Penalty or foul Play
We all know how important it is to secure your webmaster tool account. However, for a short time last week Google left its users open to attack due to a security glitch. This is now fixed.
Add to this the recent addition of the new disavow tool, it has now become even more crucial to never let your webmaster tool account fall into the wrong hands.
When something goes belly-up, trouble shooting a fall in traffic or rankings can be a pain but one should never dismiss a compromised Google account as part of your diagnosis. Below are four ways in which someone with ill intentions getting access your webmaster tools can damage your account.
#1 Site Links
Someone having unauthorised access to your webmaster tools can wreak havoc on your site by attacking your site links. A fall in conversations from branded search referrals might be the first sign of something being wrong. In a short time all pages on your site can be demoted and removed. Removed links as far as I'm aware cannot be brought back and key pages site-links could technically disappear forever.
#2 Change of Address
Having all of you hard earned links forwarded to another site is a piece of cake once you account is compromised. Google allows you to redirect an existing domain to another site that is verified within you account. A hacker can simply setup and authenticate of their domains from within your account then have all your links redirected to their site.
A malicious user accessing your webmaster tool account can make your life a nightmare by de-indexing your site through the Remove URLs section. One day your site is fine, the next you start to loose traffic. If you are a search expert, you may be able to identify the problem within an hour or two after digging around. But for a someone who has less understanding of what might be the cause of the problem, it may take much longer for to find what went wrong.
Why are my traffic falling off, is it a panda, is it penguin, which of my links are bad, oh nooo I'm being de-indexed as well, definitely a penalty then, are other sites in my vertical are affected – None of the above actually, someone simply got into your account and disallowed your site.
#4 Google Disavow Links
Google has recently released a new tool that allows webmasters to tell Google which links to ignore. Once uploaded, Google will then discount the effect of any links whether good or bad. However, before you upload your files, there is a warning that clearly tells you that incorrect use can severely harm the performance of your site. In other words, you can F*$k up your own rankings.
If access to you account is gained, this is another point of attack. A disgruntled employee, friend or business partner can simply upload all your external links to the disavow tool. One day your site is dancing along fine, the next you are pulling your hair out.
At this time of writing the disavow tool does not appear to be linked within the webmaster tool. So if you are attacked this way it may take you a while to find out what the error is.
Also, this is also one attack you will not recover from fairly quickly. Google webmaster blog has a specific question on crawl time.
Q: How soon after I upload a file will the links be ignored
A: We need to re-crawl and re-index the URLs you disavowed before your disavowals go into effect, which can take multiple weeks.
This means once you find and eliminated the error, you may have to wait a while before getting your rankings back. By then, the damage may have been done.