Black Hat Referral Traffic

Getting Bots to Increase your traffic, The Black Hat way

Saturday is the day when I take a hot steaming cup of coffee and start looking at how my blog has fared over the week. This is one time which I allot to all personal projects. As some of these projects come to a closure, I would be more than happy to talk about these here.

So, I open up Google Analytics and boom, I see a small surge in traffic. Curious to know the source, I look at the Source/Medium acquisition report –

Huffington Post or Hulfington Post?

Huffington Post or Hulfington Post?

A quick inspection has me excited at first. Did I really get linked by HuffPo? Really?

Another inspection showed that it was not HuffPo, but a URL that seemed to be HuffPo … it’s most likely a landing gate or even worse a redirect to some other page. Scary stuff. I’ll delve into the scary parts later, let’s see the extent to which this goes.

Initially, I was happy and wanted to know whether it was some random comment that I might have left on the site, so I looked at the same report with the Referral Path as the secondary dimension.

 Referral Path as the secondary dimension

You can now know which page is linking back to your site. So I concatenated the Source / Medium and the Referral Path to get to the URL. You do not want to do this, let me just type it down for you here –  /2015/01/15/woman_revenge_6424828.html

Alternatively, I also went to HuffPo and searched for this article. Needless to say zero results found.

Why this scares me?

The URL for the brave ones leads to a series of redirects. I don’t want to do this on a Windows machine folks! The minute I realized this is some weird ploy to get traffic, I killed the browser window.

The reason this scares me is that this has been slowly a growing trend of growth hacks for companies. It was most famously exploited by SEM Alt, a professional webmaster tool whose bot leaves a signature in the referrals section and leads you to the campaign landing page. If I take a look at the Referrals section on my site, I see more and more such spammy signatures –

Fake Referrals

In the above screenshot, I have marked all the spammy links which are sending referral “traffic” to this site. If you go through all the sources, almost all barring an organic source … everything is spammy traffic.

Look at the bounce rate, would this make you happy? Of course not!

I did some more digging around Analytics to find out where is this fake source of referrals coming from (Audience > Geo > Location). Needless to say, that all of those sources were coming from one city – Samara Oblast (Russia).

Russian Fake Referrals
Russian Fake Referrals

What can a webmaster do?

Well, tighten up the hatches for once. These bots are crawling your site and someone with malicious intent could always look at the site for vulnerabilities. WordPress if not properly protected is notorious for being insecure. However, there are a whole set of plug-ins and practices which will ensure that your WordPress is safe.

There are methods where these bots can be filtered out of the GA reports. For sake of data sanctity, we should do that … that would also ensure that my referral traffic (now wrongly reported as 25% of the traffic) would go to just less than 1%.

What can I do to avoid these numbers?

In case, if you are a webmaster and do not want to see such list of referral links in your referral traffic report, here’s what you need to do.

Go to Google Analytics, move to the Admin section. In this, go to the Property column and expand the Tracking Info section. Within this, shift to the Referral Exclusion site.

Let’s say for example, I want to exclude the domain (this is one more example of such a spammy bot). Then I will add this in the Referral Exclusion list.

Should I try this tactic?

This tactic is fairly simple to pull off! Write a small bot which would crawl different sites and leave the referral signature on the analytics of those sites. Curious webmasters (such as myself) would always visit the referral sites to see who is sending this referral traffic.

It is a black hat tactic and generally I would frown upon this. Not only are you unnecessarily overloading those sites with your bots traffic, but also you are screwing up their analytics data. All for a simple visit to your site.

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