How Long Does It Take to Recover Your Site From Being Hacked, Google-Wise [Case Study]

Recover Your Site From Being Hacked

UPDATE. This whole thing happened at the turn of 2013 and 2014. However, I’m still experiencing some SEO consequences of this and that’s why I consider this study a valuable read for any online business owner. At the bottom, there are takeaway lessons on how you can avoid something similar happening to your site.

A couple of months ago, my domain got hacked. Kind of. I mean, the domain itself didn’t get hacked directly, but the problem was the server it was hosted on.

Back then, I was a HostGator customer, a mistake I will never make again.

Just to give you a quick heads-up on that situation, HostGator doesn’t care that much about their customers’ safety. So in my case, they allowed for a spam forum to get installed on my domain without my knowledge.

You could see it by navigating to https://newinternetorder.com/forum/ (no longer there, so don’t bother checking the URL). The forum featured a ton of spam phrases and links. As we all know, those things are not good for SEO…not good at all.

So how did I discover the problem? Well, I’m not an IT security ninja or anything. I was simply informed by vBulletin update service that “my forum needs to be updated.” Can you imagine?

I quickly found that the forum is quite big, and what’s even worse …

525 pages of it were indexed by Google

This is visible on the screenshot I took on the day of the discovery:

google-listing

Oct 15th 2013

This was Oct 15th 2013.

Today’s Jan 17th 2014 and 2 of the pages are still indexed

… despite being nonexistent for months:

forum-google

Jan 17th 2014

This means that Google still didn’t manage to fix things on their end.

(By the way, for future reference; if you want to check out what’s the status of the spam pages on Google this very moment, click here.)

I’m saying this not to complain about my own personal situation but to provide some educational value. What I mean precisely is that Google is obviously not as good at indexing stuff as we’d like it to be.

And what that means for you is that you will likely be forced to wait a similar amount of time, should you get hit by a similar problem.

What did I do about the index?

Apparently, I didn’t just sit patiently and wait for Google to do its magic on their own, so I took some steps to help them out.

First of all, here are the things I didn’t do.

I didn’t go to the index exclusion tool available in Google Webmaster Tools. The reason why is simple, in my book, using this tool would just like admitting that I’m guilty of placing the forum there, which I wasn’t.

Now, I’m not entirely sure whether such reasoning makes sense or not, but that’s what I did nevertheless.

Here are the three main things I did:

1. Changed my webhost

HostGator failed to even acknowledge the problem so I moved over to IX Web Hosting. One of the nice surprises right off the bat was that they gave me a dedicated IP for no extra charge (it has its values for SEO, I’d advise always going for a dedicated IP if you have the chance).

Changing my webhost ultimately killed the forum since the problem was on the previous server. This also confirmed that it was exactly the case, by the way.

2. Researched .htaccess files

The .htaccess file is a small text file that sits in your server’s root (main) directory and deals cards as for who gets to see what on your site, more or less.

In other words, you can prevent anyone from accessing a given area of your site by creating a new rule in the .htaccess file.

What I did was block all access to https://newinternetorder.com/forum/.

3. Tuned my robots.txt file

Robots.txt is another text file sitting in your server’s root directory. This one is responsible for regulating what gets accessed by search engine robots (hence the name, robots.txt).

This was another place where I blocked access to the forum.

Could I do anything more?

Maybe, I don’t know. I should have probably reached out to some security specialist. Too bad I didn’t.

Nonetheless, I thought that the above was just enough for Google to get a grasp and deindex those old and non-existent forum pages.

It wasn’t.

As I already mentioned here, I still have 2 pages indexed in Google.

The takeaway and lessons for the future

A handful of them:

  1. Always keep a close eye on what’s going on on your domain/site. Do it through rank tracking tools like Market Samurai, Moz, or even Google Webmaster Tools.
  2. Use additional security plugins like BulletProof Security.
  3. Perform frequent site backups. You can use Online Backup for WordPress for that.
  4. In case anything bad happens, make fast decisions. Like my decision to flee from HostGator.
  5. (Something I didn’t do.) Ask around on expert forums online. In hindsight, this could have saved me a lot of hassle and wandering in the dark.