Semalt is Ruining the Internet

semalt is evil

If you ever look at your website analytics, then you’ve probably seen Semalt show up as a referrer (or at least heard of them). At first glance, it might seem like a few harmless hits from their site, but Semalt is making the internet a much worse place. To begin with, they’re ruining good web analytics data, taking advantage of internet trust, providing a below average product, and giving credence to those who think SEO is modern day snake oil. Most importantly, Semalt has begun a very scary trend on the web, which has the potential to create very real harm through DDoS attacks, malware, and smearing online reputations.

 

I was first acquainted with Semalt while browsing through a Google Analytics reports. Naturally curious about web analytics acquisition, I visited the site to see how users might have navigated from the site but found no link. Initially, it was easy to brush off, but it popped up more and more often in my reports until I realized that others in my profession were running into the same thing and it was just a marketing ploy by the company to get more traffic to the site. Lame.

 

Semalt and other referrer spam in Google Analytics

How Semalt and other referrer spam show up in Google Analytics traffic reports

 

Sure, it might not seem like a big deal, but with more context, you can start to see why it’s so troublesome. In the early days of the web, crawlers (mostly from search engines) ran wild without any guidelines. However, companies like Yahoo and Google soon realized that they should identify themselves when crawling around on the web for everyone’s benefit. Semalt doesn’t do that, even in the age of SEO strategists…they just don’t. So here we have a pretty hunky-dory situations where crawlers identify themselves so they’re not treated like real visitors on websites, and Semalt ruins that trust by deliberately showing up as a referral.

 

A quick note here – Semalt allows you to ‘opt out’ of any crawlers by notifying them. This is bullshit. I didn’t sign up for your service, I don’t want to see your referral spam in my reports, and you’re bypassing standards already created by the community.

 

If that wasn’t bad enough, they’re hurting SEO as an industry. I’m sure there are some people who have been duped and genuinely think they’re an SEO tool worth paying money for. Ugh. I’m also sure there are those who think this kind of referral spam is what SEO is all about, which means they’re hurting SEO as an industry (and hurting whatever brand image they had beforehand).

 

Here’s what actually scares me. Semalt is not actually that dangerous, but they’ve opened up a huge can of worms. Other clowns are jumping on the bandwagon and making things even worse, potentially opening up the web to more sinister issues. Plenty of people know about Semalt know since they’ve been conducting their asshat operations for about a year now…and other spammers see an opportunity. Moreso, a new type of similar spam isn’t done through crawlers (they’re not actually visiting a page) but through the javascript in services like Google Analytics. Spammers now know they don’t even need to visit a site to show up in analytics reports and are using that to get attentions. Have you heard of any of these?:

 

  • Darodar

  • Buttons-for-website
  • Priceg

  • Makemoneyonline

  • Blackhatworth

  • HulfingtonPost

  • Econom

  • Ilovevitaly

 

These referrals are now showing up all over the web thanks to the trend started by Semalt. With such a far reach, these spammers now have the ability to point to whatever URL they like and have it show up in logs and analytics reports of almost any website. For now most are just affiliate links, but it’s not hard to imagine scenarios where these spammers could do true harm.

 

For instance, it would be easy for these spam networks to launch a DDoS attack on websites by simply changing the name of the referrer to the victim’s URL. Imagine getting a rush of unwanted traffic to a website, seeming to originate as direct traffic until your server finally throws in the towel. Keep in mind that plenty of webmasters willingly go to these spam referral web addresses, which could make for a very dangerous environment.

 

Exposure to malware is another serious threat to anyone curious enough to visit referral spam addresses. With the rise of electronic data theft, it would be simple for referrer spam networks to point to URLs containing dangerous software. It’s simple enough to mirror a reputable page but offer software aimed at stealing valuable information, selling it out to the highest bidder.

 

Finally, referrer spam could be used to sully site reputations. Unfortunately there are already practices aimed at hurting online reputations such as pointing link farms to websites or buying fake followers. Using referrer spam could easily become another tool in a blackhat arsenal to harm competitors.

Without some serious changes to the current system, the internet may be in for some very unpleasant surprises. Thanks, Semalt. Thanks for ruining the internet.

 

To fix the issue, check out the following post to remove spam referrals.