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When did referral spamming become so fashionable?

8:35 pm on Apr 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

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We've always had referrer spam. In my case the bogus requests mostly came from a DE - hosted server but was for some reason mostly pushing Russian spam sites.

But the last couple months or so this is getting completely out of control! The strangest thing is that I am now very often finding bogus referral strings leading to rather prominent sites (though not of the eHow caliber, say one tier below that) - site that you would think not lower themselves to engage in the spammy behavior and sites belonging to Web publishing houses with established names in the industry.

So, my question is: has this become an acceptable practice lately or has it been shown to work all of a sudden? I mean, there's only a handful of servers out there that would leave access logs in the open and AFAIK there's precious few that would go as far as to convert the referring URLs into links (I presume these links are the endgame here). Seems like a wasteful use of resources to me but what do I know?

So, why the sudden onset of referrer spam and, perhaps most importantly, why is EVERYONE WHO'S ANYONE in the industry seems to be doing it?

Anyone here has any insight to share?
4:58 am on Apr 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

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site that you would think not lower themselves to engage in the spammy behavior

Because you looked it appears their game is working. It's probably nothing to do with the site itself, but the marketing people they have hired. They create a spike in traffic and the client is happy. If only the client knew the true source of the traffic.

6:31 am on Apr 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Alternative question: Are you absolutely certain it's about the referer? As opposed to, say, scrapers trying to slip under your radar by disguising themselves as humans with a plausible referer. Same idea as a bogus search query.
5:07 pm on Apr 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Thanks guys! @mack: I guess you are correct in the technical sense but man, what a low ROI promotion technique! Chances that another webmaster would buy something or engage with your site in any meaningful way, especially when your foul play is suspected, are like finding liquid water on Mars. If this is really the goal, it must be the epitome of bottom feeding Internet promotion.
I was hoping that they had a less depressing goal in mind: link dropping into access logs opened to crawlers. But in reality, that's probably not too far on the scale of stupidity from marketing to annoyed webmasters.

@lucy24: no, I'm pretty sure about the illegitimate referrer. It's the referrer that's implausible, not my landing page. I think what happens is they run some sort of an automated search for a widget that they either want to rank for themselves or are already ranking, just not high enough for their liking. Then they visit every one of the pages that come up and leave a fake referrer - the URL of the page that they would also like to rank for that widget.

That would be the only logical explanation that I have in mind except of course it sounds like a very remote possibility of this ever having much effect. On the other hand, I am finding sites "promoted" that way belonging to some big outfits who, you'd think, can afford good SEO advice and most likely have SEOs (and even "celebrity" SEOs) on staff.

Big outfits (allegedly) using this technique is what made me think about this - I've seen it done for years by dumb spammers and never gave it a second thought. This time it seems a bit different so it piqued my interest.

Perhaps one other possibility exist: some kind of a browser glitch (some toolbar quirk?) that messes up the referrer and sends a wrong one? I have no idea how to test for that but it must be a pretty popular browser or a pretty popular toolbar - I am finding instances of these implausible referrers from supposedly good sites every day in my logs.