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I assumed this was some kind of search within a search - like a site-specific search where only the keyword is in the referrer. Or maybe some weird bot hit from page 483 of the SERPs? Informal consultation with colleagues found that they were seeing some of these odd Live referrals too.
Are others seeing these, and does anyone have details how they are generated?
These hits are not all made from the same IP, but all IPs seem to fall within the same, or very similar ranges, and the user agent is always "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 5.2; .NET CLR 1.1.4322)".
So now we have QBHP, LVSP and LIVSOP. Doing a search on "LIVSOP," I found a response from an MSN employee:
The traffic you are seeing is part of a quality check we run on selected pages. While we work on addressing your conerns, we would request that you do not actively block the IP addreses used by this quality check; blocking these IP addresses could prevent your site from being included in the Live Search index.
All keywords I'm receiving hits for do occur on my site, so it is possible that Live is performing such quality checks on, say, hundreds or even thousands of pages that appear in their search results for a particular keyword, so even though your page may not rank within the first so-many hundred results, you will still see these (human-like) requests.
I've seen some people call this a cloaking detector, which might explain why these hits look human, but aren't.
After that, no other requests are made; no images loaded, no other pages visited, which strengthens my belief that these are not human requests, but automated ones, apparently looking merely at the HTML and CSS of your pages. If it is indeed part of a quality check, which seems likely to me, cloaked pages might be something they're looking for, along with, perhaps, hidden text, and other spammy techniques.
I saw exactly 20 hits from this bot this morning, about a minute between requests. Not sure about the numbers (some kind of encoding?). Bot landed on different pages depending on the 'keyword'. Not overly impressed with the speed and number of requests.