URL Hijacking

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What is URL hijacking?

In SEO, URL hijacking usually refers to competitors replacing your website’s search position with theirs, essentially removing your page from the SERPs and taking your page’s traffic. URL hijacking is a black hat SEO technique and is not a part of a normal white hat SEO strategy.

The term URL hijacking is used to describe different yet similar phenomenon in other disciplines, like web development and SEM.

How does URL hijacking work

Figure: URL-Hijacking - Author: Seobility - License: CC BY-SA 4.0

Url hijacking, and black hat SEO in general, used to be a far bigger problem than it is today. With search engines cracking down on spam and SEO tactics that try to manipulate the algorithm, it has become more challenging to get ahead using black hat techniques. Nevertheless, in the early days of SEO, URL hijacking was a problem.

Url hijacking uses 302 redirects to point from a spam page to another page ranking in the SERPs. 302’s are used to indicate that content has moved temporarily. When a search engine crawls a page with a 302 redirect to another page, it sees the page that is using a 302 redirect as the original. When a spam site uses a 302 to redirect to another site’s page, crawlers may view the spam page as the original. This can confuse search engines and force them to choose between the two, often leading to original pages being removed in favor of the spam page.

URL hijacking today

Today, URL hijacking is still something you come across when learning about SEO. Although not used as often as in the past, there are still rare instances where URL hijacking can occur. This is usually the result of a hacked site, but on occasion, it can be done without access to your site. This can happen when sites forget to use a canonical tag, which is a tag that is used to indicate that a page is the original version, and is used to prevent duplicate content issues. Nowadays, URL hijacking is far less common than it was back in the early days of the web.

How to prevent it

URL hijacking isn’t something you have a lot of control over, although there are a few things you can do to lower the chances of it happening to your site. It is rare nowadays, but it can still happen, either on purpose or by accident. Since it is caused by search engines having to choose which page is the original, ensuring they know your pages are the original is an important part of preventing it. A few important things often mentioned by SEO’s to prevent URL hijacking are:

  • Using canonical tags correctly
  • Building the authority of your domain
  • Actively monitoring your search performance
  • Securing your site
  • Reporting instances of URL hijacking or copied content

SEO implications of URL hijacking

The SEO implications that URL hijacking can have on a website are huge. Since URL hijacking can, in theory, switch a spam site’s page with your page, causing your page to be removed from the SERPs entirely, it can reduce the traffic coming to your domain.

Luckily, occurrences are rare these days and are usually caused by mistakes made by the website owner themselves as opposed to targeted attacks by black hats. By following SEO best practices and building your site’s authority, you can lower your risk substantially.

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