Links that are hidden from view can adversely influence search visibility. These steps are crucial in identifying and stopping these links.
Every site on the Internet, regardless of how large or small, is in some way attacked by a user-generated content spammer or a spambot.
Attacks often focus on hiding links as links are a valuable commodity and can fetch hundreds of dollars. These solutions can help stop these attacks and keep your website safe from hidden hyperlinks.
According to the internet security firm Barracuda, nearly 40 percent of all traffic on the internet is caused by bots that are not trustworthy.
If these bots succeed and have a negative effect, they could have on the web’s search results via hidden links that link to spam and malware.
Many people in the SEO community don’t see security for websites as an SEO issue..
As a result, it’s not surprising that many SEOs working for agencies or at home don’t make security scans an essential consideration because it’s not typically considered part of SEO.
Security is a fast-growing SEO issue when the site is degraded in its position. It is therefore recommended to be proactive instead of reactive.
The top SEO incorporates security into their processes, even if it’s just to ensure that the developer’s team is aware of it.
Below are three ways hidden links can be found on websites and ways to stop this from occurring.
1. Old, out-of-date plugins and Themes
SEO spammers buy popular themes and plugins that have been abandoned or not updated regularly.
The linking business is lucrative, and it’s financially prudent to buy semi-defunct themes and plugins to enable backdoor access to include spam links to websites.
WordFence released an article on plugin spammers some time ago, which detailed how spammers were paid $15,000 for one plugin.
While it sounds like a reasonable amount of money, it has to be considered perspective that links could be purchased for as little as $500.
Thus, having access to thousands of websites through one plugin gives you a chance to smuggle and sell hundreds of links for every website that utilizes that plugin.
In this scenario, a spammer needs the sale of 30 or so links to make a profit, while the remainder is profits.
WordFence reports on the incident. WordFence says that following buying the plugin, the new owners upgraded the plugin, allowing access to more than 200,000 websites that used the plugin.
“On June 21, the new author’s first version of Display Widgets came out. Then, on June 30, a follow-up release, Version 2.6.1, contained the malware. This code enabled the new plugin writer to make spam on any site that uses Display Widgets.
Two hundred thousand websites were using Display Widgets in the year 2000.”
How to Protect Yourself from Plugins and Themes Spam
Always do an audit of the plugins and themes used on a website. Be sure you have a plugin that is updated regularly and is not in use.
If the theme or plugin seems to be in a state of disuse, then the best action method is to search for a continuously updated and enhanced plugin.
The majority of plugins are continually changing and improving their effectiveness. It is usual for themes and plugins to be updated regularly, and it could signal to warn you when a plugin stops being upgraded.
The great way to prevent becoming a victim of spammers and plugins is to check your plugins and themes at least once yearly (twice each year is more effective).
Examine each plugin and theme to determine when it was the last time it was updated.
This may seem harsh, but another indicator to watch out for is when a theme or plugin isn’t very well-known. Without a huge following, it could be a sign that there’s better software available that most people are using.
Spend some time to see the available alternatives.
Tools to Use to guard against WordPress Spam from WordPress Plugins
Wordfence is a top security plugin.
One of the great significant distinctions between the paid and premium versions is that Premium versions are continuously upgraded to deal with any new threat as soon as they emerge. Free versions are updated with new threats every 30 days.
Wordfence premium and free are reliable tools for protecting against vulnerable or out-of-date plugins.
Wordfence includes security scanners that help to keep your WordPress website safe.
Wordfence provides the advantages from its scanner for security:
“The security scanner that comes with Wordfence free will notify you when your website is running outdated or vulnerable themes, plugins, or essential files.
In addition, our scanner will compare your primary files, themes, and plugins against authentic versions of WordPress.org. WordPress.org repository ensures their authenticity and allows users to restore changes to your files by reverting them to an original, clean performance.
Wordfence scanner scans your files for malware, backdoors, and SEO spam. The Wordfence scanner can also check the contents of files for viruses, malicious URLs, backdoors and malware redirects, SEO, and code injections. It lets you delete harmful files.”
Another excellent WordPress safety plugin to use is Sucuri.
Sucuri is a malware scanner that can detect outdated software and find evidence of an infected WordPress website.
Sucuri provides the advantages of its plugin for free:
Security Activity Auditing.
Monitoring File Integrity.
Scanner for Remote Malware.
Efficient Security Hardening.
Post-Hack Security Steps.
2. User-Generated Content Spam
There are a variety of strategies used by spammers to get their hyperlinks on forums, websites, and even Facebook groups.
Promoting incessantly on guest posts, comments and Forums
There are various ways to deal with spam generated by users, but among the more well-known is the Win-Win spam method.
The method is as follows: A spammer can submit an informative guest post on an online site, post an informative article to a forum or Facebook forum, or even add an entry to a blog.
The spam component of this type of method is that they direct users to their website to provide a more detailed answer or mention their website in the text.
Google is not a fan of guest posts to build links. John Mueller is on record declaring that guest posting on hyperlinks results in unnatural ones.
Marketers consider this a win-win scenario because they’re creating a reliable hyperlink that readers can use to find an answer.
However, one must be cautious about allowing outbound links to any website which uses this method to create links.
The types of user-generated link-building techniques are usually employed to promote poor-quality websites. Publishers should generally be very cautious when publishing guest blog posts from unidentified people.
The great way to guard yourself from this type of mailer is to avoid receiving emails from people who are not your acquaintances.
It’s OK to have guest posts, but if it’s employed as part of an attempt to build links, it violates the law.
At the very minimum, If you’re planning to make a guest post, ensure that you add a nofollow attribute on any links sent out and do not provide authorship credentials to anyone you don’t know and have confidence in.
Tools to Utilize To Identify wrong links
Screaming Frog is a downloadable software application that crawls a website and retrieves a range of valuable information.
It’s an excellent tool for crawling websites, and it is a great tool for identifying every outbound link.
With the tool, you can look over all links outbound on a website. You can then determine whether the link you are looking for is one you feel comfortable with and whether or not it is equipped with no follow attributes.
There’s a free version with a limitation of 500 URLs. Then there is a reasonable premium version that will give an endless amount of SEO information to analyze.
Crawling TipWhichever, the Screaming Frog version, ensures that you configure the User Agent to mimic Googlebot. Sometimes, hidden links (from hacker-controlled websites) aren’t visible to all other than Googlebot.
WordPress External Links plugin
This WP External Links plugin was created by the renowned Web Factory plugin and theme developer who has been creating paid and free plugins for more than ten years.
The relatively recent external link WordPress plugin was launched in June 2021 and quickly adopted by more than 100,000 WordPress publishers.
The WP External Links plugin will look over all outbound links and generate a report on the website they link to when there’s an attribute of no follow and allows you to apply different types of no follow attribute attributes to include the unique UGC Nofollow attribute for links.
This plugin is helpful in analyzing any external links.
3. Sneaky Links
Specific spammers work under the idea that new members are subject to scrutiny. Thus, their strategy is to conceal their links to prevent the links from being deleted.
Here are some strategies employed by sly link spammers.
Links Hidden In A Quote
This type of spam could be hard to detect. The spammer will cite a previous post written by an active member and then reply to that member by quoting a linkless post.
But they’re changing the post and then adding a link to it so that it appears as if the trusted member put in the link.
Moderators will scrutinize the post but not notice the link that was in the quote and will confirm that the member who joined the forum didn’t spam and permit the link to stay because the connection was embedded into the post referenced by a trusted friend.
Link Hidden In A Punctuation Mark
A few spammers post an enormous comment. Then in the statement, they’ll place links to the website they’re advertising within the punctuation mark or one letter.
Link hid by matching Text Color to Page.
This method is hiding the link. It is used on user-generated content where users can alter the font color.
Therefore, if the page’s background is white, they’ll include style codes in their blog post, making the spam link appear white.
How to Protect Yourself from Sneaky Links
Akismet Antispam is commonly referred to as a WordPress spam-management plugin.
But, Akismet can be employed in conjunction with other systems for managing content, as well.
Alongside WordPress, Akismet can protect websites built on:
Akismet could be utilized to prevent spam user signups, secure email forms, and to avoid spam comments. The Akismet software for Wikimedia can stop spam edits to websites built using Wikimedia CMS. Wikimedia CMS.
Cloudflare Web Application Firewall
Cloudflare’s Pro, Business, and Enterprise levels of Cloudflare come with the web application firewall (WAF), which protects websites from the most popular intrusion methods.
Cloudflare’s WAF can protect websites from numerous attacks that could lead to an entire site takeover, in which a malicious hacker could create hidden links across an entire website.
Use More Security Questionnaires to Challenge
An extremely popular option built-in to blocking spam links is security-related questions.
The problem is that spambots can be able to answer the majority of questions. The trick to creating a winning security challenge is to design questions that can’t be addressed through Google and Bing.
Math problems like 1 + 1 can be easily overpowered.
Similar to that, questions such as which president is in the United States are also easily defeated.
Consider questions that cannot be Googled to find an answer.
For instance, you can the new signups are asked to write a name and to spell it using the letter that is capitalized at the end. Ask questions that have twists to confuse automatic spam programs.
If it cannot be addressed with Google, then it’s probably impossible for a bot. The most important thing is that Google cannot answer the query.
All Sites Are Under Attack
The larger a website, the more difficult it will be to identify spam and the easier it to cover it up.
Even small sites are under intense probing and attacks almost every day.
It is essential to protect against spammers before they even have an opportunity to hide their links from your site and possibly impact your ranking.
It’s equally vital that you know the methods that spammers use to hide links on websites.
In the end, it’s an excellent idea to apply the rel=nofollow attribute to all content created by users’ websites, signaling to search engines that these links are unreliable and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
This way, if a spam URL is discovered via content created by users in the first place, the link itself won’t be capable of affecting your rankings.