URL hijacking

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URL hijacking means that a website is not linked directly, but via a redirect.

Definition

URL hijacking is when a URL is accidentally deleted from the search engine index and replaced by another one. The new, incorrect URL links to the original landing page via a redirect. Because the wrong URL simultaneously receives the ranking of the original page, URL hijacking can result in a significant drop in visitors.

Why do you use redirects?

There are numerous reasons to use URL redirects. For example, it is common practice to permanently redirect so-called typo domains to the correct URL. Accordingly, googel.de also leads to the largest search engine google.de.

The constant redirection to the correct web address of the main page is also common practice. Also, webmasters use permanent redirects, for example, to redirect users to the new website after it gets a new domain.

Temporary 302 redirects, on the other hand, are supposed to display content on a different URL until further notice, if you want it to remain accessible anyway. Webmasters usually use the manual redirection type with the intention that the content can be seen again on the original URL at a later point in time.

However, three scenarios for temporary redirects lead to URL hijacking or have that as their goal:

  • 302 redirect used by mistake: You can link to someone else’s web project as a webmaster without bad intentions with a temporary redirect. Because it can happen accidentally, since you originally wanted to set a permanent redirect. In addition, the URL redirection module(rewrite engine) of the Apache web server sets 302 redirections by default.
  • Dynamically generated URLs: Using PHP, you can create dynamic content for your own website. However, PHP scripts often use the 302 status code to create temporary redirects. These scripts are used especially in directories for web addresses, but also in numerous content management systems.
  • Deliberate URL hijacking: Criminals are always happy to use URL hijacking to drive indexation of their own content. In doing so, they want to “hijack” websites that rank particularly well. However, this is not sustainable or legal, which is why it is part of black hat SEO.

How to protect yourself from URL hijacking

The higher search engines rank your site(s), the worse a possible URL hijacking of the indexed pages. But you can’t protect yourself against that with software. You need to pay attention to your SEO skills. Accordingly, you need to scrutinize new and existing backlinks at regular intervals to identify problematic URLs. Numerous tools and services such as SEMrush will help you with this, LinkResearchToolsSISTRIX or the Google Search Console.

Google Search Console includes a URL removal tool to remove unwanted redirects linking to your site from the search index. Before doing so, however, you should ask the webmaster to adjust the redirect in order to preserve the possibility of retaining the backlinks in question.

If the original page is already out of the index, you should ask the search engine provider to restore the original ranking after the revision or deletion of the damaging backlink.

URL Hijacking and SEO

URL hijacking occurs mainly because Google bots misinterpret 302 redirects. This can have a huge impact on your website’s SEO. Black Hat SEOs can use this to push their own projects into front SERP positions. However, this is neither a sensible SEO strategy nor a sustainable improvement. Deliberate URL hijacking is criminal.

In theory, URL hijacking can be used to replace one spam web page with another, causing the original page to disappear from the SERPs entirely. Thus, the traffic to this domain is significantly reduced. Fortunately, that hardly ever happens these days. If it does,  it is usually a mistake on the part of the website owner.

Tip: Pay attention to redirects of the respective websites and always keep an eye on the ranking of your keywords. Ideally, you should avoid 302 redirects and rather use a 301 redirect.

Conclusion

You should refrain from URL hijacking as it is illegal and criminal. If you fall victim to a “URL hijacking” this can result in a drop in traffic. Always make sure that you are properly positioned in terms of SEO to prevent this from happening.

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