I’ve had relatively little trouble with comment spam — except for the one incident I mentioned a few posts back — but a different kind of spam has made it nearly impossible for me to use my web host’s visitor analysis.
My web host has a feature that lets you look up information about how many people have visited your web site. That’s interesting and useful — or would be, if it worked correctly.
You see, there’s something called “referral spam” or “referer log spam” which you probably haven’t heard about unless you have your own web site — and maybe not even then. What happens is that sleazy sites of one form or another — porn sites, for example — include hidden links to randomly-selected web sites in their HTML code, and then execute those links automatically. If you went to one of those sites, you wouldn’t see any obvious link to my site, but it would be there somewhere in the code, hidden from the naked eye. The spammer is hoping to somehow influence search engines like Google by making it seem like his site is somehow related to a lot of other sites. It’s a relatively ineffective approach — in order for it to work, you would have to make your web site logs public, and almost nobody does that — but the referral spammers (like all spammers) don’t care. They have enough computing power to inconvenience many millions of people worldwide in the hope that one or two will somehow be fooled. It’s selfish, unethical and disgusting. Unlike legitimate forms of advertising — banner ads, direct mail, print or broadcast — SPAM does nothing to support the medium which carries it. And, unlike those legitimate forms of advertising, the cost is so low that there’s no practical limit on how often it may be employed. SPAM is not just an inconvenience, it is an outrage, the ultimate in self-centered behavior, and I fear it will get much worse before it gets better — if it ever does.
In worst-case scenarios, these phony “links” call up a web page so often that they interfere with the legitimate traffic to that web site by visitors or search engines.
Anyway, it means that if I try to look at the statistics for my web site, they’re useless. When I check to see which web sites referred people to my site, I get a long list of URLs that I would not be able to repeat here in mixed company. Those web sites didn’t actually refer any real visitors to my site, of course. They were referral spam.
I knew I had a modest problem with referral spam, but on Monday when I checked my page statistics for Sunday I saw a huge figure for web site “visitors” — more than 15 times the number I see on a normal day. At first, my hopes were raised — I thought perhaps some prominent blogger had noticed and linked to one of my posts. But, no, when I looked for the list of domain names I discovered that all of the excess was referral spam. There were so many different entries that it would have taken a lot of time and trouble for me to sort through them to find the real sites that had referred real visitors to Lake Neuron.
The long and short of it is that I’m going to stop checking my web statistics on any regular basis, and that’s sad.