Even if you’ve never heard of the Google Safe Browsing service, you’ve probably used it. Chrome, Firefox and Safari all incorporate the service into their browsers. Services like Trust Inn also use it to help their users know when to avoid a particular website.

Here’s how it works in a browser. When you click on a link to a site, the browser contacts Google and checks whether the website you are about to visit is in the Safe Browsing database. Websites are added to this database, or “blacklisted,” if they are considered dangerous – usually because they have been caught phishing or harboring malware. When you attempt to visit a blacklisted website, the browser first displays a scary-looking page warning you that the site you’re trying to visit may harm your computer.

For site owners, the impact of being blacklisted by the Google Safe Browsing service is catastrophic. All web browsers that rely on the service will begin to show alarming dialogs to people who try to visit the website. With Chrome, Firefox and Safari boasting a combined market share of over 50%, that’s a majority of the Internet.

Most small business owners don’t think website blacklisting concerns them. After all, they don’t traffic in malware or phish their users.

But here’s the danger they are overlooking. Small business websites tend to be developed quickly and inexpensively. Once a website is deployed, little thought is given to its ongoing maintenance. It is treated like a sign hanging on a building or in a window. There’s no need to worry about it as long as it is still around and operating.

The reality is more complicated. A website, like any computer system, is susceptible to hacking. Hackers take advantage of the business owner’s inattention, breaking into websites and infesting them with malware and phishing. If this happens to your site, it will probably be blacklisted. Because Google automates its blacklisting process, your website doesn’t have to be reported; Google will likely find it on their own while indexing your website for their search engine.

So, what can a small business owner do? First, have your website built by a reputable organisation that understands safe design and deployment. Second, retain personnel or a service to manage and monitor your website with scanning tools like Site Scanner. If something does go wrong, you need to find and fix the problem before Google’s next index of your site.

Getting blacklisted in the Safe Browsing database costs far more than just lost site visitors. You can recover your site’s traffic fairly quickly. But even a brief brush with phishing or malware can deal your business’s reputation a blow that could take much longer to recover from.


Dave Hess is the founder of Data Bakery. He’s been designing, building, and operating reliable, secure, user-friendly services and software for 20 years. Data Bakery’s latest innovation is Trust Inn, your trusty web safety companion.

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