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What You Need to Know About Panda 4.0

If you’ve recently noticed a drop in your organic search engine rankings, you might be a victim of Google’s latest Panda update. Panda 4.0 was rolled out in early June, and has been affecting many webmasters. Some estimates suggest that the numbers may be as pandahigh as 7.5% of searches having been impacted. Let’s take a closer look at what Panda 4.0 is, why your site may have been targeted, and what steps you need to take to fix any penalties.

The Background of Panda Updates

Panda was originally rolled out by Google in February of 2011, and has been one of the most impactful changes that the search engine has made. Panda was designed to penalize thin sites that were ranking well for specific key terms using unethical SEO practices. As a result, site owners began to pay attention to the length, volume, and quality of their content. There have been several iterations and fine tunings of the updates, but it’s fair to say that Google’s Panda updates played a leading role in setting off the content marketing boom that drives much of SEO and online marketing as we know it today.

The Panda 4.0 update

Panda 4.0 continued the mission of the earlier Panda updates. Thin sites have been penalized. There seems to have been an expanded definition of thin sites. High volume sites such as Retailmenot and Ask.com seem to have been penalized. On the other hand, some experts are calling it the “softer side of Panda,” which means that small businesses have been less affected than anticipated and will continue to recover from previous penalties.

What to do if you were hit with Panda 4.0

If you’re among the 7.5% of sites scrambling to understand what’s wrong and why your rankings dropped, the first thing you need to do is take a step back and look at your website and content. Here are some important questions to ask yourself:

  • Does your site have a clear content strategy?
  • Is your content in-depth, authoritative, and written with reader/audience value in mind?
  • Is the content original, as in it would pass a Copyscape check? Was it written by a human writer, versus spun by a technology product? Did you copy your content from another online source?
  • Is the writing high quality and professional?
  • Has the copy been edited for spelling, grammar, and flow?
  • Is each article unique, or is there a lot of redundancy?
  • Are your articles sufficiently detailed, or are you dashing off short posts that create little value?
  • Are you regularly publishing fresh content on your site, through a blog or another easily updatable means?

If your answers to these questions are murky, the best steps are to work backwards. Audit the content that’s already on your site. Identify gaps, areas for improvement, and things that should be removed. Take the time to create a content strategy that supports your messaging, business goals, and the value your want to deliver to your audience. Start creating that content and publishing it regularly, after ensuring that it’s well-written and clearly edited. Over time, you’ll recover from this penalty.
Are you facing a Panda 4.0 penalty? If so, contact us today to discuss how our content and SEO teams can help you stage your recovery efforts.

5 Actionable Ideas for Driving Traffic to Your Website

One of the most prevalent reasons that companies invest in SEO is to increase their visibility. At a concrete level, this goal translates into a desire for more traffic to your website. Ultimately the goal is that the traffic converts into email subscribers, leads, and Web Trafficbuyers. Yet building traffic through SEO is an ongoing investment over time. There are a number of different strategies that you can take as a business owner to see more immediate returns in terms of traffic to your websites. Here’s a closer look at five suggestions that are working right now for driving traffic.

  1. Promote your blog posts and other content: If you have an active business blog, you’re already ahead of most of your competitors in terms of traffic generation. Get extra mileage out of each post by promoting it strategically. Share it via your email newsletter and your social media channels. It’s also helpful to consider posting it on sites that are dedicated to content discovery or discussions related to your specific field. A few to consider include StumbleUpon, Reddit, Inbound.org, and BizSugar. Depending on your niche, there are numerous opportunities to connect your content to your community.
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  3. Strategically guest post: The best guest posting strategies focus on getting your content in front of audiences that are interested in your subject. Write compelling and highly engaging content. Craft strong headlines and include a clear call to action. Spend time responding to the questions, comments, and discussion that your post generates on the site and on social media. Focus your efforts on high return sites such as the Huffington Post or LinkedIn, or on branded authority sites in your own niche.
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  5. Participate in question sites and discussion groups: Question sites like Yahoo Answers and Quora are forums where people ask questions, and experts (or interested readers) can share their expertise. If you choose your questions well, you can use question sites to help build your authority and share your knowledge. A similar venue that can be very valuable is industry groups on networks such as LinkedIn.
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  7. Find cross-promotion opportunities with other bloggers: Bloggers are some of the most active people online, and getting them to promote your material can help attract a lot of attention. Websites like ProBlogger have active communities where you can form relationships. Sites like Triberr are dedicated exclusively to helping bloggers cross-promote each other’s materials. Finally, reaching out to individual influencers in your field and drawing their attention to specific posts is another strategy to increase your exposure.
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  9. Experiment with paid search: Running paid search or PPC campaigns is a very focused way to get traffic to your site around specific keywords. As you build your organic search authority on specific keywords, PPC can help you reach those interested audiences much faster. Focusing on optimizing your ad copy, aligning your keywords with your ads and landing pages, and learning the ins and outs of bidding can help skyrocket your results from PPC.

Traffic is the heart and soul of an active website, especially a blog or e-commerce store. As you build your reach through internet marketing, it’s also helpful to consider opportunities to attract short-term traffic through strategically leveraging your content, trying paid search, and being active in “online fishing holes” where your audience congregates.

Are you a small business owner that’s struggling to gain the visibility that you need to grow your business? Contact us today to learn more about how the Be Locally SEO team can help you reach your marketing and business goals.

Mobile Readiness and SEO

In 2014, it became official: There were more people using mobile devices than desktops. Consider this, 32 percent of consumers start the hunt for their next purchase on a mobile device according to Econsultancy. This means that a big chunk of your potential mobile seocustomers and clients might be skipping over your website if you’re not mobile ready. Even Google’s on board with this, updating algorithms to give a higher ranking to sites that are mobile accessible, and a number of other search engines are doing the same.

This means you need to ensure your SEO strategy includes mobile readiness as well as—not in lieu of— desktop readiness. However, don’t panic just yet. The silver lining is that the bar is set pretty low right now, with very few businesses boasting premium mobile SEO. This gives you just enough of a window to surpass the competition and rake up those new consumers. But you have to move fast.

Responsive isn’t Mobile

You already follow responsive design best practices, so it’s the same thing as mobile readiness, right? Wrong, or at least it’s not completely right. It’s kind of like how all sugars are carbs, but not all carbs are sugars. All mobile readiness is an element of responsive design, but not all responsive design best practices lead to mobile readiness. Google has explicitly stated that responsive design is preferred, especially for sites designed for mobile use. After all, it’s easier to share content and quickly load pages when there’s just one URL.

However, thinking about these two strategies from a business owner’s perspective really highlights the bottom line—literally. A complete responsive design overhaul can take a lot of time and cost a lot of money. Plus, if something goes wrong, it might end up making the experience much slower for those on mobile devices. Google isn’t saying that having a different mobile domain means you won’t score the highest rankings, but simply that it’s easier for Google to scour one page set for indexing rather than two.

Easy SEO?

It’s easier to offer a mobile site that’s customized with content, but there are risks. Specifically, duplicate content and split link authority issues can come into play, especially for companies that aren’t savvy with black hat tricks and might mistakenly use them.
For some businesses, adaptive web design might be a better option, where devices intuitively figure out which of a business’ site is designed for which gadget. Adaptive design uses the best parts of responsive design (including zero duplicate content, shareable content, and one URL), and blends them with mobile readiness elements like fast load times and customization. Of course, this is also very expensive and complex.
Getting Started

If you’re ready to get “mobile ready,” start by verifying your website with Google Webmaster Tools mobile settings. This provides you with details on search queries that might pop up as “not provided.” Whenever you upload sitemaps to Google, you’re now uploading that mobile sitemap as well. Ensure your page load speed is as fast as possible, and avoid HTTP redirects which are notorious for slowing things down. This is another potential argument for not having a different mobile site.

Get control of your Google Local profile if applicable, since those Google Local details really stand out on mobile devices. It also shows you on Google Maps and the linked app, so you need to make sure that information is comprehensive and accurate. Finally, follow mobilization best practices such as properly sizing content so it scrolls vertically, choosing font sizes wisely, ditching the plug ins, and using buttons which can be tapped only when your readers want to—not in frustration when they’re trying to do something else.

5 Strategies to Get Your Community Excited and Sharing Your Content

Even the most robust content strategy will fail to yield results if your community isn’t engaged and helping to share your content. Many businesses don’t activate their existing network of fans and turn them into brand advocates. After creating new content, there are Social Media Sharingseveral steps you can take to help it gain immediate traction with your customers and the broader market. Here’s a closer look at five things you can do to get your community excited and sharing your content today.

  1. Share your content strategically with your existing network: If you’re regularly writing blog posts and then simply publishing them without further promotion, you’re missing a valuable opportunity. Create a checklist of dissemination-related steps to promote each new post you publish. These can include posting links to your Linkedin, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter pages, sending out an email newsletter with a link and article preview, or adding the link to a “latest news” section on the front of your site. Make it easy for people that follow your business to discover your latest and greatest content.
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  3. Create the infrastructure that makes it easy to share: One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is failing to invest in simplifying what it takes to share their content. Thanks to a number of different products such as ShareThis, it’s now possible to embed a variety of share buttons on each page of your website and under each new blog post or other piece of content. If possible, include the buttons for each of the major social networks, for emailing a link to the piece, and for reblogging the content to platforms such as Tumblr. The more options you give, the more exposure you’re likely to get from interested readers.
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  5. Consider bigger content forms: Many readers get fatigued with boring business updates, but get excited about well-written content that’s geared exactly to their needs. In addition to creating high-quality content such as blog posts and feature articles, consider exploring other forms of content for your business. Have you tried images for Instagram and Pinterest, creating an explainer video, doing a short podcast, or simply interviewing an expert in an area related to your topic? By taking your content to the next level, you can demonstrate a lot of value for readers and easily entice them to share it with their networks.
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  7. Expand your community: Another major benefit of content marketing is the ability to get your brand in front of new readers. There are numerous ways to promote your content while getting your name in front of new audiences. One is strategically guest posting, with the goal of brand building in mind. Another is getting involved with communities such as Inbound.org, Tumblr, and other venues appropriate to your industry. Sharing your links in these forums can bring your business new readers and customers.
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  9. Gamify your sharing: Many brands are getting great traction on specific campaigns by turning sharing into a game. For example, Volkswagen ran a campaign around road trips that invited VW owners to take and share photos of their summer adventures. Often, a brand will offer prizes, drawings, and other loyalty rewards for customers that share their content. Get creative, and making sharing fun for your community.

 
Even the best content can’t do its job of building your brand, increasing sales, and attracting leads if it’s not seen by your audience. Finding ways to get your community excited about reading and sharing your content can yield a strong return on investment for your time. If you need assistance developing content your readers love and finding strategic ways to promote it, contact us today to learn more about how our team of expert marketers can help you reach your business goals.

Your Guidelines to Ethical SEO

There’s an ethics standard with search engine optimization (SEO) that goes beyond avoiding black hat tricks. If you want to ensure your SEO strategy has a longer shelf life—and avoid penalties from Google—it’s wise to make sure your ethics know-how is up Ethical SEOto date. It all starts simply by following the guidelines established by search engines. They all have slight variances in the rules, but make sure you keep up with the basics of Google, Bing and Yahoo! at the least.

These guidelines will include definitions of what type of content they’d like, technical requirements to improve the indexing of a site, quality recommendations, organization tips to optimize inclusion, and a host of SEO/promotional techniques that are “negative SEO” or black hat tricks (which means you need to avoid those). However, it’s better to focus on the positive rather than the negative.

An Eagle Eye

When choosing an SEO professional or firm, make sure they not only follow SEO best practices, but are happy to share them with you. The goal should be optimizing your organic search traffic, which leads to quantifiable results. This might include working with keywords, h# or title elements, alt attributes or a number of other tactics. However, different websites will respond differently to the various strategies. For example, if a website is already performing poorly and the market is competitive, such “on-page” strategies will get you started.

A better approach will be working on authority and peppering citations as well as links throughout the site. Once that’s established, on-page tactics will come into play. In other words, there’s no one size fits all approach (if there was, you could probably do this yourself!). Most likely, you’ll get the best results from high-value options along with SEO basics. This will give you the greatest impact.

Making Changes

While great design can impact SEO, it’s still a “non-SEO” tool. Of course websites need a quality user experience and website layouts—but design in itself isn’t an SEO tool. Your SEO pro should separate the SEO from the non-SEO (even though they may offer services above and beyond SEO). For example, when Google said that page speed was a factor in SEO ranking, suddenly every SEO agency was all about adding this service on (sometimes for a hefty fee). Even though Google announced that it was a small slice of the pie, it was the new buzzword for sales.

Keep the goal of SEO in mind: It should lead to more sales, visitors, ROI, conversions or another quantifiable factor you want and can measure. There are nearly endless things you can do to a site that might improve one or all of these factors, but these “things” won’t necessarily all be SEO.

Keep It Honest

There will always be new black hat tricks to try, or companies might promise the world to a business owner in order to secure their business. However, if you want success in the long haul, it’s better to be realistic. SEO takes time, and sometimes a business owner and an SEO company just isn’t a good match. Check out their mission, vision and values statements to see if their approach is what you are looking for.

SEO Best Practices for Forums

As if search engine optimization (SEO) best practices aren’t challenging enough for the average website owner, there are also a lot of forum and message board owners out there. You have your work cut out for you! Not only do you have to stay on top of SEO basics, you’re also welcoming total strangers into the mix—and they can wreak havoc on your SEO rankings (many times without even meaning to). If you own a forum, you have niche SEO needs.

It’s a great thing when you see a link to your forum in the top search results for Google. SEO Best Practices for ForumsThis means more users finding your forum, more traffic overall and potentially more revenue. If your target demographic is finding your forum easily, you’re on the right track. If you own a forum for collectors of vintage Barbies, you want to make sure this market is active on your site—but how?

Forum Owner Tools

The most obvious advice is to have good content, but as a forum owner you need to foster it. This means providing comprehensive responses and boosting livelier threads. Posts should be centered on topics that your audience is really interested in. Plus, “good content” is likelier to get linked by others regardless of whether it’s provided by you or your forum participants. Keep an eye out for great writers and ask if they’d like to be a moderator or start a post.

Getting the community interested is key to your success. However, you’ll probably stumble across some flamers, baiters or trolls at some point. This is where strict policing comes into play. Some will just spew abuse while others might build in a bunch of backlinks to use as spam (such as trying to get people to their Viagra site). This doesn’t just poison conversations, but it also destroys your SEO. Find them, ban them and keep them quiet. This starts by having terms of use that helps everyone police himself or herself.

Don’t Get Tunnel Vision

Your site might be all about the forum, but don’t forget about the homepage and other landing pages. Search engine algorithms still depend on these for indexing and you can boost your rankings here, too. Make sure you still follow SEO best practices for “regular websites,” which includes avoiding black hat tricks and keeping up with the generic best practices. When it comes to naming your community sections, make it as literal as possible and don’t get cute.

For example, if there’s a general discussion site for Ken Dolls, name it “Ken Dolls General Discussion,” not “Her Other Half.” You might come up with an adorable name for your forums, but Google doesn’t care about creativity. Make it blunt and to the point so that Google (and your not so savvy users) know what it is.

A Little Encouragement

Quality links and videos are SEO gold, so encourage your users to embed them into the forum. This will also boost discussions. However, ensure that it doesn’t slow down the page by only allowing YouTube and Vine videos. These popular options are fast and search engine algorithms trust them.

Also make it easy to link, and brush up on your forum management and SEO skills. Keeping up to date with the trends and advances will make you a better forum owner—and the better forum owner you are, the better your rankings will be.

Relevancy is Key to Content-Driven SEO

The quality of your content is more important than ever. Google is continuously improving the way its search engine works to bring the most relevant results to users. Content must be well written, include appropriate keywords, and clearly relate to the topics that people are searching for. That’s why creating content that speaks directly to your customers is the foundation of a solid search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.

What makes content relevant – both from an SEO perspective and to your targeted customers? Think about how you access the web. When you fire up Google and enter a term, you’re searching for specific information. You signal what you’re looking for through the words entered in the search. TheContent Driven SEO search engine then returns the websites most likely to have the information you need. For example, if a customer needs a bankruptcy lawyer in Utah, they’re likely to search for “bankruptcy attorney Salt Lake City.” Businesses can build on this process to help attract traffic and customers:

Know your standard industry terms – but go beyond them: What terms are most commonly associated with your industry? Developing a list of potential search terms is an SEO best practice. If you’re a bankruptcy lawyer, you’re going to include terms like “debt”, “bankruptcy”, “attorney”, and “lawyer”.

Use a product such as Google’s Adwords Keyword tool to suggest other related terms. Related terms and keyword qualifiers are important for like “debt reduction” and “bankruptcy laws” are also important to make you stand out in searches that use those terms. The Keyword Tool mines all of the search data on Google’s servers to recommend other words people might use to find your site. For example, foreclosure is a term that’s frequently used by people looking for bankruptcy representation. Once you have your keywords, include them in the content that you write for your website, in your site’s metadata, and in your content titles.

Choose topics that speak directly to your audience: It’s important to choose topics and a style that speak directly to your customers and potential customers. A common problem content creators face is that they write content that’s interesting to their industry peers – but not to the majority of the people who buy their products and services.

Consider the following case: You’re a landscaper and you write an article about why a certain type of nozzle is great for spraying pesticides. Who is likely to be searching for detailed landscaping equipment specs? Other people in your industry, A.K.A. your competitors. Potential customers are more likely to be reading up on issues like how to hire a great landscaper, strategies for keeping their lawn green during a drought, or how to decide what type of trees to plant. Make sure you choose topics that will interest your customers. A good litmus test for this is to ask yourself – is this closer to something I would read in an industry journal or a question I’d commonly hear from a customer?

Create content that is useful and solves a real problem: Don’t just create content based on keywords to attract search engine traffic. Optimized content is important, but it’s even more important that your content creates solid value for your readers. Offer content that solves a problem, provides a new perspective on an important issue, or recommends actionable next steps.

Make sure that you include a call to action wherever possible, and demonstrate a link between your product or service and the solution that your readers are looking for. This can be done subtly, and within the context of offering information that’s valuable even if they don’t buy from you. A clear call to action at the end of an article, such as “Call us for more information” or “Click here to read more about X” can prompt ready buyers to take action.

Talk to your customers and mine data to uncover content opportunities: As business owners and marketers, it’s easy to assume we know what our customers want. But when’s the last time that you asked them directly? A short survey to your email list or a call to a few key clients can reveal big issues you weren’t even aware of.

Look closely at your website analytics package to see what keywords are bringing people to your site. This information, along with data on what search terms are trending, can help you develop content that’s immediately relevant to the people you’re trying to reach. Services like Google Trends can give you insights into what search terms are really hot right now and which are of cyclical importance (e.g. tax related terms in April of each year).

Creating great content is the basis of a smart SEO strategy. Investing the time to understand the keywords your customers use and what topics are most important to them will help your content strategy yield a strong return. You’ll convert more of your site visitors into customers, and keep them coming back for more great information. Partner with an experienced SEO provider to improve your online presence and start attracting new customers today.

Explaining SEO to Your Boss

Even if you’re overseeing the SEO side of things for your company, you probably know there are many things left to learn. After all, SEO best practices are constantly evolving and new search engine algorithms are being updated constantly. Now imagine if you had zero knowledge of what SEO is—pretend you didn’t even know it stands for “search engine optimization.” You don’t know how websites get ranked in Google, what makes a “good keyword,” or what a black hat trick is.

That’s likely how your boss feels. She’s not meant to know the intricacies of SEO, but she does need to understand where your company stands, the importance of SEO, and the Explaining SEO To Your Bossbare bones basics. That’s where you come in. If you’re in charge of delivering SEO news to your boss, you can expect a few common questions such as, “Are we doing better than last year? Why is traffic up but not sales? I’ve been Googling (insert keyword here) but we’re not showing up; why not?”

Embracing Clarity

Your boss doesn’t want to hear about Penguins and Pandas, she wants clear answers, examples, and statistics. Before you meet with your boss, make sure you tailor your explanations for your audience. Some bosses know more about SEO than others, and you need to make sure your jargon (if applicable) meets their understanding. From the beginning, choose a simple yet effective way to report or present results, and use that same format each time—familiarity breeds comfort.
When it comes to tailoring SEO results, don’t just think about your boss. What if she suddenly leaves the company, or you’re surprised with stakeholders at the meeting? Make sure you know each major stakeholder, keep an upgraded organizational chart, know what he or she understands about SEO and how he or she likes reporting, if you can. Understanding how different people work together, such as the CMO, CFO, and CEO, can make everyone’s job easier.

Tailor Understanding Levels

Delivering SEO news isn’t just about making things clear, but also highlighting your importance in the company. Look at things from their perspective: They want to know where the SEO stands for your company, your plans for improving it, and what that involves (making sure you play an integral role). Write down any questions that may be asked so you can go prepared with answers. Every stakeholder has different goals, so align your plan correctly.
A great way to do this is to prepare charts comparing SEO performance based on channels, as well as comparing previous quarters to the current performance. Have a brief, simple explanation for each chart prepared, and point out positive changes and how they are linked to your own efforts. Timelines can be a great tool, especially when they include projects you were involved with, changes to Google algorithms, or even worldwide events that may have impacted SEO.

Passing the Buck

Hopefully, you’re the SEO liaison between your company and the SEO firm you work with. That means the responsibility is largely on the shoulders of the professionals. You’re just the messenger—but you know that bullets have a way of targeting the messenger. Working with a reputable SEO company means the hard work is done for you, and they can provide you with simple reports or show you how to track progress yourself and you can then translate for your boss.

SEO isn’t easy, and explaining it to those without the same level of understanding as you can be tough. However, with the right tools, team and prep work, you can dish up a grand delivery.

4 Steps to Writing Powerful Local Content

Online marketing is changing how brick and mortar businesses and service providers that target customers in a specific geographic area get in front of their audiences. Social media marketing, email newsletters, Google Hangouts, and investments in SEO are helping small, local businesses build stronger relationships with customers while developing a steady flow of leads. A good content marketing strategy – specifically, an active business blog – is one of the key strategies that successful businesses use to establish expertise and raise their SEO profile. But writing consistently good content that’s effective for SEO and resonates with a local audience can be a challenge. Here are four tips that our writers use to help our clients dramatically increase their online presence.

Strategically target local keywords4 Steps for Local Content

One of the biggest mistakes that local businesses make it failing to use keywords that indicate their area of service in their content. Your local area should be a priority keyword that’s included in your site’s title tags, in your content, and in blog titles at regular intervals. It’s important that this appears in an organic way, rather than defaulting to keyword stuffing. For example, consider a sentence such as “Looking for a great cleaning company in Boston? We’ve been proudly serving Massachusetts businesses from Back Bay to Beacon Hill for over 20 years.” It’s possible to work in local priority keywords while creating content that flows well and is easy to read.

Develop a content mix that includes a local focus

For every business, there is top line content that your clients are going to be interested in. In the cleaning example about, this might include articles on quick ways to spruce up an office before a client visit, what to look for in a commercial cleaning service, the latest janitorial trends, or how to transition your company to green cleaning products. But it’s also important to look for opportunities to highlight topics of interest to a local audience. For example, does the winter weather in your area present special challenges for cleaning mud and snow or do you live in a warm area where businesses struggle with dust and sand? Has a company started distributing new cleaning products in your area that customers love? Will your team be at a local event demonstrating the right way to clean a grill? Whatever your business, find the local angle and ensure that drives at least half of your content.

Feature other organizations and experts from your area

You probably have a terrific professional network in your general area that you could leverage for interviews and other content creation. For example, if you own a local exterminating business, you probably frequently work with a local laboratory, cleaning services, dry cleaners, and even experts from nearby universities when combatting issues such as bedbugs. You could feature short interviews with these people discussing how testing is conducted (laboratory), what it really takes to remove bedbugs from clothes (dry cleaners), and why we’re experiencing a bedbug resurgence (local professor). These sources are likely to share the press and interviews within their own networks, expanding your exposure and giving you a clear local focus.

Take advantage of seasons and events

Every area operates on its own calendar. The seasons pass and winter’s inclement weather or the unrelenting heat of summer brings special concerns. In other cases, specific locations have community events and traditions, festivals, and tourist seasons that ebb and flow. Using these anchors are jumping off points to great, relevant local content. For example, a regional events marketing firm might publish titles such as “7 Lessons on Grassroots Event Marketing from the Chicago Strawberry Festival,” “Your Back to School Event Checklist,” or “How Ski Prep Season is a Great Metaphor for a New Event Launch.”

Consistently writing great content requires three things: creativity, clear objectives, and a connection to your audience. Strong local content can help you rank well in search engines and build relationships with your audience. If you’re struggling to move forward with your own local content marketing and SEO strategy, contact us today to learn more about how Be Locally SEO’s writing team can help grow your business.

WordPress Sites Compromised from SEO Plug-In

Do you have a WordPress site? If so, you might want to check that it hasn’t been compromised—especially if you have the “All in One SEO Pack,” which is an extremely popular plug-in. While WordPress sites are designed to be incredibly user-friendly, making it simple to create a website or blog yourself, a number of web design companies also use the platform. Just because you’re not directly managing your online presence doesn’t mean you’re not at risk.

Immediate action is required, which includes upgrading the beloved SEO plug-in to the brand new version which was just released in order to fix the bugs and restore your website’s safety. According to researchers at Sucuri, a web security firm, there are two major flaws with the plug-in: SEO Plugin UpdateAttackers can get access by upping their privileges (basically making themselves administrators without your consent), and they can then poison the site with “malicious code.”

What This Means for Site Owners

Sucuri researchers posted their own blog Saturday, May 30 2014 saying “If your site has subscribers, authors and non-admin users logging in to wp-admin, you are at risk. If you have open registration, you are at risk, so you have to update the plugin now.” The plug-in is so popular because it lets WordPress content get auto-optimized for better indexing.

In other words, search engine crawlers (including the biggies like Google and Bing) can enjoy better ranking, which leads to better search results. It’s nearly a requisite for WordPress sites to have this plug-in if the goal is to get higher and more relevant rankings. WordPress announced that the plug-in was downloaded 18.5 million times before the flaw in the latest version was found.

A Hacker’s Playground

Just about anyone can exploit one of the flaws, from a subscriber to an author, which lets them change descriptions, meta tags and even the SEO title. This isn’t a big deal unless it’s used maliciously, such as if a random hacker decides to target your site or if the competition catches wind of the vulnerability and uses this opportunity to “take you down” (to the dredges of search results). If you’re not a major corporation and don’t have any enemies, you may be safe, but it’s not worth the gamble.

That’s just the first half of things that can go wrong. This, mixed with the ability to put bad JavaScript coding into the admin control panel, can auto execute when a page is loaded. A hacker can do things like put in backdoor code that messes up the site even months down the line. They might also change the admin’s password, causing you grief and making you scramble to access your own site.

Act Fast

On Sunday, June 1 2014, WordPress officials advised everyone to upgrade the plug-in to the 2.1.6 version. You can download the upgrade directly, or get it from the plug-in’s admin panel. This isn’t the first time WordPress sites have been targeted as attackers have come to enjoy pinpointing the platform’s vulnerabilities. Themes and plug-ins are especially big targets.

This doesn’t mean you have to stop using WordPress—but it does mean you need to stay on top of vulnerabilities and act accordingly.