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Thousands of WordPress sites backdoored with malicious code

Malicious code redirects users to tech support scams, some of which use new “evil cursor” Chrome bug.

 


Thousands of WordPress sites have been hacked and compromised with malicious code this month, according to security researchers at Sucuri and Malwarebytes.

All compromises seem to follow a similar pattern –to load malicious code from a known threat actor– although the entry vector for all these incidents appears to be different.

Researchers believe intruders are gaining access to these sites not by exploiting flaws in the WordPress CMS itself, but vulnerabilities in outdated themes and plugins.

Also: Access to over 3,000 backdoored sites sold on Russian hacking forum

When they gain access to a site, they plant a backdoor for future access and make modifications to the site’s code.

In most cases, they modify PHP or JavaScript files to load malicious code, although some users have reported seeing modifications made to database tables as well.

Malwarebytes security researcher Jérôme Segura said this malicious code filters users visiting the compromised sites and redirects some to tech support scams.

CNET: How to avoid tech support scams

He says some of the traffic patterns seen during the redirection process match the patterns of a well-known traffic distribution system used by several malware distribution campaigns.

Segura also said that some of tech support scams that users are landing on are using the “evil cursor” Chrome bug to prevent users from closing the malicious site’s tab, a trick that the researcher first spotted last week.

TechRepublic: Why that email from your boss could be a scam waiting to happen

This WordPress site hijacking campaign appears to have started this month, according to Sucuri, and has intensified in recent days, according to Segura.

Googling just one of the pieces of the malicious JavaScript code added to the hacked WordPress sites reveals just a small portion of the total number of hacked sites. In this case, this string search yielded over 2,500 results, including a corporate site belonging to Expedia Group, the parent company behind the Expedia portal.

wp-spam-campaign.png

Last week, ZDNet revealed that attackers had been scanning the Internet in an attempt to exploit a recent vulnerability in a popular WordPress plugin.

While Sucuri did not find confirm that this vulnerability was now being used in this recent wave of site hacks, the company did confirm our initial report, based on WordFence’s telemetry.

Mobile-First Indexing: Your Guide to Google’s Big Shift

Google-mobile-indexing

Mobile-First Indexing: Your Guide to Google’s Big Shift

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As Google makes the big change to mobile-first indexing, it’s important that your site is ready for the shift. Are you fully prepared?

Let’s start at the beginning.

What Is Mobile-First Indexing?

The mobile-first initiative is an effort to address the growing percentage of mobile-users in today’s search landscape.

Back in March, on their Webmaster Central Blog, Google announced that they are rolling out their mobile-first indexing initiative more broadly which is a big change to how Google crawls and indexes your site. The push is on now and Mobile Indexing is being fully implemented.

What’s Changing about Google’s Rankings?

Per Google, “Mobile-first indexing means Google will predominantly use the mobile version of your websites content for indexing and ranking.”

But what does that mean?

Currently, Google crawls and indexes your site based on the desktop version of your site and the content that exists there.  With this change, Google will be looking at your mobile site first and the content on that version to determine how your site is ranked.

For example:

Desktop vs. mobile versions of your site; Google will now index the mobile version of your site.

Over the course of the last year, Google has been slowly experimenting with a small percentage of sites to make the switch to crawling, indexing, and ultimately ranking sites based on their mobile experience, not their desktop as they always have.

This doesn’t mean your desktop site isn’t important anymore, it just means that they will be looking at it as a secondary source, not the primary one for crawling, indexing, and ranking as it has been in the past.  But even if your site is doing well organically, if it’s not responsive (mobile friendly), your ranking will drop substantially.  Don’t lose those years of building your search engine position, contact us today.

How Mobile-First Indexing May Impact Your Site

Depending on how you handle mobile, this change may or may not directly affect your site.

  • If your site is built in responsive design, you will see no impact, as your site adapts to all devices.
  • If you have a separate m. site (or something similar) and your primary content does not exist on it, then you are at risk of seeing a negative impact as Google will no longer be looking at your desktop version.
  • If you do not have a mobile site/experience then this change will negatively impact you.  Also, it’s 2018: if you don’t have a mobile-friendly site then you have much larger issues that this change.

What Mobile-First Best Practices Can I Follow To Ensure I Maximize My Opportunity?

Google has published an entire list of best practices for mobile-first indexing on their developers’ blog.

While there are many things to consider and you should read through the entire list above, two major points are ensuring you have mobile-friendly content and that your site loads as fast as possible.  Site speed is becoming an increasingly important ranking factor, which coincides with users’ needs to get everything as quickly and seamlessly as possible.  With the rapid adoption of AMP (accelerated mobile pages) and the popularity of Progressive Web Apps (PWA’s) growing, it’s not surprising to see Google pushing site owners in this direction.

How Do I Know If Google is Using Mobile-First Indexing for My Site?

Google will be notifying site owners that their sites are migrating to mobile-first indexing through Search Console.  The message will look like this:

Example of Google's notification of mobile first indexation

So you need to make sure that if you have an m. version of your site, it is verified in Search Console.

You will also see a significant increase in the Smartphone Googlebot crawl rate and Google will show the mobile version of pages in search results and cached pages.

What Do We Think About This?

This is a major change in how Google interacts with our websites and makes sense as more and more traffic continues to move to mobile.  While your desktop site will certainly remain important and Google will not be ignoring it, users have been trending towards mobile usage for years and this is the natural progression of our industry.

Companies need to take notice of this change.  Thinking mobile-first should not be something that is kicked down the road and moved down on priority lists, from a search perspective this should be top of mind for all organizations large and small.

Should you be concerned?  If you haven’t been paying attention to how your site functions on a mobile device, this probably isn’t going to pan out for you.  The good news is that all websites are living documents and can be changed and updated.  If you are coming in a little late to the game on mobile, then now is the time to improve that experience and ensure your site is set up to provide value to mobile users.

This is yet another banner that Google is waving to signal the importance of your mobile experience.  If you have been neglecting it, now is the time to rectify that and putting people and resources behind it.

If you think your site is not mobile friendly or have tested it and know, contact us for advice to bring your website up to speed with the current technologies.


It’s alive! Image SEO is back from the dead

In the wake of Google’s removal of the ‘view image’ button, contributor Anthony Muller polled top news and entertainment sites to share their Google image traffic data. The results? Overwhelmingly positive — image search is back.

Image search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing attributes associated with images.

The file size, file name, alt attributes, captions, XML sitemap inclusion and structured data on images all play a role in the visibility of images within search engines.

All image traffic from search took a huge hit in January of 2013, when Google decided to add the “view image” button, content providers complained of drastic traffic declines across many verticals. From a study done by Define Media Group:

These declines were even more drastic for large enterprise-level brands that had spent considerable effort optimizing their image catalogs, content management system (CMS), captions and eXtensible markup language (XML) sitemaps for the search engines.

This decline was due to searchers who clicked “view image” being sent to a page with only the image asset and not to the site hosting or licensing the image when using Google image search.

Getty bites back

Approximately three years after Google added the “view image” button, Getty images filed an anti-competition complaint with the European Commission (EC) against the search giant. The gist of the complaint was that Google was using Getty images in a way that was diverting users from Getty’s website.

Fast forward to February 14, 2018 (Valentine’s Day), and it appears that Google blinked.

Google had reversed their stance and as of February 15, 2018, removed the “view image” button. A message from Google SearchLiaison tweeted confirmation that these changes (view images) came about due to the settlement with Getty Images.

Image SEO rises again

It has been fewer than 90 days since Google made the change, and I was chomping at the bit to see just how immediate the effects would be. I reached out to a number of different properties across different worldwide verticals and asked them to share their Google image traffic data.

The response to my data requests was very positive. Overall, I compiled the percentage increases from 58 different properties worldwide.

These increases were from Google images pre- and post-February 14, 2018. All sites fell into one of three different verticals, entertainment, photography and news, with a large majority being news-oriented. All sites surveyed have significantly large catalogs of images (over 100,000).

Since the only number reported from all sites was a percentage increase in image traffic from Google, it was the only number I could properly find the mean increase for at this time.

The overall data from the 58 different sites, shows an average of a 37 percent increase in clicks from Google image search.

In the image traffic data below, we can see how a single enterprise-sized entertainment site with millions of images spiked for approximately an additional 600,000 visitors from Google images every month. While this was on the higher end of the mean increase, the 47 percent seen below is pretty indicative of how most saw their traffic increase post-Valentine’s Day, with some variations.

Take note of how the impressions and position remain relatively unchanged, while the click-through rate (CTR) and clicks spike:

Some properties were generous enough to go on the record with the increases they have witnessed.

Dylan Howell from Stocksy.com reports on their Google traffic on over 1 million images after the change:

From recent data, we can see that this change greatly improved the rate of viewers visiting our site from these (image) results pages. The number of clicks from these pages to our site increased by over 50 percent from previous levels.

Serban Enache, CEO of Dreamstime, reports that his company’s traffic from Google images increased by approximately 30 percent to their catalog of 75 million images. He added:

We also saw a 10 percent increase in conversions, so this traffic previously downloaded images from Google Images. Since they purchased a commercial license afterwards, we can safely assume their past downloads were copyright infringements.

Both Stocksy and Dreamstime commented that the changes were “positive” for both site owners and photographers. As a content creator and a firsthand witness to the traffic devastation for some clients, I wholeheartedly agree with them.

Some users of image search were surprisingly upset at the change and within a week, Chrome extensions were popping up in the Chrome web store which promised to return the “view image” functionality for those who want it. I don’t quite understand the need for the button, since right-click functionality still exists to open images in a new tab, but I guess I am just old-school.

Can what was lost be fully regained?

If many sites lost 70 percent of their image search traffic in 2013, why aren’t we seeing similar increases? It is anyone’s guess, but could be, in part, from other engines (Bing, DuckDuckGo) still using the “view image” functionality. From Duck Duck Go:

In addition, I have seen a reluctance from many clients to spend resources on image optimization post-2013. They just didn’t feel that the benefit or traffic would be worth the resource cost. This lack of attention or resources placed into image optimization could have stunted the rebound as well.

One thing is for certain. It is time to reprioritize image SEO in-house or for clients taking a lackadaisical approach to optimizing images in the wake of the 2013 Google change. The upside will be far greater for those who are already poised to benefit from the changes.

The Ultimate Guide to WordPress and GDPR Compliance – Everything You Need to Know

GDPR-general-data-protection-regulation. Internet-business-safety.

This is a concise, simple explanation of GDPR brought to you by Syed Balkhi and his Editorial Staff of WordPress experts.

 

Are you confused by GDPR, and how it will impact your WordPress site? GDPR, short for General Data Protection Regulation, is a European Union law that you have likely heard about. We have received dozens of emails from users asking us to explain GDPR in plain English and share tips on how to make your WordPress site GDPR compliant. In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about GDPR and WordPress (without the complex legal stuff).

 

Disclaimer: We are not lawyers. Nothing on this website should be considered legal advice.

To help you easily navigate through our ultimate guide to WordPress and GDPR Compliance, we have created a table of content below:

Table of Content

What is GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a European Union (EU) law taking effect on May 25, 2018. The goal of GDPR is to give EU citizens control over their personal data and change the data privacy approach of organizations across the world.

What is GDPR?

You’ve likely gotten dozens of emails from companies like Google and others regarding GDPR, their new privacy policy, and bunch of other legal stuff. That’s because the EU has put in hefty penalties for those who are not in compliance.

Fines

Basically after May 25th, 2018, businesses that are not in compliance with GDPR’s requirement can face large fines up to 4% of a company’s annual global revenue OR €20 million (whichever is greater). This is enough reason to cause wide-spread panic among businesses around the world.

This brings us to the big question that you might be thinking about:

Does GDPR apply to my WordPress site?

The answer is YES. It applies to every business, large and small, around the world (not just in the European Union).

If your website has visitors from European Union countries, then this law applies to you.

But don’t panic, this isn’t the end of the world.

While GDPR has the potential to escalate to those high level of fines, it will start with a warning, then a reprimand, then a suspension of data processing, and if you continue to violate the law, then the large fines will hit.

GDPR Fines and Penalties

The EU isn’t some evil government that is out to get you. Their goal is to protect consumers, average people like you and me from reckless handling of data / breaches because it’s getting out of control.

The maximum fine part in our opinion is largely to get the attention of large companies like Facebook and Google, so this regulation is NOT ignored. Furthermore, this encourage companies to actually put more emphasis on protecting the rights of people.

Once you understand what is required by GDPR and the spirit of the law, then you will realize that none of this is too crazy. We will also share tools / tips to make your WordPress site GDPR compliant.

What is required under GDPR?

The goal of GDPR is to protect user’s personally identifying information (PII) and hold businesses to a higher standard when it comes to how they collect, store, and use this data.

The personal data includes: name, emails, physical address, IP address, health information, income, etc.

GDPR Personal Data

While the GDPR regulation is 200 pages long, here are the most important pillars that you need to know:

Explicit Consent – if you’re collecting personal data from an EU resident, then you must obtain explicit consent that’s specific and unambiguous. In other words, you can’t just send unsolicited emails to people who gave you their business card or filled out your website contact form because they DID NOT opt-in for your marketing newsletter (that’s called SPAM by the way, and you shouldn’t be doing that anyways).

For it to be considered explicit consent, you must require a positive opt-in (i.e no pre-ticked checkbox), contain clear wording (no legalese), and be separate from other terms & conditions.

Rights to Data – you must inform individuals where, why, and how their data is processed / stored. An individual has the right to download their personal data and an individual also has the right to be forgotten meaning they can ask for their data to be deleted.

This will make sure that when you hit Unsubscribe or ask companies to delete your profile, then they actually do that (hmm, go figure). I’m looking at you Zenefits, still waiting for my account to be deleted for 2 years and hoping that you stop sending me spam emails just because I made the mistake of trying out your service.

Breach Notification – organizations must report certain types of data breaches to relevant authorities within 72 hours, unless the breach is considered harmless and poses no risk to individual data. However if a breach is high-risk, then the company MUST also inform individuals who’re impacted right away.

This will hopefully prevent cover-ups like Yahoo that was not revealed until the acquisition.

Data Protection Officers – if you are a public company or process large amounts of personal information, then you must appoint a data protection officer. Again this is not required for small businesses. Consult an attorney if you’re in doubt.

GDPR Data Protection Officer

To put it in plain English, GDPR makes sure that businesses can’t go around spamming people by sending emails they didn’t ask for. Businesses can’t sell people’s data without their explicit consent (good luck getting this consent). Businesses have to delete user’s account and unsubscribe them from email lists if the user asks you to do that. Businesses have to report data breaches and overall be better about data protection.

Sounds pretty good, in theory at least.

Ok so now you are probably wondering what do you need to do to make sure that your WordPress site is GDPR compliant.

Well, that really depends on your specific website (more on this later).

Let us start by answering the biggest question that we’ve gotten from users:

Is WordPress GDPR Compliant?

Yes, as of WordPress 4.9.6, the WordPress core software is GDPR compliant. WordPress core team has added several GDPR enhancements to make sure that WordPress is GDPR compliant. It’s important to note that when we talk about WordPress, we’re talking about self-hosted WordPress.org (see the difference: WordPress.com vs WordPress.org).

Having said that, due to the dynamic nature of websites, no single platform, plugin or solution can offer 100% GDPR compliance. The GDPR compliance process will vary based on the type of website you have, what data you store, and how you process data on your site.

Ok, so you might be thinking what does this mean in plain English?

Well, by default WordPress 4.9.6 now comes with the following GDPR enhancement tools:

Comments Consent

WordPress Comments Opt-in for GDPR

By default, WordPress used to store the commenters name, email and website as a cookie on the user’s browser. This made it easier for users to leave comments on their favorite blogs because those fields were pre-populated.

Due to GDPR’s consent requirement, WordPress has added the comment consent checkbox. The user can leave a comment without checking this box. All it would mean is that they would have to manually enter their name, email, and website every time they leave a comment.

Data Export and Erase Feature

WordPress Data Handling - GDPR

WordPress offers site owners the ability to comply with GDPR’s data handling requirements and honor user’s request for exporting personal data as well as removal of user’s personal data.

The data handling features can be found under the Tools menu inside WordPress admin.

Privacy Policy Generator

WordPress Privacy Policy Generator for GDPR

WordPress now comes with a built-in privacy policy generator. It offers a pre-made privacy policy template and offers you guidance in terms of what else to add, so you can be more transparent with users in terms of what data you store and how you handle their data.

These three things are enough to make a default WordPress blog GDPR compliant. However, it is very likely that your website has additional features that will also need to be in compliance.

Areas on Your Website that are Impacted by GDPR

As a website owner, you might be using various WordPress plugins that store or process data like contact formsanalyticsemail marketingonline storemembership sites, etc.

Depending on which WordPress plugins you are using on your website, you would need to act accordingly to make sure that your website is GDPR compliant.

A lot of the best WordPress plugins have already gone ahead and added GDPR enhancement features. Let’s take a look at some of the common areas that you would need to address:

Google Analytics

Like most website owners, you’re likely using Google Analytics to get website stats. This means that it is possible that you’re collecting or tracking personal data like IP addresses, user IDs, cookies and other data for behavior profiling. To be GDPR compliant, you need to do one of the following:

  1. Anonymize the data before storage and processing begins
  2. Add an overlay to the site that gives notice of cookies and ask users for consent prior to tracking

Both of these are fairly difficult to do if you’re just pasting Google Analytics code manually on your site. However, if you’re using MonsterInsights, the most popular Google Analytics plugin for WordPress, then you’re in luck.

They have released an EU compliance addon that helps automate the above process. MonsterInsights also has a very good blog post about all you need to know about GDPR and Google Analytics (this is a must read if you’re using Google Analytics on your site).

MonsterInsights EU Compliance Addon

Contact Forms

If you are using a contact form in WordPress, then you may have to add extra transparency measures especially if you’re storing the form entries or using the data for marketing purposes.

Below are the things you might want to consider for making your WordPress forms GDPR compliant:

  • Get explicit consent from users to store their information.
  • Get explicit consent from users if you are planning to use their data for marketing purposes (i.e adding them to your email list).
  • Disable cookies, user-agent, and IP tracking for forms.
  • Make sure you have a data-processing agreement with your form providers if you are using a SaaS form solution.
  • Comply with data-deletion requests.
  • Disable storing all form entries (a bit extreme and not required by GDPR). You probably shouldn’t do this unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

The good part is that if you’re using WordPress plugins like WPFormsGravity FormsNinja Forms, Contact Form 7, etc, then you don’t need a Data Processing Agreement because these plugins DO NOT store your form entries on their site. Your form entries are stored in your WordPress database.

Simply adding a required consent checkbox with clear explanation should be good enough for you to make your WordPress forms GDPR compliant.

WPForms, the contact form plugin we use on WPBeginner, has added several GDPR enhancements to make it easy for you to add a GDPR consent field, disable user cookies, disable user IP collection, and disable entries with a single click.

GDPR Form Fields in WPForms

Email Marketing Opt-in Forms

Similar to contact forms, if you have any email marketing opt-in forms like popups, floating bars, inline-forms, and others, then you need to make sure that you’re collecting explicit consent from users before adding them to your list.

This can be done with either:

  1. Adding a checkbox that user has to click before opt-in
  2. Simply requiring double-opt-in to your email list

Top lead-generation solutions like OptinMonster has added GDPR consent checkboxes and other necessary features to help you make your email opt-in forms compliant. You can read more about the GDPR strategies for marketers on the OptinMonster blog.

WooCommerce / Ecommerce

If you’re using WooCommerce, the most popular eCommerce plugin for WordPress, then you need to make sure your website is in compliance with GDPR.

The WooCommerce team has prepared a comprehensive guide for store owners to help them be GDPR compliant.

Retargeting Ads

If your website is running retargeting pixels or retargeting ads, then you will need to get user’s consent. You can do this by using a plugin like Cooke Notices.

Best WordPress Plugins for GDPR Compliance

There are several WordPress plugins that can help automate some aspects of GDPR compliance for you. However, no plugin can offer 100% compliance due to the dynamic nature of websites.

Beware of any WordPress plugin that claims to offer 100% GDPR compliance. They likely don’t know what they’re talking about, and it’s best for you to avoid them completely.

Below is our list of recommended plugins for facilitating GDPR compliance:

  • MonsterInsights – if you’re using Google Analytics, then you should use their EU compliance addon.
  • WPForms – by far the most user-friendly WordPress contact form plugin. They offer GDPR fields and other features.
  • Cookies Notice – popular free plugin to add an EU cookie notice. Integrates well with top plugins like MonsterInsights and others.
  • Delete Me – a free plugin that allows users to automatically delete their profile on your site.
  • OptinMonster – advanced lead generation software that offers clever targeting features to boost conversions while being GDPR compliant.
  • Shared Counts – instead of loading the default share buttons which add tracking cookies, this plugin load static share buttons while displaying share counts.

We will continue to monitor the plugin ecosystem to see if any other WordPress plugin stands out and offer substantial GDPR compliance features.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re ready or not, GDPR will go in effect on May 25, 2018. If your website is not compliant before then, don’t panic. Just continue to work towards compliance and get it done asap.

The likelihood of you getting a fine the day after this rule goes in effect are pretty close to zero because the European Union’s website states that first, you’ll get a warning, then a reprimand and fines are the last step if you fail to comply and knowingly ignore the law.

The EU is not out to get you. They’re doing this to protect user’s data and restore people’s trust in online businesses. As the world goes digital, we need these standards. With the recent data breaches of large companies, it’s important that these standards are adopted globally.

It will be good for all involved. These new rules will help boost consumer confidence and in turn help grow your business.

We hope this article helped you learn about WordPress and GDPR compliance. We will do our best to keep it updated as more information or tools get released.

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Additional Resources

Legal Disclaimer / Disclosure

We are not lawyers. Nothing on this website should be considered legal advice. Due to the dynamic nature of websites, no single plugin or platform can offer 100% legal compliance. When in doubt, it’s best to consult a specialist internet law attorney to determine if you are in compliance with all applicable laws for your jurisdictions and your use cases.

WPBeginner founder, Syed Balkhi, is also the co-founder of OptinMonsterWPForms, and MonsterInsights.

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