Getting Back After Getting Hacked: How to Recover Your Google Rankings

Published May 1st, 2014 by Michael Farin

Getting hacked is no fun. Worse, it can undo years of hard work climbing your way up Google search results. If you’ve been targeted by a hacker, you may be tempted to flop down on your bed and cry. Don’t give in to the impulse. Instead, take these proactive tips to get your site up, running and back in the game.

Before you can recover those lost rankings, you have to repair the initial damage cause by the hackers. Here’s what to do.

  1. Change ALL your passwords. Use a generator, or make up complex passwords of your own – but whatever you do, make sure they’re not obvious or easy to guess.
  1. Get offline. You don’t want your site to be running while you’re troubleshooting. Display a maintenance message or a 503 status code so visitors – and search engines – know you’re working on the site. (If Google crawls your site while it’s under construction, your rankings may take a further hit.)
  1. Find and remove bad URLs. Use Google Webmaster Tools to remove any hacked pages or added URLs from search results. (Many hackers like to add links to your site in order to boost their own search rankings.)
  1. Check for malware. Sometimes, hackers install programs designed to steal sensitive information from your site. Check your server for modified files, or new files that you don’t recognize.
  1. Reinstall your OS. Once you’ve removed all suspicious links, files and malware, upload your operating system again – but make sure the install is from a genuine source.
  1. Use a recent backup to restore your site. Use the last backup before the hack – and do one final sweep to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
  1. Update your software. Now is the time to install the latest versions of your software, especially any new security patches.
  1. Request a GWT site review. If you had a malware warning from Google Webmaster Tools, send them a request so they can make sure the malware is gone.
  1. Use GWT to restore your URLs. If you deactivated valid URLs while you were repairing your site, use Google Webmaster Tools to revoke the removal.
  1.  Relaunch your website. Take the site out of maintenance mode and/or remove the 503 code, and head back out into search engine land.

After you’ve neutralized the threat and launched your website again, your second job begins: Time to recover the Google rankings you lost while you were hacked. Most likely, you took a severe rankings hit while you were under maintenance – but that doesn’t have to be permanent. Here are some tactics you can use to get “topside” again.

  1. Add Lots of Fresh Content. This is the #1 way to make Google love you again. If you have a blog, publish some new posts. If you don’t have a blog, start one. And don’t write for Google – write for your site visitors and potential customers. Give them fresh information, thought leadership and a unique perspective – and they’ll come back and boost your rankings even higher.
  1. Engage on Social Media. Search engines now place a much higher value on social media mentions, posts and shares. Chat it up with your clients and prospects on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter – after all, you’ve got a pretty big piece of news to share. “Our site is back up and running!” Get people talking, and encourage them to share your content.
  1. Consider a Professional Audit. A reputable SEO company will be able to analyze your site and provide further tips and insight. For more tips on recovering rankings, read our article here.

Remember, if you get hacked, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not even the end of your website. Just be patient, be proactive and don’t panic. Before long, you’ll be on top of the world again.

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