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June 29, 2013

Truth About Referer Spam

Referer Spam Text Graphic

If you own a site or blog you have most likely already been hit by Referer Spam. If your site has a good amount of traffic, you probably haven't noticed it because your "real traffic" out weighs the spam. If your site has low traffic, your chances of seeing Referer Spam is pretty high. When you do, you may get alarmed and wonder how this mystery site referring traffic to your page. You may feel the need to click the URL, visit the site and before you know it, you could be visiting a site that is in the Russian language or you could land on a website full of porn or even on a legit website just trying to advertise.

I've decided to write this post because this just happened to me and it's something I was stuck on for quite some time. I had the urge to click on these links, visit the site, see what it was all about, and then try to find how this site links back to my blog. What happened next just caused me to do more research. I wanted to get down to the bottom of this and find out how to get stop it.



So what exactly is "Referer Spam"?
First off, don't worry, they aren't spamming you. They are simply aiming their spam towards search engines so they can achieve a high search engine ranking (sites achieve a good search engine ranking by having large amounts of links back to their site). These [spamming] sites will make repeated visits to your site using a different referer URL, most likely the URL to the site they are trying to advertise. If you have your access logs or referer statistics available to the public your site will link back to the spammers site and these links will be crawled by bots and indexed into search engines.

How Referer Spam hurts website owners and bloggers.
Site/blog owners who research Referer Spam may find confusing and mixed stories on if Referer Spam can hurt their reputation or not. So the big question is; does this annoying spam really cause damage to innocent site owners? Although Referer Spam does not harm your computer physically, it could

The answer: IT DEPENDS. As I mentioned above, IF you have your logs publicly accessible, your site will unintentionally link back to the spammers site. This is the only way it could possibly cause damage - and it may not be good. If your site starts linking back to the spammers site, web crawlers will notice this once they crawl your page. This can hurt your reputation and may even get your site knocked off search engines for good. After all, would you want to keep a chef around if he was bringing you horrible food? However, if your logs are not public, none of this applies to you.. That doesn't mean you have nothing to worry about though.

Don't Click Graphic

Okay, so your logs are not publicly accessible, now what? The thing that you need to hold back from doing is clicking on that link. DO NOT CLICK THE LINK. By clicking on the spammers URL and visiting the site, you are giving them exactly what they want. In fact, they are hoping site owners who keep track of their stats (traffic sources specifically) will click on their link and give them a page hit and possibly even become the next person to help earn them some money. These sites are hosting and promoting spam - they don't deserve your business.

Referer Spam is very common. It is no surprise to see low-volume sites or blogs to find odd referring URL's in their stats. Referer Spam hits everyone - yes, everyone. It's just that sites that have high traffic most likely won't see the spamming URL for the fact that all of their "real" traffic overrules these spammers. Even if they do get to see one, they will most likely know what it is and go along their way without clicking on it.

You should also be aware that by clicking on a Referer Spam URL, you may land on a page that full of malware and/or viruses.

How do I stop Referer Spam?
You can't. There is nothing you can do to stop these sites from mass hitting pages using a fake referrer URL. BUT, there are some things that you can do to help slow it down and would even stop those alarms going off in your head every time you see an odd referring URL.

1. Do not make your logs publicly available.
2. Do not click on odd or unknown URLs that show up as Referring URLs or Referring Sites. <Important!
3. Try your hardest to gain more traffic - more traffic means less noticing odd referrers.
4. Stop looking at your traffic sources.
5. Again, do NOT click the links.

My personal experience -
I've been blogging for over 2 years now and had some pretty good traffic up until about 3 months ago. I moved, wasn't very active on my page, lost traffic, and then was introduced to Referer Spam.
I was into checking my traffic sources - I wanted to know how people were finding my page and how I could use it to gain more traffic. I noticed a referring URL that included dashes and found it to be quite odd. I thought, "how did this site find my site and why are they linking to it?" I mean, obviously they would have to be linking to it for someone to come visit my page. So I thought. I soon found out I was wrong. The referring URL actually went to a page stating it was Referer Spam but it also included ads for companies and information on how to get your ad placed on this site.

I didn't like the fact that they were "hitting" my site with this spam and I wanted to put an end to it. I visited the site multiple times just to see if anything changed or to take screen shots. Eventually, they changed their referring URL and made it be something like "referringsiteURL.com/mysiteURL.com". It was just something else that got my attention.

If you ever noticed a page like this - one that has your URL at the end of it - stay calm. They did not create a page named after your site. In fact, you can type anything after the URL and it would go to such page; for example, "referringsiteURL.com/peanutbabyapple.com" ..

They made a total of 22 hits to my site from the original URL and 104 hits using the URL/mypageURL.com.

After finding out that clicking on the links is the WORST thing you could do, I stopped. It wasn't long before I stopped receiving hits from them. Yes, that one is gone now but I still see odd sites in my stats everyday. I just ignore it and continue on my way.


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