What are Hacked Links? (+ How To Recover Your Site)

Aaron Haynes
Apr 3, 2024
hacked links

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You’re cruising, your website humming along…  then BAM! You spot something in Google Search Console that makes your stomach drop—security issues and a drop in traffic. Apparently, your site is advertising those little blue pills that may or may not rhyme with “Niagra” Falls, and, worse, some of your web pages are linking out to adult content sites. How the heck did that happen?

I’m afraid to inform you that you may be dealing with the consequences of hacked links.

Don’t freak out, though. With my help, let’s turn this thing around, equipping you with the skills to clean up the mess and protect your website’s reputation.

What is a Hacked Link?

Hacked links fall into the category of negative SEO—attacks by a third party that harm a website’s visibility in search results. In this case, nefarious actors use Google’s Acceptable Use Policy, specifically prohibited and restricted content, against you.

The process involves negative SEOs hacking a website and injecting URLs into its content. Links that often lead to shady websites that contain malware, adult content, gambling content, spammy content, or affiliate links to low-quality products. This is designed to trigger Google penalties and tank your rankings.

Hidden text, spammy sitewide redirects, and malicious code are commonly used to achieve this. Another favored tactic is to use anchor text that flags Google’s spam filters. Google hates keywords that link to anything that’s… hmm, unpalatable.

So what’s going on here? Who did this?

Perhaps you’ll be surprised to hear that there’s a whole industry behind black hat link insertions. Commonly, one of your competitors hires a negative SEO agency—yes, unfortunately, it does happen and there is such a thing—to purposefully hack and infect your site with hacked links.

Here’s an example of the services offered by one of these negative SEO agencies:

Pretty scary to think that services like this are so readily available to a maliciously-meaning competitor, isn’t it?

The good news? Hackers like easy wins. A few simple steps can make your website a much tougher target, sending hackers scurrying for easier prey. Before we put your defenses in place, though, let’s make sure hacked links are the reason behind your drop in rankings and traffic.

Detective Time: Identifying if You’ve Been Hit by Hacked Links

Before we go losing our heads, let’s find some hard evidence that hacked links are indeed causing your site grief and not something else.

Step 1: Understand the Symptoms

Yes, there’s no doubt that a drop in rankings, tanking site traffic, and de-indexing are tell-tale signs of hacked links. No arguments. That’s undoubtedly true.

BUT it’s important to understand that these are symptoms of many potential problems, including other negative SEO tactics, like toxic backlinks and fake negative reviews. These symptoms are also consistent with algorithm penalties and manual actions.

So don’t just assume hacked links. Let’s be absolutely sure of it.

Step 2: Lean on Your Trusted Friend, GSC

How can we be absolutely sure of it? That’s where good old Google Search Console (GSC) comes in. If Google has detected a potential hack, they will send you an email alert. Follow the link in the email or head to your GSC dashboard and, under the “Security & Manual Actions” tab, click “Security issues.”

Look for warnings about “malware,” “deceptive pages,” “links to harmful downloads,” or warnings about code, content, or URL injection. These are red flags that Google has noticed something fishy. Now, check in with your traffic. Are there any sudden spikes from countries you don’t usually cater to? These are all clues that hacked links are the culprits.

Step 3: Put Google Search Operators to Work

Regardless if you have GSC security issues or not, you can use this trick to find any weird pages that may contain hacked links. Here’s how:

  1. Type in “site:example.com” (replace example.com with your actual domain, obviously).  This tells Google to ONLY show results from your website.
  2. Now scan the results. Normally, you’d see your homepage, blog posts, product pages, etc. But if you spot anything that makes you go, “Huh, I didn’t write that…”, that’s a major red flag. Look for strange URLs with random characters, pages advertising things totally unrelated to your site, and content that’s just plain gibberish or written in a foreign language.

Here’s an example of a page created by this hack:

If you have a large site, there might be some legitimate pages you don’t recognize. A quick way to double-check is to take a portion of the suspicious page’s text, put it in quotes, and do a regular Google search. If it’s a hacked page, chances are it’s been spammed on other sites, too, and it will show up in your search.

Step 4: Dig Through Your Site’s Code

Some hackers are masters of disguise, hiding their malicious links within a website’s code. If you feel up to the task (don’t worry if you aren’t. Code-phobia is a thing), here’s what to watch out for:

  1. <iframe> tags are often used by hackers to embed content from another website. A hacked iframe might look something like this, loading a shady page in the background: <iframe src=”https://dodgy-gambling-site.com” width=”0″ height=”0″ style=”display:none”></iframe>
  2. Hackers can inject JavaScripts that redirect visitors or display spammy content. A hacked script might look like a jumbled mess of characters, clearly out of place in your normal code.
  3. Are there odd links within your content that don’t correspond to the anchor text? A hacked link on a gardening blog might read <a href=”https://buy-cheap-pharma.net”>rare orchids</a>

The Cleanup Operation: Recovery & Beyond

Okay, you’ve played detective. Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and clean up this mess. Let’s get those nasty hacked links out of your site for good.

Step 1: The Time Machine Option (If You’re Lucky)

If you caught the hack early and have regular website backups, this might be your quickest win. How to do this depends on your hosting and how you handle backups, but the general idea is:

  • Restore to a version of your site from before the suspicious stuff appeared in Search Console or your traffic reports.
  • Once you’ve rolled back to a previous backup. Using the steps we discussed previously, conduct your investigations again. That way, you can be sure there’s nothing nefarious lurking that might come back to bite you later down the track.

Step 2: A Manual Cleanup

If backups aren’t an option, or if malicious content remains after a restore, it sucks, but your only option is a manual, hands-on cleanup:

  • Did they inject spammy pages or gibberish text? Time to delete those whole pages, if possible.
  • If they inserted links within your existing content, carefully edit and remove them one by one.
  • Found weird iframes or suspicious scripts? They’ve gotta go. If you’re not sure how to safely remove code, this is definitely a “call in the pros” moment.

Step 3: Consider the Disavow (But Use with Caution)

If Google’s already penalized you and the hacked links were widespread, a disavow file might be necessary. Think of this as the nuclear option. It basically tells Google, “Ignore those shady links. I had nothing to do with them.”

Getting Back on Google’s Good Side

Alright, the worst is over. But remember, even though you’ve cleaned up the hacked links, it might take a little while for Google to trust your site like it used to. Here’s how to get back in their good graces:

Step 1: Tell Google You’ve Fixed the Problem

Once you’ve fixed the issues detected by GSC, click the “Request Review” button. Then, briefly explain what happened and your steps to clean things up. Doing so will submit a request for one of Google’s reviewers to double-check your process and make sure there aren’t any further issues.

Step 2:  Exercise a Little Patience

Don’t expect your rankings to bounce back overnight. Google re-crawls sites at different speeds, and if they slapped you with a penalty, it can take time to rebuild trust. We’re talking weeks, potentially even a few months in serious cases.

Step 3: Submit Your Sitemap (Just in Case)

While Google will eventually re-discover your pages on its own, giving it a nudge can’t hurt.  Submit an updated sitemap through Search Console to make sure they recrawl all your squeaky-clean content.

Prevention & Future-Proofing

Now, I know what you’re thinking… “How in the world do I keep these hackers from messing with my site again?”

Here’s the not-so-fun truth: website security is an annoyingly ongoing battle. There’s no magic setting that makes you 100 percent hack-proof forever. But there are definitely things you can do that make you a much tougher target.

Bulletproof Your Site (As Much As Possible)

  • Keep plugins, themes, and your website software itself updated religiously. Outdated stuff is like leaving your digital front door unlocked for hackers to waltz through.
  • Malware on your computer can compromise your site. Make sure you’ve got decent antivirus software and run regular scans.
  • Treat your website login passwords like you do your banking app credentials. Use complex passwords, never reuse them across multiple websites, and consider using a password manager tool like LastPass to help.
  • A cheap, shady hosting company might save you a few bucks, but it can be a security nightmare. Invest in a reputable provider with good support.
  • Set up two-factor authentication (2FA) for your website login and hosting account. It’ll foil most hacking attempts.

Monitoring for the Future

  • Keep a close eye on your Search Console dashboard for alerts. They’re not perfect, but it’s a good early warning system.
  • If you’ve got a big site or past hack trauma, paid security tools offer more robust monitoring and protection.

Remember, nothing is foolproof, but taking these steps is like putting up high fences and installing a noisy alarm system. Most hackers will move on to an easier target, and that’s what we want.


Phew! You made it through and learned a ton in the process. Give yourself some credit—not everyone could tackle this head-on. While a good security routine lowers your risk, there’s more to the online battle than just dodging the bad guys.

Even the most secure site won’t get far in the search results if it’s not optimized correctly. Think of SEO as the engine that powers your website’s visibility.

 Feeling a bit lost on the technical side? That’s where we, Loganix, come in.

🚀 Let’s chat about an SEO audit and get you ranking where you deserve! 🚀

Hand off the toughest tasks in SEO, PPC, and content without compromising quality

Explore Services

Written by Aaron Haynes on April 3, 2024

CEO and partner at Loganix, I believe in taking what you do best and sharing it with the world in the most transparent and powerful way possible. If I am not running the business, I am neck deep in client SEO.