoor on your server, go back in and mess everything up – again.

It’s crucial that you continue monitoring your site for any suspicious activity so that you can remedy issues quickly.

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6. Optional: Restore From Backup

If you’re very lucky and catch the attack early on, you may be able to restore your site to its previous state using a snapshot. However, if you have new customer orders or data inserted into databases that have been impacted, this method won’t work.

Unfortunately, your backups will still contain the original vulnerabilities that led to a successful attack.

At this point, your best bet is to restore the site using Cloudflare protection and then correct the key vulnerabilities of the attack.

If an attack goes unnoticed for weeks or months, your backups may already be compromised, rendering this solution unusable.

Final Thoughts

Spambots are dangerous because they can go undetected for long periods of time. If a bot slips by and inserts links or content into existing pages, it can quickly ruin your company’s reputation and derail your SEO efforts.

Additionally, these link insertions are often one or two words that are linked to the site, and the text is made to not look like a link.

Identifying an attack of this nature can be extremely difficult.

We’ve also seen spambots generate thousands of pages on a site, using physical files, so the new posts never appear in a CMS dashboard.

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Clearing out spam at this level took two full months, so there was significant damage to the client’s website.

Stopping an SEO spambot attack requires attention to detail and intensive monitoring. Cloudflare is a good option along with multiple levels of firewalls, logging, and monitoring systems to thwart spambot attacks.

You’ll also want to consider user controls and access and work on other ways to harden your website’s server.

More resources:


Featured Image: Tatiana Shepeleva/Shutterstock

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SEO

Which Is Better For You?

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Which Is Better For You?

Content marketers are using video content more than ever.

In 2022, 86% of businesses use video as a marketing tool.

Aside from the rise of TikTok, especially during the pandemic, more marketers are creating videos, and 46% of marketers said it was because videos had become easier to develop in-house.

As a content marketer, should you jump on the bandwagon?

And what about the more “traditional” YouTube?

Worldwide, YouTube is part of the Top 3 social media networks. TikTok isn’t just yet, though it’s steadily climbing the ranks at No. 5.

Just because TikTok is the newest kid on the block doesn’t mean you have to allocate all your video budgets to it.

Choosing between the two requires careful thought and consideration. You must factor in content type, target audience, engagement rates, and influencer marketing spend.

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So, which of these two viral video platforms makes more sense for your business?

Let’s dive in.

What Is TikTok?

After Chinese tech company ByteDance acquired Musical.ly in 2017, its technology was ported. Thus, TikTok was born.

TikTok (called Douyin locally) is a user-friendly social media platform that allows users to create short-form videos.

With a free video editor in-app, anyone can add filters, stickers, and text-to-speech for a 15-second video.

TikTok has over a billion monthly users, making it the most downloaded app worldwide in 2021.

What Is YouTube?

With over 2.1 billion monthly active users, the video-sharing platform has been around much longer. Launched in 2005, YouTube has been the mainstay for sharing video content.

Three former PayPal employees founded YouTube as a way for people to have fun sharing their home videos. (Remember the first few viral YouTube videos?)

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Compared to TikTok, YouTube videos are a lot longer.

Factors To Consider When Choosing Between TikTok And YouTube

TikTok YouTube
Audience (U.S.) 50% between ages 18 and 24, 17.7% between ages 12 and 17 95% between ages 18 and 29
Average Content Length 15 to 60 seconds 11.7 minutes
Average Time Spent Per Day 45.8 minutes a day 45.6 minutes a day
Traffic (Organic) 318.2 million 646 billion
Traffic (Paid) 643,600 65.1 million
Successful Niches
  • Dance
  • Comedy
  • Smaller/specialized creators
  • Product must-haves
  • Breakdowns of news stories
  • Makeup and fashion hacks with trendy sound clips
  • Storytime (first person POV)
  • Evergreen content
  • Lifehack and DIY videos
  • How-tos
  • Gaming, people, and blogs
  • Music and entertainment
  • Sporting Events
Cost For Business Accounts $o – free account $o – free account

Audience For TikTok vs. YouTube

TikTok Has A Younger U.S. Audience

If you’re marketing to teens, a.k.a., Gen Z (and by extension, Generation Alpha who are becoming teens next year), TikTok is a strong bet.

As of April 2022:

Almost half of TikTok users in the United States were between 18 and 34 years, making up the largest demographic group for the platform.

TikTok users aged between 12 and 17 made up approximately 17.7% of the popular social video app user base in the United States, while 2.5% of TikTok users in the country were 11 years old or younger.”

This means that TikTok is especially popular with Gen Z while more and more adults are steadily becoming app users, too.

Note that younger children ages 12 and above can access TikTok (the app requires a minimum of 12 years of age to get a profile).

Gen Z And Millennials Are More Likely To Trust YouTubers

If you’re trying to reach Millennials (while keeping older Gen Z in mind) and be seen as more authoritative, YouTube could be a safer bet.

According to Pew Research:

“In 2021, 95% of U.S. adults between 18 and 29 years of age said they use YouTube (the age demographic with the highest percentage) while only 49% of U.S. adults who are 65+ years reported using it.”

According to the YouTube Culture And Trends Report 2022, 83% of Gen Z watch soothing content on YouTube to help them relax.

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Lastly, in a survey by Ypulse, YouTubers were the most trusted public figures (31%) among those surveyed, beating TikTokers by 12%.

TikTok vs. YouTube: Content Format And Length

Keep It Short And Sweet On TikTok

TikTok has a maximum length of three minutes. TikTok recommends an optimal 21 to 34 seconds to keep viewers interested, but average videos last 15 – 60 seconds.

While it leaves little room for all-out explainer videos, you can still create quality content on the go and turn it into a non-chronological series.

TikTok favors short-form videos with an aspect ratio of 9:16; it is vertically optimized for mobile devices.

The platform also has TikTok LIVE, a feature for creators to connect in real-time with their audience (think Q&As or concert experiences).

Leave The Longer Videos To YouTube

Verified accounts on YouTube can run up to two hours of video, while unverified accounts can only upload 15 minutes. The average length for videos is 11.7 minutes.

While YouTube videos are popular on mobile devices (49.3% are watching on mobile YouTube), the number is expected to decrease as YouTube continues to be available on desktop and TV devices.

Keep a 16:9 aspect ratio in mind since YouTube apps are becoming more popular with smart TVs, gaming consoles, and other gadgets.

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YouTube launched its livestream feature for creators back in 2011.

The platform is famous for its gaming livestreams, the Superbowl, the Olympics, and more.

Moreover, YouTubers can curate content playlists, allowing viewers to enjoy music streaming and related content for hours with an autoplay option.

Note: The average time per day for both channels is around 45 minutes, with TikTok winning by a hair at 45.8 minutes compared to YouTube’s 45.6 minutes.

Comparing TikTok vs. YouTube Algorithm

There is content that works well on both platforms (consider product reviews and reaction videos).

Nevertheless, here are the types of content for which each channel is better known.

To dig deeper into TikTok’s powerful search algorithm or how YouTube’s search results recently changed, we recommend further reading up on them in the links provided.

TikTok: Niches That Succeed

Screenshot from TikTok, September 2022

Bite-sized content has never been more digestible, with creators using TikTok to spread straightforward content in memes, educational content, lip sync, and dance videos.

These often include specialized content series, like Random Amazon Finds That Just Slap, Things I Just Found Out In My 30s, or professionals connected to a particular hashtag with content usually dedicated to one specialty. (Note: That could be an opportunity for your business’s industry or niche.)

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Small and big brands can work with influencers to create simple, engaging, potentially viral content. See how Clinique’s Black Honey Lipstick sold out because of TikTok videos spreading awareness.

TikTok Creator content tends to be relatable and authentic; you can use the TikTok Insights tool to see what works for each generation in what industry.

Niches That Work On YouTube

Popular content on YouTube includes how-to videos, product reviews, music videos, comedy skits, and much more.

Your brand can benefit from collaborating with YouTubers (the most trusted figures, according to the survey above). For example, NordVPN frequently has sponsorship arrangements with tech gadget reviewers, like Techmoan.

YouTube can be better for products that aren’t as easy to show off in short formats. Additionally, YouTube tutorials tend to have a more serious tone.

TikTok Ad Formats

For TikTok ad formats, you have the following options (see TikTok Ads For Beginners: A Complete Guide & Steps To Success to learn how to use them).

  • TopView: An attention-grabbing, distraction-free, 60-second video format.
  • In-Feed Ads: A native-inspired ad type that will integrate seamlessly into a viewer’s “For You” page.
  • Branded Hashtag Challenge: A UGC (user-generated content) using your brand’s hashtag campaign.
  • Branded Effects: Branded stickers, filters, or special effects.

YouTube Ad Formats

For videos that have ad monetization features, these are the following video ad formats available for YouTube business accounts.

Read The Complete Beginner’s Guide To YouTube Video Advertising for a comprehensive guide on how to use them.

  • Skippable video ads: A video ad with an option for viewers to skip after five seconds.
  • Non-skippable video ads: These ads don’t allow viewers to skip this typically 15-20 second video.
  • Bumper ads: Up to six seconds long, these ads need to be watched before a video is viewed.
  • Overlay ads: Only seen on desktop, these ads take up the lower 20% screen of a video.

YouTube videos can be monetized and can earn shared ad revenue.

Setting up business accounts is free on both platforms. Keep in mind that TikTok has a $50 minimum for an ad spend, while YouTube Ads offers $100 in free credits when you spend $50 on video ads.

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Conclusion

Should you favor one over the other?

On the surface, TikTok.com has 318.2 million organic traffic, and YouTube.com has 646 billion.

For paid, TikTok traffic is 643,600, while YouTube reaches 65.1 million.

YouTube and TikTok are here to stay, and while YouTube’s traffic seems bigger, TikTok’s fast rise to the top is one to look out for.

Typically, both are ideal for marketers who invest in video marketing; 87% of marketers say video has helped them increase their traffic, and 82% on dwell time.

The best platform depends on your brand and the type of content you have the resources for, the customer purchase cycle, your social media goals, and your budget.

When used wisely, whichever of the two you choose will help benefit your business in the long run.

More Resources:

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Featured Image: Daxiao Productions/Shutterstock

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