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Huge organic traffic boost, need help finding the source

     
5:07 am on Oct 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Hey.

I run a media website getting traffic primarily from social media. But since a few days (maybe a week or two), I've seen a huge boost in organic traffic and I can't seem to find where it's coming from. In Google Analytics, there is not much info about this traffic other than the fact that it's a "direct" source with a "none" medium and no referral whatsoever. Usually, this type of traffic comes directly from a browser, but I can assure you this is not the case here.

This traffic looks viral and will last many hours, sometimes even days (I had one article that went viral from Friday to Sunday). I’ve never seen this type of viral “direct” traffic before and I’ve been running this site for almost 6 years. The only viral traffic I usually get comes from social media posts. I noticed that this traffic is mostly new users coming from Chrome on Android. I thought about Google Discover and Google News, but I can usually see the proper referrer when users are coming from those platforms (unless Google changed something recently?).

Has anyone else seen this type of organic traffic boost recently? I’d also really appreciate any advice on how I could potentially figure out the source of this traffic.

Thanks!
11:29 am on Oct 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Since there is no referrer it doesn't sound like a legitimate traffic source but maybe a bot network. Look at your logs and check out some of the IPs to see where they are located.
5:27 pm on Oct 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Check your site logs... that's the best place to determine where the traffic is coming from ... and even then, that can be spoofed.

Check the IP addresses. When I see things like this is is generally a bad actor country (or one known for hacking/etc) and those are dealt 403s, particularly for repeated and abusive hits. Humans will hit once or twice, but no human I know would hit the same file 30-300 times over a 24 hour period!
5:30 pm on Oct 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Good tips above, could be bot traffic. "Direct" traffic in analytics could also be social traffic or another source that just isn't tagged properly, use UTM parameters whenever possible.
9:36 pm on Oct 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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i'm not sure if i'm missing the point. but how does using UTM (or any other tracking type parameter) help in this case?

bots can still use the link including the parameter if that is the URL that they are fed. although i guess it does show where they found the link.
9:44 pm on Oct 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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If it's a human, the browser will usually request a favicon (or apple icon).

Very few bots request a favicon. Most don't ask for images either.
1:42 am on Oct 9, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Bot traffic. Very common for sites.
3:03 am on Oct 9, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Very few bots request a favicon. Most don't ask for images either.
Here it sounds as if all information comes from analytics. Why bother to visit the site at all if you can just send in a request to GA, where it won't be subject to the site’s own access controls?
3:23 am on Oct 9, 2019 (gmt 0)

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This would be the difference between logs and analytics? Makes sense (and implies one needs to do both!).
11:27 am on Oct 9, 2019 (gmt 0)

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This would be the difference between logs and analytics? Makes sense (and implies one needs to do both!).

I don't use analytics on my sites. I doubt that it's fully trustworthy. Some of the most advanced bots might be able to trick it into including them as real human traffic.

It's better to look at the server logs.
1:24 am on Oct 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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^^^ Exactly! :)
6:04 pm on Oct 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I don't use analytics on my sites. I doubt that it's fully trustworthy.
Can't hurt to use both. I primarily look at logs, but that includes requests for the analytics file (not GA, obviously). If someone walks in off the street--or off a search engine--heading straight for a fragment rather than the page-as-a-whole, I'd like to know about it.
7:33 pm on Oct 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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In Google Analytics, there is not much info about this traffic other than the fact that it's a "direct" source with a "none" medium and no referral whatsoever. Usually, this type of traffic comes directly from a browser, but I can assure you this is not the case here.

As Lucy24 was alluding to, this sounds like referrer spam. See my post in this thread detect it in GA, [webmasterworld.com...]