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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.