SEO Poisoning

What Is SEO Poisoning?

SEO (search engine optimization) poisoning is a technique employed by threat actors to improve the rankings of their malicious websites on search engine results pages. By leveraging various negative SEO tactics to manipulate search engine rankings, threat actors trick users into visiting seemingly legitimate sites. Users unknowingly interact with malicious websites, putting themselves at risk of divulging their sensitive information to threat actors or infecting their devices with malware.

How SEO Poisoning Works

SEO poisoning involves the exploitation of vulnerabilities within search engine algorithms and websites. Threat actors leverage trending search terms to attract users to web pages embedded with harmful code. When users search for popular keywords, they choose the high-ranking results, and consequently visit malicious sites. Threat actors will also use existing, high-ranking websites to spread malicious content, exploiting software vulnerabilities to take control of other websites.

SEO poisoning uses deceptive practices known as negative SEO—unethical techniques deployed to deceive search engines and achieve high search rankings. Threat actors leverage negative SEO for malicious reasons including: 

  • Damaging the reputation of existing sites
  • Infecting users’ devices with malware
  • Stealing sensitive information

Common SEO Poisoning Techniques

There are several unethical SEO poisoning techniques, or negative SEO tactics, that are used to manipulate rankings.

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is overloading a webpage with keywords in an unnatural and repetitive manner with the intention of misleading search engine rankings into thinking the website has relevant content.


Typosquatting capitalizes on users’ typing errors by registering domain names similar to those of popular websites, e.g. rather than typing “,” users might mistype it as “,” taking them to a legitimate-looking but malicious site. Typosquatting sites enable threat actors to sell counterfeit goods, capitalize on web traffic for ad impressions, and steal banking information.


Cloaking involves creating variations of content or URLs that differ for search engine crawlers and humans in order to deceive crawlers. By showing optimized content to search engines, websites can appear legitimate and rank highly on results pages, but have altered, potentially deceitful content for humans who access the site.

Private Link Networks

Private link networks are groups of unrelated websites published solely to increase the number of referring links and the visibility of malicious sites. Link building contributes to higher-ranking content and helps threat actors create the appearance of stronger domain authority. 

Article Spinning 

Article spinning involves duplicating content from pre-existing web pages and substituting a few words to give the impression of new content. Search engine crawlers are deceived by what appears to be original information by content that is merely imitated and slightly altered from other pages but is often lacking relevance or coherence.  

Sneaky Redirects

Sneaky redirects send users to a different page or website than the one they initially clicked on without their knowledge or consent. By showing different content to search engines and users, sneaky directs enable threat actors to drive traffic to malicious sites.

SEO Poisoning Threats

The threats posed by SEO poisoning attacks are two-fold for organizations:

1. Impacts of Employee Access to SEO-Poisoned Sites

Data Loss: Visiting SEO poisoned sites can result in the installation of malicious software on computers within corporate networks if employees unknowingly interact with harmful sites and fall victim to phishing attacks, enabling threat actors to compromise network security and gain unauthorized access to login credentials and sensitive data.

Malware Propagation: Once malware is installed on a single device from an SEO poisoned site, it has the potential to spread to other devices within the network. Malware causes extensive damage and disruptions to organizations; further infiltration leaves organizations susceptible to ransomware attacks. 

2. Impacts of Website-Specific SEO Poisoning Attacks

Poor Search Rankings: As malicious sites rise in search rankings, legitimate websites can be adversely affected. SEO poisoning that targets a specific organization’s website can also cause poor search rankings, as websites are penalized by search engines for negative SEO tactics, which ultimately leads to a loss of traffic.

Harmful Backlinks: To establish authority, malicious sites will backlink to credible domains. This association can be harmful for target websites as search engines may penalize credible domains if they suspect suspicious backlinks, either lowering its ranking or deindexing its pages.

Reputation Damage: When websites are targeted by SEO poisoning, their reputations can be severely damaged. Website vulnerabilities are exploited by threat actors to inject covert or spammy content into various pages, redirecting users to malicious sites. Brands that unknowingly become associated with malicious or unwanted sites create negative user experiences which can raise doubts about the legitimacy of the brand. 

Signs of SEO Poisoning Attacks

Detecting SEO poisoning attacks can be challenging. However, specific signs can help identify whether a website is poisoned.

  • Excessive and unwanted pop-ups
  • Unauthorized redirects to different sites
  • Unfamiliar and spammy backlinks
  • Sudden and drastic changes in rankings or traffic
  • Deindexed or blocked pages  

How to Defend Against SEO Poisoning Attacks

Defending against SEO poisoning attacks is crucial for organizations to uphold network security and maintain the legitimacy of their websites. Cybersecurity solutions for organizations and users targeted by SEO poisoning attacks include:

SEO Audits

SEO audits evaluate a website’s health, determining its optimization for search engines. Tools such as Google Search Console, SEMrush, and Google Analytics™ can be used to perform audits. SEO Audits cover various aspects, including backlink analysis which identifies any toxic backlinks originating from spam sites. By monitoring the health of a website, organizations stay informed and know to take swift action in the event of an SEO poisoning attack and to disavow harmful links that could be negatively impacting their website’s search rankings. 
Endpoint security solutions protect all endpoints within an organization’s network, preventing the infiltration of malware that could potentially be downloaded from malicious sites. It offers a range of features, such as continuous monitoring, data loss prevention, and incident response, strengthening overall network security.
MDR solutions deliver threat detection, vulnerability scans, and rapid response capabilities. By employing MDR, organizations can effectively monitor their networks for suspicious activity and proactively defend against threat actors seeking to infiltrate a site and launch SEO poisoning attacks.
Cylance® Endpoint Security is a comprehensive Endpoint Security solution that effectively prevents breaches and safeguards against sophisticated threats with advanced Cylance® AI. Our solution natively integrates with BlackBerry® UEM and can also work seamlessly with any UEM solution.