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.

Related

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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Understanding Customer Intent is Crucial to Online Marketing

Websites, Online Marketing and Customer Intent.

Ideally, before you had your website developed, you researched how your potential new customers would find you. What would they be looking for, what would they type into the search engines and how you can demonstrate that people should buy from you.

Your website is the first stage in online marketing. “If you build it, they will come” may work in Hollywood, but it doesn’t work with websites. You need to market your website online and understand customer intent.

If you need any help with online marketing, feel free to fill out our contact form here.

Customer Intent

Search engines are putting a lot of effort into working out what people mean when they type words into a search box. AI, or artificial intelligence, is being refined to help search engines understand what people want, and help them find it.

Online marketing to find new customers is all about delivering the service or product that people are looking for. In a previous role, we ran a marketing company which had a call centre. To promote our services we advertised on google with many keywords, but one of them was “Manchester Lead Generation”. Now, consider why people might be searching for “Manchester Lead Generation”.

In a perfect world, everyone would be looking for a Manchester Lead Generation company to purchase services from them. This was rarely the case. (Before going on, I must first mention that we did refine our PPC campaigns so our adverts only appeared to people looking to buy!).

Initially many visitors to the site were looking for a job in a Manchester lead generation company. Others were looking to sell services, for example, utility companies.

Understanding that users typing words into search engines all have very different intentions saves you money. If you can identify people who are looking to buy from you, and not sell to you or work for you, then you won’t be wasting time or budget.

Social Media and Customer Intent

Most towns and villages at least have a facebook group that you can join.

Ensure that your business social media pages are ‘optimised’. This just means that they need to simply and clearly outline what you do or sell. Include keywords so people can quickly identify what you do. Once this is done, you can join the conversation and raise your business profile.

By being clear about what you offer, you’ll get visits from customers whose intentions are better aligned to what you offer.

Customer Intent and PPC

Ideally, your website will be nicely optimised and when people type in what they are looking for, your website will appear at the top of the results and you are getting lots of relevant visits.

If it’s a new website, then this is likely to take a bit of time. You may want to consider pay per click advertising.

PPC advertising is where you create adverts for your business, and when people search for something that you can deliver, you bid to have your advertisement shown to them alongside the other ‘natural’ search results.

If your advert is relevant to what people are searching for (your quality score), and your bid is higher than your competitors, your advert will be shown to the people searching and hopefully, they click on your ad. This then takes them to your website and you pay the PPC engine a fee. There are a wealth of options and variables to consider when setting up online marketing to find new customers (see our other articles, especially the one about negative keywords).

With Facebook, you can set-up your business page and promote it to the people who are likely to buy from you. If you are a child care provider, you may want to target working parents whose child is over 1.

When Online Marketing

  • Understand Customer Intent.
  • Monitor and report on internet traffic and conversion rates (be sure to split out your marketing channels).
  • Keep testing different strategies.
  • Keep your website regularly updated with fresh original content and share it online with blogs and social media.

Find out more

Based close to Manchester and Liverpool in the UK, Online Customer Solutions specialise in helping businesses grow.

Contact us today, we can advise and provide a range of services, from setting up a website, to improving online marketing and conversions.

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Boost Online Sales

Online advertising is a quick way to boost online sales. Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (mostly for Business to business sales) can all be set up to target people looking for your products or services.

The most important thing to remember is that just getting people to your site is not going to always increase your sales. If you are selling widgets, and you pay £1 per click to advertise “cheap widgets”. You will also attract clicks from people searching “cheap widgets complaints”. The search engines are spending a lot of time trying to work out what people mean when they search for something, but for the moment, negative keywords and exact search terms are essential when setting up your online advertising campaign to boost online sales.

OCS have experience of every platform and know how to maximise the return on investment.

Find out more

Located in Cheshire, south of Manchester in the UK, Online Customer Solutions provide solutions to a range of business, but specialise in helping small businesses grow.

Contact us today, we can advise and provide a range of services, from setting up a website, to improving online marketing and conversions.

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