Wednesday, August 14, 2013

r - e - f - e - r - e - r and blog spam

I have a pretty quiet blog. I'm the only author, I don't maintain a subscriber list or have a large "following," and I don't blog on a single targeted subject. My blog carries a single banner ad for amazon.com, from which I use modest commissions to fund charitable donations. Google analytics says my pages have a combined value of $0.00, and while I see mine as worth a few multiples of that figure, I expect that my number is fairly typical of personal blog valuations.

That's not to say that nobody reads the blog. According to my blogger dashboard, nearly 24,000 "views" have been logged by my blog since I moved it to the blogger site in early 2010; during 2012 the blog logged about 35 views per day. Now, when we say "views," the inference would be that the page is actually... well... viewed. And, as many -- maybe even most -- of the reported views were generated by friends who clicked links I posted to facebook or google plus, the pages have been viewed a bit. Larger volumes came from sites such as backstreets.com and rockrap.com that backlinked one or more of my posts over the course of the year, and a few came from internet searches that just happened to match something I had.

As a blogger, I certainly prefer getting 3000 views, or even 300 views, to 30 views, and I usually enjoy the rare discussion on the blog (most comments end up going to facebook). And I confess, I like it when a post unexpectedly goes a bit "viral." That's happened a few times, such as the time three months after I had written a post about a 2 cent check I had received. When others started getting similar checks, they used search engines to figure out what was going on, and a couple thousand of them found my little blog post. But some of my favorites are posts that have a total of 50 views or less; half the fun is in coming up with something I'm willing to publish at all. After all, it's not a commercial venture.

I've had to do very little weeding at the blog. Occasionally, I get a spam comment. Last year, a post I wrote about Springsteen's Toronto concert generated nearly a thousand page views, and then I got multiple "comments" advertising an airport taxi service for Toronto. I deleted those comments, then got more comments from the same source, for the same service. I assumed those comments to be automated, and blocked the source. Problem solved.

But toward the end of 2012, I started noticing that a substantial portion of my traffic appeared to be originating from Russia, China, and from other non-English speaking places where I wouldn't expect to have many readers. When I looked at the "referring sites" entry in the blogger dsahboard, I saw weird commercial-sounding names like "blogsrating" and "vampirestat." One evening, I decided to check out some of these referrer links to see how they might have directed someone to my site. Sites that are legitimate, I can usually find the link somewhere in the page. On these "vampire" sites, of course, I did not find any links to my site; instead, I had landed on fake gaming sites, or advertising sites, or worse.

The referer links were simply bait, a trap designed to get the blogger -- me -- to go back to their websites. Such automated views are often referred to as "blog referer spam." These weren't even clever traps, just links to weird sites that left no trail. Obviously, they could do worse than trying to sell fake goods to gullible bloggers. So I committed never to click on a suspicious referer link again.

The blog referer spam kept coming, with seemingly increased volume. I wondered: to what extent was my published hit total bogus, having been inflated by blog referer spam? How many of my views were "real," and how many had no human eyes?

In January, I decided to start tracking with google analytics as well as with blogger. Google runs both services, but google analytics filters out spam referers. Over the past 30 days, my blogger dashboard says I've had 1202 views. Google analytics says I've had 580 page views. In other words, according to google analytics, more than half of the views to my blog are likely blog referrer spam. My blogger dashboard says I've also had 152 views in the past month from Latvia, and 76 more combined from China, Poland, and Russia; google analytics says I've had no page views from any of those countries during the same period.

The worst of the referrer spam sites is a relatively new entry called r-e-f-e-r-e-r. This one just showed up a few weeks ago, and in that short time its fake url has already "referred" more views to my site than any other legitimate site over the entirety of the 30 months since I started tracking views on blogger.

What is r-e-f-e-r-e-r? Damned if I know, and I'm not about to click the link. I wish it would stop sending "views" to my blog, at least. Unless, of course, the people behind it want to, you know, view the pages.

Here is a video I found, from google, explaining it phenomenon of blog referer spam.

As for this post, I expect it'll get a couple dozen page views and likely fade away. Maybe someone will find it in a google search. I'll just keep it around as a reference. Even if it only gets 30 views.