1. Blatant Lies! It all started on a cool sunny Sunday in San Diego when the New England Patriots had just been eliminated from the playoffs and life was seemingly good. I figured I’d revel in the playoff defeat of my AFC divisional foes (Let’s Go JETS) by perusing through ESPN’s vast library of postgame coverage and analysis. Suddenly, it appeared at the bottom of my screen. The headline read, “10 Celebs Whose Kids Became Celebs Too.” Such a spammy and enticing headline that no mere mortal could resist. Who in their right mind would click that link? I did. Maybe it was the picture of Michael B. Jordan next to basketball great and living legend, Michael Jordan. I felt the red-faced prickly feeling of ignoring the obvious. I mean, I’ve worn Air Jordan’s, watched The Wire, and most recently watched Creed. Shouldn’t this be a bit more blatant? Had I missed the connection after all these years? I quickly opened the article and scrolled through to find the matching image, but there was no section linking the two Jordans. I tore through the article to see if I had missed anything. I quickly Googled both celebrities out of frustration to verify the connection. It turns out, Michael B. Jordan is the son of Michael Jordan. According to Wikipedia, Michael B. Jordan is the son of Michael Jordan… the caterer! And it was at this moment, I hated the art of clickbaiting. I felt foolish, hoodwinked, and bamboozled! 2. Bad First Impressions! Why was I so upset over a single piece of content which didn’t meet my expectations? Was it because the content was simplistic and basic? No, it was more than bad content. To put it plainly, I was lied to by a deceptive image, which didn’t match examples in the article. In other words, I was upset because I was lied to. As an SEO, I was horrified by the misleading title. We are taught to create content with a purpose. Whether it’s a guest post or onsite blog, good SEO creates relevant content that matches user intent. Often times, in the case of clickbaiting, the content doesn’t deliver or simply isn’t good. Now think about businesses using this type of content delivery system. Is this the first interaction you’d like to have with a customer? According to Henry Ellis of EConsultancy, “sites like Buzzfeed isn’t to sell you a product or service, to push an opinion or a view. Their purpose is to generate page views, which in turn generates ad revenue.” With that said, the intent of clickbaiters isn’t to develop relationships, but to garner social engagement at all costs. For smaller businesses emulating a larger clickbait content company like Buzzfeed, you risk driving business away by providing time-wasting content. 3. Padding The Stats! In the age of digital marketing, content is king (sometimes). Whether it’s a blog post or news article, we devour and share content amongst friends, family, and acquaintances. With Google Panda recently being included in Google’s core algorithm update, content marketing is and has been an essential strategy for online marketers and businesses. As impressions and clicks grow, marketers use quantitative data to determine a piece of content’s ROI, which also determines the value of placements and clicks. Why does this matter? Companies like Buzzfeed make profit from clicks. Competitors are constantly pumping out subpar content, which creates a need for quick disposable content created with the sole intent of the social share. According to the Atlantic, what we see is “the repetitiveness of its style suggests a rather cynical ploy to lasso cheap attention rather than fully engage an audience hunting anything more than a dopamine rush.” So it’s all about the money. Cheap content and a high click-through-rate are two factors that can raise bounce rates and drive away traffic. With the larger content companies garnering so many social views, it may seem like a great idea to click bait. Remember, with different business models come different goals. So that clickbait piece you put together may do more harm than good!
Image courtesy of Christian Barmala
What’s the Scoop about Referral Spam Traffic?In the world of SEO and online marketing, there is something out there that haunts us day and night, and keeps attacking and slashing like a villain from those terribly great horror movies from the 80’s. This culprit is Spam Referral Traffic. It is the talk of the town mainly because it keeps multiplying, there currently isn’t a cure-all solution for it, and the major search engines, like Google, haven’t made any major progress to put a stop to it. I know that a lot of people have discussed this topic, and there are many sources out on tips and tricks on how to get rid of (some) of it. However, I wanted to discuss exactly WHAT spam referral traffic is, WHY it is, and then provide the latest tips and tricks on HOW to get rid of it.
WHAT is this Referral Spam?Spam referral traffic is essentially “fake traffic” that shows up within a website’s analytics metrics. They show up as URLs in the referral section of your reporting and because referral traffic is one of the major source categories within analytics, having this data showing up within the data can severely compromise the data for that website. This is especially the case if it’s a younger or smaller website that doesn’t get a lot of traffic on an average per month basis. There are “good bots” and “bad bots” that crawl websites throughout the internet. An example of a “good bot” is Googlebot. And we have to be very nice to this “good bot,” especially knowing that it determines your rankings on Google. But there are “bad bots” out there as well, and many of them are the source of this Spam Referral Traffic. This traffic comes from “bad bots” that people create for spamming purposes. The majority of spam referral traffic is known as “Ghost Referrers.” And they are called this because they never actually visit your website, but in fact go after your Google Analytics directly. The way that they accomplish this is through Google’s own Measurement Protocol, and by utilizing this, the spammers submit their data directly to the Google Analytics data. Ohow featured a pretty cool infographic that shows how Ghost Spam Works. I have included a shot of this below:
WHY is there Spam Referral traffic?Ultimately, the spammers are trying to get traffic back to their websites. So when people see these URLs within their site’s Google Analytics data, more often than not, curiosity will take over, people will navigate to that website in order to see what it is, and then they got you! Mission accomplished. These spammers are sending their “bad bots” to thousands of websites a day, and even if a small number of the website owners are navigating to these sites on a daily basis, that is a consistent flow of traffic to their sites! These people use the enticement of the steady flow of traffic as a selling point, and try to sell their services, or ad placements locations on their sites to potential customers. How do they sleep at night? 😉
HOW to tell if you have a Spam Referral Traffic Problem?If there is a mystery URL showing up in your analytics data, and you suspect that it might be spam referral traffic, there are a couple of ways to identify if it is in fact spam traffic.
- First is the name of the site. If the URL says something suspicious like “free-seo.com” or one of my favorites, “googlsucks.com” then chances are, it’s a spam site. Ohow provided a list of some of the most common spam referral sources here.
- Second is the Bounce Rate. Each and every one of these spam referrals will show a 100% bounce rate within the data.
- Third would be the Time On Site metrics, which will usually show up as a “0.00.”
HOW can I get rid of this Spam referral traffic?One thing to point out is that there currently isn’t a simple one-step solution to get rid of this traffic. However, people have come up with a variety of solutions that have helped get rid of the spam, and get their analytics data back to “purity”. I will briefly cover some of the ways to do this. I wont go into too much detail, but I have included some good sources, so you can research each of these methods at your leisure.
Image courtesy of: Bruce Clay, Inc.
Option #1. Block Spam Traffic through the htaccess FileMoz provided an explanation of this process, and you can check this out here. To quote the article: “The best way to block referrers from accessing your site at all is to block them in your .htaccess file in the root directory of your domain. You can copy and paste the following code into your .htaccess file, assuming you’re on an Apache server.” This is a proven way to remove some of the spam traffic, however as more spam referral sites are created, you do have to keep updating your htaccess file. So if your website is only getting infiltrated by a handful of spam referral sites, this is a good way to do this.
Option #2. Remove Bots with Special Filters within Google AnalyticsWithin Analytics itself, you can use filters to filter out a lot of things from your analytics data. Some of these include IP addresses, specific country traffic, and more. You can also use these to weed out the spam referral traffic. Blog.analytics-toolkit.com provided a good step-by-step process for implementing this here. And our friends at Moz provided a good source for this about halfway down their article here. One important step that you need to take before setting any filters like above is to always keep a view of your website data that is raw and untampered data. This way, you can always go back to the pure data if you need to extract information.
Option #3. Utilize a WordPress ApplicationIf your website is built with WordPress, there are special applications or widgets out there that you can use to filter out the spam referral traffic. These widgets are fairly easy to use, and you can quickly add in spam referral sources without having to go into the htaccess file directly. Here’s an example of one of these application, provided by Lesterchan.net.
Option #4. Implement Meta Referrer TagsThis is one of the newest methods of filtering out the spam referral traffic, and truth be told, I am still trying to wrap my head around this method. However it has been proven affective, and there is a good breakdown of it provided by the great people at Moz. You can view this article about adding Meta Referrer Tags here.
How to talk to your Clients about Spam Referral Traffic?One of the challenges that SEOs face currently is explaining exactly what spam referral traffic is to their clients, and setting the right expectations about them. I have several points that I feel are important to convey to them.
- First is that this is happening across the board, and is affecting websites big and small.
- Second, the referral spam traffic does not affect organic search traffic. In fact these are not affecting a website’s search volume at all. As TheSEMPost concluded in their post, Google doesn’t include this into their ranking factors, which is good.
- Third, that this is an on-going initiative. As more spam referral sources keep showing up in the analytic data, continuous action needs to be taken in order to keep the spam referral traffic removal updated.
In ConclusionSpam referral traffic is here to stay and will continue to affect all of our websites as long as Google and the major search engines continue to allow them. So I think that we should all collectively send very strongly worded letters to Google and ask them to finally do something about it. Until this day comes, however, it is important to be educated about the enemy itself, know steps on how you can remedy the situation, and how your can achieve traffic success for yourself, as well as for your clients. Happy SEO-ing folks!
Image courtesy of: Vassilis
Create a Lookalike Audience. Facebook launched the ability to track Lookalike audiences. This gives you the ability to reach people who are interested in your business because they are similar to the customers you currently have. The Custom Audience – have a list of leads who haven’t signed up? You can upload them to create a Custom Audience that Facebook will advertise to if they use a similar e-mail to the one they provided at sign up. We can help you make a Lookalike campaign based on people who have visited your site and completed an action. Optimize your Conversions. When setting up your campaign set the objective as “Website Conversion” – instead of clicks, this will help improve the automatic conversions of the campaign you’re running. You can make sure your conversion pixel is set up so when someone signs up for your SaaS(Software as a service) or even an eCommerce conversion. If you don’t have a lot of data, we recommend setting this up as “Website Conversion” and set pricing to “Optimize for clicks” and then switch to “Get the most website conversions at the best price” once you have information. Remember, It’s important to wait on setting it for the “Get the most conversions for best price” until you have historical data. Retarget. We recommend using Facebook for retargeting and not AdRoll. Set up your Retargeting as a unique campaign rather then another ad set. Make sure its set it up to exclude audiences that you have in other ad campaigns. New User Cross Sell. Have someone who has signed up? Set up an Ad Campaign that gives them tips and tricks about your service. This is great for free trials for SaaS. Example: “Did you know BrightHaus helps you with your Social Media updates? – Reach out to your campaign manager.” Set up a retargeting campaign that triggers after someone visits a specific URL that can only be accessed via password or signup, for example a sign up success page. Promote Upgrades. Use your Facebook to encourage free trials and upgrades. Set up a campaign that targets two audiences: 1) Customer Audiences based on e-mails of current free users. 2) Retargeting to customers who have recently signed into their accounts on your site. Who Not to Include Okay – so you have included new clients and perspective clients. Now you can exclude existing regular users. You should create this exclude campaign as you don’t want to retarget regular users of your service. Exclude anyone who has been cookies/cookied by the retargeting pixel. This makes sure your reaching new audiences only and using your spend where it really matters. Need help? Contact me today at Billy@BrightHaus.com and I’ll be sure to give you insight on our plans or walk you through this topic and more.