According to data from Statista, South Africa is poised to spend US$787 million on online adverts in 2020. That’s a 14.7% rise on the previous year and placed South Africa firmly in the top 50 countries worldwide with regards to online marketing spend.

Digital marketing as a sector is increasing globally, but in South Africa, this growth rate is even greater. One study from Adobe shows that South Africans are more likely to engage with digital media classified ads than they are with traditional advertising means.

This is perhaps unsurprising, given that the nation's youthful Millenial, Gen Y and Gen Z populations are amenable to social channel marketing.

Plus, with 21 million users logging in to the Internet from a mobile device every day, there's never been a better time for digital marketers to upsell their client base or onboard new clients who need to optimise their sites for mobile.

If Nedbank can build digital trust successfully, even with the recent breach, anyone can, right? Maybe not.

What many of us forget in our eagerness to perform SEO wonders for our clientele is to keep an eye on cyber security — or wrongly assume a basic SSL certificate is enough.

How a breach affects SEO

Dreaded downtime

Downtime means it's not business as usual. Clients, whether a small e-commerce operation or a major multinational, want their websites back up and running as fast as possible. Depending on the type of attack, sites can be down for hours, days or even longer.

In terms of SEO, a site that's always online and running obviously pleases web crawlers more than the site suffering downtime or critical issues on multiple pages.

If a bot crawls a site and finds everything down, rankings won't be immediately affected, the bot might return later and try to re-crawl. But prolonged periods of downtime can result in serious issues and start causing SERP dropdowns.


404 Errors appear when content that was once online is now missing. Users might only know 404 errors are attached to a site when they try to view the content in question but web crawlers notice these errors. Google is quite relaxed when it comes to 404s, but have too many and your SEO will start to suffer.


Since hacked websites are dangerous; Google and other search engines want to stop users from suffering after viewing a compromised site. Long-term SEO penalties are an unfortunate reality for many sites after a hacking incident.


If attackers inject JS, HTML or PHP redirect codes to a site's pages, users can face redirections to malicious content or sites containing viruses and malware. Ultimately, this will result in the site's blacklisting.

To safeguard its users' devices, Google's Safe Browsing helps detect dangerous websites and blocks visitors from accessing them.

How can digital marketers help with cyber security?

While SEO and cybersecurity are viewed as quite separate roles, there are plenty of crossover points. Digital marketers who have little knowledge will do well to educate themselves on this field.

As an added bonus to providing better service to clients, marketers who can run perform open port scans and IP block mapping, for example, also command a much higher fee.

In the absence of your own technical skills, ask the client you're working with to pair you up with a pro. After all, if all the hard work and expense that goes into optimising a site is lost because of security issues, the client won't be impressed.

If you suspect security issues but the client isn't so sure, run a vulnerability scanner on the site and share the results. Before rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck into the nitty-gritty of a site's SEO, consider how secure your own device is.

It's always a good idea to encrypt digital transmissions — particularly when working on sites that may contain sensitive data. A simple VPN download secures your device and closes off potential access points.

A survey by Ping Identity revealed that 78% of consumers would stop engaging with a brand online if that brand had suffered a breach. Losing customers or losing the ability to garner new ones is a real threat to digital marketers, which is also one that's avoidable. 

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