Identifying Fake, or Zombie Website Traffic

What is Zombie Website Traffic?

Zombie website traffic is generated by automation software that strives to imitate real website visitors. The aim is to inflate or deflate factors purported to influence SERPs.

Zombie website traffic finds your site via a search engine or social media search, ‘clicks’ on the link to your site, then navigates through your site to improve or reduce bounce and CTR rates.

Zombie Traffic Background

I recently took over running the digital marketing strategy for a client with seemingly high organic and referral traffic (Facebook). Averaging between 10k-20k visits per month, the client is one of the top performing sites in the sector.

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Once I gained access to the Analytics, things got very strange. Yes, the numbers were consistent (about 900 visits per day) but all were new, none were repeat visitors. The bounce rate was higher that we would normally expect, and the time spend per session was really low (2 seconds) which is obviously not good.

zombie traffic analysis
analytics showing zombie traffic

Also strange was the amount of traffic coming from Facebook. And it wasn’t the type of traffic you would expect. The traffic was coming from all over the world, for no obvious reason.

website traffic zombies
zombie traffic analysis

It took me a little time to work out what was going on. There was no reason for it, we weren’t running paid ads on either Facebook or Google. It wasn’t your normal Analytics spam. Because we had not employed any potential blackhat suppliers, it seemed to be genuine users, finding the web address on Facebook, clicking through to the site, sometimes bouncing to another page and then leaving.

zombie website traffic
analytics showing zombie traffic

In an attempt to work out what was happening, and why we were getting all these visitors, I left the Real-Time report open and watched it for a bit.

high website visitors
Zombie Traffic

 

My client’s site is UK based and focused. There would be a little appeal for visitors from other countries visiting it, with the possible unusual exception. Note how the traffic is coming from a range of interesting places!

After a bit of time, I noticed that the town of ‘Boardman’ on the West coast of the USA kept appearing. A Google search identified a thread describing ‘Zombie Website Traffic’. Boardman, it turns out, contains an Amazon hosting centre.

What is the Reason for Zombie Website Traffic?

I can think of potentially 4 reasons for zombie traffic existing (there may be more, please let me know below if you know of any!).

1. Zombie Traffic to Inflate the SERPS Results.

In traditional SEO theory, high click through rate and low bounce rate evidence a good quality site. So this strategy can be used by website owners to rank better for search terms they enter into the, let’s call it, ‘Zombie SERP Inflater Platform’.

2. Using Zombie Website Traffic to Deflate SERPS performance.

Conversely, a high bounce rate and low click through rate could lower competitors sites in the SERPS. Bad people are trying to lower your search results!!

3. Using bots to Reduce Competitor Advertising Budgets.

With zombie traffic, or just automation spiders/bots, clicking on competitor adverts will obviously cost them money and reduce their budget. This is not a very nice thing to do and is certainly against Google’s rules. Google spend a huge amount of time weeding out ‘invalid clicks’ (there is a report for that on Adwords).

In our case, however, these clicks are certainly not using up any advertising budget.

4. Artificially raising money from clicking on adverts.

I’m no legal expert, but this must be some kind of fraud and breaching all kinds of terms and conditions. This would work on display network ads whose owners were benefiting from pay per click revenue.

Again, there is a lot of effort going into identifying fake clicks, so the systems in place to simulate real visitors would need to be very sophisticated – not really like our scenario which jumps out as being obvious.

In Conclusion

Whatever the reason for our large amount of traffic, zombie or just fake, for the moment it isn’t doing too much harm. The site ranks very well for some competitive keywords, so, even if Option 2 was in play, it isn’t working.

We are looking at options to block this traffic or redirect non-UK traffic to a specific standalone landing page. Other than that, there seems to be little we can do to prevent it. If you have any ideas, please let me know below.

Finally, here is a screen shot of the real time stats just 12 minutes after the first shot.

Zombie web traffic has moved on
Vanishing zombie web traffic

All the visitors have moved on. This is the pattern throughout a normal day. Large peaks of unusual activity, followed by the normal 0-5 concurrent visitors.

Although our traffic doesn’t wander around the website, aimlessly increasing our engagement rate, it is inflating the web statistics and potentially affecting our click-through and bounce rate.

The good news is, although there is a high level of fake traffic to the site, there is still a very high number of real visitors. The site enjoys some great search performance for competitive keywords, and lots of engagement. A great platform to push on and grow the business. No baseball bat required.

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Setting up and Working with Analytics Campaigns

Getting the most out of Analytics Campaigns and Conversion Reporting.

If you use Google Analytics and regularly distribute content to generate more web visits. Then you need to have analytics campaigns tracking set-up and running.  Find out below how to plan, set-up and analyse website visits using Google Analytics Campaigns Tracking.

Conversion Tracking in Analytics

Fortunately, this is simplicity itself. In short, you simply add parameters to your website URLs.

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The Parameters

The simplest way to illustrate how to set-up campaign reporting is by example. By adding 3 parameters to your back-links, campaign reporting becomes simple. These parameters are below:

utm_medium – for example blog, website, social, email
utm_source – for example my blog, www-other-site, facebook.com, new-sign-up
utm_campaign – for example article-1, reach-out-Feb, social-update-1, email-blast-march

So,  https://www.onlinecustomersolutions.com

Becomes (all on one line)

https://www.onlinecustomersolutions.com?utm_medium=blog&utm_source=onlinecustomersolutions&utm_campaign=analytics-campaigns

Planning

Whenever you post a link to your website, remember to include the parameters so that you can track exactly how much traffic is being generated AND the conversion.

Remember to keep it simple and descriptive. Don’t get into codes or complicate abbreviations. social, facebook, 100217

How to Measure the Results

Open up and log into your Google Analytics account and navigate to Acquisitions -> Campaigns -> All Campaigns

campaigns in analytics
Google Analytics Campaign tracking instructions

This will default to showing you stats based on the campaign you specified in the “utm_campaign” parameter above. Or, if you are running paid campaigns and have linked your accounts, these will also show here.

To drill-down into the medium and source use the tabs and secondary dimensions that you will be used to in analytics.

Campaign dimensions
Analytics campaign dimensions utm_campaign

Once you are happy with your view, and as long as you have set-up goals to measure conversion rate, then you can easily see which links are delivering the most conversions.

Analytics Campaigns and conversion stats
Analytics conversion report

In Conclusion

Campaigns are easy to set-up, simple to report on and free to use. Start discovering which of your online marketing is delivering the best results!

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