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What is Referrer Spam?

This post is a first in a series of upcoming posts detailing the effects of spam on your websites performance and the steps and processes you can implement to mitigate the effects.

Generating  more targeted traffic to your website is your usually your biggest concern when running a website.   Daily or weekly analysis of your google analytics is key to ensuring that you are achieving your website objectives.

When reviewing your statistics you may find your site may be receiving a number of requests from one specific referrer, and probably one you may have never heard of before.  This referrer is also generating a number of hits a day.   If this is the case your site is more than likely a victim of referrer spam or log spam or referrer bombing as it is otherwise known.

What is a referrer?

In a nutshell a referrer is anything online that directs visitors to your website.  So anything like a search engine, links on other websites, banner adverts,  emails or anything else that redirects users to your website are referrers.

Technically speaking the referrer is a property of the HTTP request object sent by the browser to a web server identifying either the URL, IP Address or name of the Web link used to direct users to a Web page. Referrers are useful in statistical Web analysis in determining which sites provides generate the most traffic, and are key when formulate effective marketing strategies and even effective security processes.

What is referrer spam?

Due to the fact that HTTP referrer is open to modification and is easy to do, it is open to abuse by spammers, who are able to change Referrer property to any web page they choose to promote. There are two reasons why they would choose to do this.

1. Increase traffic
They develop an automated script which generates visits to thousands of websites with a fake referrer URL, usually more than 3 visits a day. The website owner will notice an increase in traffic being generated from the fake url in their analytics or log files and choose to visit the site to find out more. This generates more traffic for the promoted URL. Usually this practice is employed by dodgy SEO companies, who tell customers they can increase traffic for their customers.

2. Increase external links

Some websites may publish a list of highest number of recent referrers and include a back link to the referring page. This would enable the spammer to generate an increase in back links for their website, which potentially improve it's search engine ranking.

Learn more about the types of referrer spam

Does referrer spam work?

Not really. It is mostly employed by extremely dodgy SEO organisation, who promise customers an increase in traffic to their websites.   They will usually make a promise based on a theory that a lot of links help boost a web pages ranking in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) and more traffic results in more sales.

The truth is that usually there is only a temporary increase in traffic to a website and the long term result is that the website usually incurs a penalty from Google and disappears from the SERPs altogether.

What are the side effects of referrer spam for my website?

Referrer spam has the potential to damage your websites Search Engine performance by increasing your websites Bounce Rate . A domain’s bounce rate plays a very important role in search engine ranking. When the bounce rate of your domain is quite high compared to the number of traffics received, your domain’s ranking will gradually drop no matter how perfect is your SEO (search engine optimization).

Besides the side effects of mucking about with your website analytics and your bounce rate.  Referrer spam will have an impact on your server resources especially bandwidth.  Particularly because your server is responding to requests that have very little value, which in turn may also  impact on your sites speed. An  Increase in bandwidth could also increase your hosting bills for no valid reasons.

Learn how to start blocking referrer spam

Gary Woodfine
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