Infecting a WordPress site with malware is not always done blatantly. Many a time hackers inject malicious code into a website, that go undetected by the website owner/admin. These deceptive hacks, however, are detected by the malware scanners of prominent search engines like Google. And these sites are subsequently blacklisted by Google.
1. What is Google blacklisting?
A domain is blacklisted by Google Safe Browsing when malware or malicious activities like sending spam mails etc has been detected on your site by Google. This malware can be in the form of phishing, pharma hacks, email spam etc. When a site is blacklisted by Google, it is removed from the search engine’s index. Anyone visiting the blacklisted site would be shown a security warning that says this site could be infected with malware. Google does this because visiting the site may harm your computer. To protect unsuspecting visitors from accidentally downloading unwanted software on to their local system by visiting an infected site.
In this article we tell you 1) how to check whether your site has been blacklisted by Google, 2) what are the causes for blacklisting, 3) how to remove Google blacklisting and 4) how to prevent being blacklisted in the future.
2. Check if your site is blacklisted by Google
When your site is blacklisted by Google or other search engines, one of the first signs you would notice is the sudden drop in your site traffic. This is because Google issues a conspicuous Google warning on the infected site. Many of you might have come across while browsing the internet.
A sharp decline in web traffic can be disastrous for your website, brand, especially your business. If you have noticed any such change in your site’s web traffic, we would highly recommend that you check whether your site has been blacklisted by Google. The following check is also relevant when you are considering buying a domain name from an unreliable source.
Checking for Google Blacklisting can be done in the following ways:
i) Manual method
This method is useful if your website has been indexed by Google already. By indexing, we mean if your web pages have already been added to Google search. Most websites that have been around for some time and have received web traffic in the past would fall into this category. If your website falls into this category, then type the following on Google:
Once you type this, if Google has already indexed your web pages, it would display the pages. For instance, when we searched for malcare.com, the search results showed more than 90,000 results.
However, if the search doesn’t reveal any pages, there is a high chance Google has removed your website from indexing. And that’s because your site may be hacked.
ii) Using tools
There are a number of tools online to check whether your website has been blacklisted such as ismywebsitepenalized.com, bannedcheck.com, Geekflare etc. All of these online tools are really easy to use (you just need to enter your domain name) and within a couple of seconds, you get to check the status of your website.
iii) Using Google tools
Yet another alternative to check whether your website has been blacklisted is to use the Google diagnostic page/tool. To use the tool, enter the below-mentioned URL and add your site name at the end.
So for instance, we checked our website by typing https://malcare.com at the end of the above-mentioned URL as follows:
The below image is the result we got when we typed the above.
3. Causes of Google Blacklisting
The presence of malware is a sure shot way of getting blacklisted by Google. There are few other things that can get you de-indexed or blacklisted by Google. Here we list down a few of the most common causes.
a) Paid Links
Many a website owner has been guilty of publishing paid links on their web pages. Typically, the website owner is paid by someone to post links in the form of text or ads. The links lead to a different website.
Ads very commonly appear on web pages these days, so you must be wondering how that works. Although we are not getting into the details of this, it is enough to understand that not all ads are bad for ranking. Some affect ranking, while others do not. To know more about how you can determine whether your paid links are affecting your rankings, read this article.
b) Copyright violations
Google promotes original content and frowns upon duplicated or copied content. So it is important to ensure that whatever goes on your website is original and relevant. Copyright violations can be in the form of plagiarised content or copied images from other websites. There are many online tools to check for plagiarism in content. One such tool that we ourselves use is Copyscape. Regarding images, always look for images on Google that are licensed to be used freely. Or create an account on one of the freely available graphic design tools such as Canva.
c) Masking Keywords
Keywords are sometimes hidden so that they are not visible to the site visitor but can be indexed by the search engine bots. This is an attempt to make the content as keyword as dense as possible. But without affecting its readability. The goal is to rank the article for a specific keyword. However, Google is smart enough to not index these keyword stuffed articles, instead, it blacklists them.
d) External Spammy links
External links that take the user to spammy websites are yet another sure shot way to get blacklisted by Google. To avoid this, always check the hygiene of the links that you publish on your site. This is to ensure they don’t link to malicious websites.
e) Presence of malware
Google will blacklist your site if it detects the presence of malware or any form of infection on your site. This is to protect your website visitors from getting infected by unwittingly downloading malicious software into their laptop.
Apart from the above-mentioned points, there could be many other causes for your site to be blacklisted by Google. Such as over optimizing your pages with unreasonably high keyword density, low quality or illegal content etc.
4. Remove site from Google Blacklist
Removing your site from Google Blacklist is a multi-step process. In this article, we are assuming that your site has been blacklisted due to some form of infection or malware on your site. However, if the cause of blacklisting is copyright violations, spammy external links, or even overuse of keywords, then you would need to address these issues first.
However, if the cause for Google blacklisting your site is due to the presence of malware on your site. You need to first scan your site, remove the malware, and then get it reviewed by Google. We shall go into the details of removing malware and Google blacklist removal in this article.
i) Scan your site for malware
Finding your site on Google’s blacklist can be a rather exasperating experience, we understand. However, there is no point wallowing in self-pity. It is time to get things under your control. The first step in that is to scan your site thoroughly for malware. This can be done either manually or using a plugin/service.
Some of the common vulnerabilities that are exploited by hackers reside in WordPress themes, plugins and core files. So it is important to do a thorough scan of all these files to look for the infected ones.
a. Manual or automated
Scanning your site manually for infected files is not something we would recommend. Even the most well-versed WordPress user is bound to miss some of the infected files. On top of that, even the slightest error can cause your entire site to crash. There is too much at risk here. So we highly recommend that you make use of a plugin/service such as MalCare. You can in fact get a free scan of your website with MalCare to check your site for infected files.
b. Do a site backup first
We highly recommend you do a backup of your site before proceeding with any of these steps. This is to ensure that you have something to fall back on in case something goes wrong with your site. A backup of your site would also let you analyze (once the blacklisting has been removed, i.e.) the vulnerabilities that caused the website hack in the first place. This is a vital step to prevent these kinds of issues in the future.
c. Contact your web host
Another important step in this process is to contact your web host. Web hosts may give you some insight into what caused the hack in the first place. But they may also be able to aid you in finding the infected files.
ii) Clean your site of malware
The next step after scanning your site for malware is to clean it. This is the most crucial step in getting your site removed from Google blacklisting and should be done with utmost care.
As with scanning, this step too can be done manually or using automated tools. However, given the critical nature of this step, it is best done using a reliable malware cleaning service. Here is a comprehensive comparison guide for choosing the best security plugin for you.
MalCare is one such plugin service that offers automated instant malware cleaning service. Unlike a lot of other malware cleaning plugins available in the market, you do not have to wait for security personnel to scan. And then clean your site, a process that could take days!! With MalCare, malware removal is instant. You get a malware warning and then clean your infected site by clicking on the Auto-Clean button. For a detailed guide on how to remove malware from your site, you can check our detailed guide on cleaning a hacked site using MalCare.
iii) Scan your site once again
Once your site is cleaned of malware, it is a good idea to scan it once again to ensure all malware has been removed. This is because the next step involves submitting your site for a detailed review to Google. If at this stage, too, Google finds malicious code, then you would need to repeat the entire process from scratch. Quite a time-consuming process that would be!
Instead, you could use MalCare to do a quick (yet comprehensive) scan of your website before submitting it to Google for review. MalCare’s intelligent scan can find even hidden malware, that is sometimes left undetected by most scanners available today.
iv) Submit for review to Google Search Console
To remove your website from Google’s blacklisted websites list, it is important to let Google know that the infection has been removed and your site is clean now. To do that, you must get your site reviewed by Google Search Console. The following steps explain how you can do that.
Step 1: Open Google Search Console
And then click on the Start now button.
Step 2: Enter site URL
You will be taken to a page where you need to enter your site’s URL or domain in the boxes provided. Then click Continue.
Step 3: Verify ownership of the website
Next, you would be asked to verify ownership of your site. For that copy the link as shown in the image below and paste it in the TXT value box in the DNS record of your site. Follow the steps mentioned below in the note. Once you enter the TXT value you would need to wait for some time (4 hours at times) before you can click verify.
Note: To verify your site, you would need to log into your web host login account and go to the domains section of your site. This step would differ for different web hosts. So what you need to find is the DNS Zone Editor to input the TXT record as shown above. In our case, we found the DNS Zone editor by clicking on the domains section of Bluehost and then clicking on the domain name of the site as shown below.
In the DNS Zone editor page, scroll to the box with TXT box and enter the TXT record (from the google verification box as mentioned in Step 3). Click the edit icon to enter the TXT record in the TXT box.
Go back to the Google verification box as shown below and click on Verify. The verification might take some time. So you might need to wait for a few hours.
Step 4: Review your property
Next, you need to log into your Google console to review your property.
For detailed instructions on how to submit your site for a google search console review, you can refer to this article.
Once you have gotten your WordPress website reviewed by google search console, the next step is to harden your site so as to prevent future hacks attacks. And save your website from Google blacklisting. There are various steps to consider to harden your website. In this article, we shall cover a few key points. For a more detailed guide on website maintenance and hardening, refer to this article.
5. Site maintenance & hardening measures
To prevent your site from being infected again in the future, it is highly recommended to have a website security strategy in place that would help define the steps required to ensure your website is protected. Here are a few security measures that must be implemented to protect your site.
i) Update regularly
It is imperative to update your site’s themes and plugins regularly. This is because every update issues security patches for these themes and plugins that make them more secure against hack attacks. Apart from themes and plugins, WordPress core files are also frequently updated to patch security issues. Not updating these core files is like offering your site to the hacker on a platter. You don’t want to be doing that!
ii) Backup your site
Have a backup strategy in place so that you have reliable backups in case something goes wrong with your site. Manually taking backups are a time consuming and highly inefficient process and so we would highly recommend using an automated backup plugin that takes daily backups as well as scheduled backups as per your requirement.
iii) Login protection
Many a time users do not create strong usernames and passwords for their WordPress login. This makes it really easy for hackers to use programmes to guess the password and username and access your admin account. With access to your admin account, the hacker can wreak havoc on your site.
iv) Restrict admin accounts
Another important security measure is to not allow admin access to too many users. Ideally, users should be assigned roles based on what they would need to access on a regular basis. For instance, if a user only posts and publishes blogs, then he/she doesn’t need admin access, just an Author/Editor role would do.
v) Conduct regular security scans
It is also important to regularly scan your site for malware. A delay in detecting malware can compound the issue even further.
vi) Installing a firewall
A firewall essentially filters incoming traffic to your site and is an important security measure to safeguard your site against malicious traffic.
Apart from these security measures, there are several more that need to be implemented in order to secure your site against hack attempts. A simpler and effective way to do so is to install a security plugin such as MalCare that takes care of all the above points and many more to protect your site against hackers and as a result from getting blacklisted by Google.