The new referrer spam technique – blogger beware!

In: Blogging

11 Feb 2004

I was checking my referrer logs the other day and came across several peculiar entries. There were mostly weblogs (except for 1), and at first glance would seem to be legitimate. Until I noticed a few things:

  • There is no sign of a link back to my site.
  • There are links to smut sites which appear to be the same throughout these sites.
  • The weblogs are new – in some cases there is only 1 entry, and no sign of an archive.
  • Certain elements are repeated across the sites.

Take a look at the sites (all redirected via JavaScript so that search engines ignore them): [1] [2] [3] [4].

Unmistakably, these are sites owned by a single person (or group of persons) who is out to seek referral links back to their sites, what is colloquially called “referral spam”. Whatever for, you say? Well, here’s a hypothesis (obvious as it is, it probably should be called “the truth” rather than a hypothesis).

First and foremost, this person (let’s just say, for ease of writing, that it is 1 person and it is a guy) is clearly someone intent on capitalizing on the weblog linking phenom that allows weblogs to have high PageRanks. A discerning eye will notice how the sites have domain names that can be turned around into sites of pornographic nature. Strong evidence that these either were porn sites before or are going to be once their Google PageRank gets high enough. By putting up some seemingly legitimate content to throw off webloggers, this person hopes to have his referral links unnoticed, unblocked (and implicitly acknowleged as legitimate). Referrer spammers are probably having a hard time with the increased awareness about referrer spam among webloggers, including tools and scripts to stop them. I can almost hear the imaginary light bulb switching on in their minds – why not use blogs as well? Place referrer links from a dummy weblog, link to several sites, get linked back (illegitimately), and get away with it. Just sit back and watch the PageRank and backlinks grow. Smart, but not smart enough.

Notice how the links to smut sites are almost consistent across all 4 sites – dead giveaway. That was what set the alarm bells ringing for me – why the hell would a weblog link to pornographic sites? In this case, this person is getting ahead of himself. The intention, as I see it, would be to make use of these fake blogs to boost search engine rankings for his existing sites by linking to them. Ah greedy, greedy. And what’s more, those links go to a porn site which I’ve blocked. Folly, folly.

Curiousity piqued, I Googled in hope of finding someone else reporting the same phenomenon. Here’s what I found:

So this is not new (4 months old news isn’t news). I wonder, how many webloggers have heard of this or seen this before though. I’m not clear on the how high the level of awareness is, but if you do have a weblog, do warn your readers (who are probably bloggers themselves). (And no, you don’t have to link back to me – hypocrite I am not ;))

As for a solution, I use mod_rewrite to block out unwanted referrers, thanks to kasia in a nutshell. You can view my .htaccess (which contains my list of blocked referrers as well). For an explanation of how this works, check out pippo‘s reply to my thread at SitePoint Forums.

18 Responses to The new referrer spam technique – blogger beware!

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Wibbler

February 11th, 2004 at 5pm

Yep, I’ve had dodgy referrer links for a while. The recent Paris Hilton and Janet Jackson episodes have meant a huge influx of links to related blogspot sites. Have a look at my referrer page:
http://www.wibbler.com/show-refs.php

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Cheah Chu Yeow

February 11th, 2004 at 5pm

Wow Wibbler I can’t find a single legitimate referrer in that referrers list (at this moment)! I’ve been getting referral links from Paris Hilton and Janet Jackson related blogs too – that reminds me to add them to my list.

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Simon Brown

February 11th, 2004 at 7pm

Although I’ve not had this, I have had a handful of referrers from MovableType blogs that have no links back to me. In fact they weren’t even technology related!

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Rob

February 12th, 2004 at 2am

That is crazy, I have been getting some like that. I just thought that there were a lot of people looking at Janet Jackson’s boob and the Paris Hilton tape before they headed to my site!

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Richard

February 12th, 2004 at 3am

I’ve already blocked most of those guys myself. And there the group that operates B*bakazoo, Sh*ttered Reality along with several others.

Sometimes the groups aren’t even all porn anymore. I group of autobuying sites hit me one day after the other.

One tried to be funny by only sending referrals to my entries on referral spam.

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Jason

February 13th, 2004 at 3am

Wow. Thanks for this.

I have Dean Allen’s Refer installed on my site, which is great for seeing referers, but I’ve been really lazy as of late and haven’t checked it in some time. What should I notice first thing, but a great number of domains at blogspot that are nothing more than fake blogs for smut sites.

I’ve since updated my .htaccess with your ReWrite rules, plus a few more that I found elsewhere.

I was concerned with the numerous references from blogspot domains that I would have to block, but then came across this useful rule:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_referer} ^http://.*blogspot\.com [NC,OR]

Granted, this will block *anyone* coming from blogspot, but I don’t feel like adding each and every domain.

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Jim Amos

June 20th, 2004 at 1pm

Referral spam is the current bane of my existence. I hate having to go in through PHPMyAdmin and delete it all and then add endless user agents/string to blacklists. I feel like Private Private yelling “I never signed up for this!”

Lets hope it is just a phase, that SEO/spam companies will eventually find a way of selling their crap in a way which doesn’t annoy us so much. Yeah right. :)

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A Sassy Lawyer's Journal

February 19th, 2004 at 12pm

Referrer Spam
I used to have this little script down at the bottom of the page to show which sites have been sending me traffic. Of course, I placed it there for convenience. More comprehensive stats are available at my cpanel. But, sometimes, I am too lazy to log i…

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Geek Love - A work in progress

March 16th, 2004 at 2pm

Spam spam and more spam
While I’d like to think that brittney spears or paris hilton would reffer to my site (or maybe I don’t) they seem to hit my refferer log a lot. Now, I don’t get much in the way of blog spam…

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Elliott C. Back, Cornell Student

September 8th, 2004 at 12am

Reffy, Referrer Spam Tool

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WebStractions

October 4th, 2004 at 11am

Thanx Chu — your links at the end of your article are a great help.

That Reffy piece of crap from adminshop[dot]com is a pain. I hope the little suck-head has a lot of bandwidth, cuz I am going to drain it dry. You might want to add that one to your .htaccess file too — only a matter of time before it comes around.

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Reffy

December 5th, 2004 at 1am

I hate this Reffy crap, it’s really clogging up my ref logs. The email posted is the PayPal email of the Reffy store at adminship whatever. Maybe the spam email harvesters will come along and spam it back….

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Reffy

December 5th, 2004 at 1am

Oh here’s the email…

acyon@acyon.com

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