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.

I recently read Manage Your Day-to-Day created by the good folks  at Behance. Check it out on Amazon here. It was a welcome recommendation from one of my colleagues, and one of the few books I’ve actually felt compelled to take notes on based on the content. Below are my notes on the book, the passages and ideas that really hit a chord with me. Following my notes are personal recommendations for me, though I thought it could potentially help readers, as well:
Manage your Day-to-Day
Build your routine, find your focus, and sharpen your creative mind.

 
Forword
by Scott Belsky (founder of Behance)
  • There are so many distractions, it sometimes seems like you’re “at the mercy of everything around me.”
  • Stop blaming your surroundings and start taking responsibility.
  • It’s important as a team to step back and discuss the  work process, to “retool your doing” on a regular basis
  • The biggest problem we face is “reactionary workflow”
  • Audit the way you work and fix it. (For me, this is reminiscent of an analytics audit)
Ch.1 Building a Rock Solid Routine
Laying the Groundwork for an Effective Routine
by Mark McGuiness (author of Resilience)
  • If you want to create something worthwhile with your life, you need to draw a line between the world’s demands and your own ambitions (deep, bro)
  • Switch to creative work first, reactive work (emails, anything that can wait) second. That means blocking off a large chuck of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with phone & email off.
  • It may feel uncomfortable or get some people upset, but don’t surrender your dreams for an empty inbox
  • Set up a routine, triggers
  • Capture every commitment you make (Evernote?)
  • Establish start and stop points in your day
Harnessing the Power of Frequency
by Gretchen Rubin (the Happiness Project)
  • “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules” – Anthony Trollope
  • By doing something every day, you keep momentum giong
  • “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle
  • Habit leads us toward our goals much more so than sprints
Honing your Creative Practice
by Seth Godin (the Seth Godin)
  • Find a consistent place to do your work
  • It’s hard to tell others you know what you’re doing because it opens you up to criticism and you’ll likely feel like a fraud at first
  • Fake it till you make it? Kind of
Building Renewal into your Workday
by Tony Schwartz (CEO of the Energy Project)
  • Sleep is more important than food
  • Schedule breaks throughout the day
  • “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you hold it.” -Lena Horne
Making Room for Solitude
by Leo Babuata (Zen Habits)
  • Make time to be by yourself
  • Either early morning or late night is usually be since no one will bother you
  • Try meditating
Ch. 2 Finding Focus in a Distracted World
Scheduling in Time for Creative Thinking
by Cal Newport (Georgetown Prof.)
  • We work in a paradoxical world where we’re expected to focus but also be available all the time
  • How much of this expectation is in our own head?
  • Create daily “focus blocks”, booked on your calendar
    • People are used to the idea that they cannot demand your attention during times when you already have a scheduled appt.
    • Never allow distraction in those times
    • Consider a different physical location for “focus blocks”
Banishing Multitasking from our Repertoire
by Christian Jarret (Psychologist)
  • Creative minds are highly susceptible to distraction
  • Remove all distractions when focusing (mostly email, phone, and social media)
  • Try not to leave tasks unfinished, they will eat at you (nom!)
Understanding our Compulsions
by Dan Ariely (Duke Psych. Prof)
  • Tthe morning is usually your most productive time but many people waste it on email, which many times doesn’t require as much focus
  • Calendars inherently represent tasks that can fit into half-hours or hours, not something large like a 50-hr project
  • Email & social media is exciting because of random reinforcement. Usually emails are pretty boring, but once in a while, we get really exciting ones
  • Out of sight, out of mind
  • “Creation is in part merely the business of foregoing the great and small distractions.” – E.B. White
Learning to Create Amidst Chaos
by Erin Rooney Doland (unclutterer.com)
  • “Waiting for inspiration to write is like standing at the airport waiting for a train.” – Leigh Michaels
  • Have positive reinforcements after completing milestones
  • Self-control is a skill that can be practiced and developed
  • “tell me what you pay attention to, and I’ll tell you who you are.” – Jose Ortega y Gasset
Tuning in to You
by Scott Belsky (Adobe VP of community & co-founder of Behance)
  • Preserve unstructured time
  • Focus on yourself and don’t worry as much about the needs of others (be selfish at times)
Ch. 3 Taming Your Tools
Making Email Matter
by Aaron Dignan (CEO of Digital Strategy Firm, Undercurrent)
  • “I don’t simply beat back my email every day like a pointless enemy.” I want to ensure that the time spent with email adds up to something
  • To make the most out of email
    • Know your complex goals (long vs. short-term)
    • Connect the dots
    • Let things go
  • “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything” – Warren Buffet
Using Social Media Mindfully
by Lori Deschene (tinybuddha.com)
  • It takes a concerted effort to be mindful with social media
  • Ask yourself why you’re using social media and if it adds value to your life
  • The power of any tool lies in the intentions of its users
  • “You can do anything, but not everything” – David Allen
Reconsidering Constant Connectivity
by Tiffany Shlain (founder of Webby Awards)
  • Know when tot turn technology off
  • The idea of Shabbat and the Sabbath…one day a week
  • Your brain & soul need a “reset” every now and then
  • “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse” – Sophocles
Awakening to Conscious Computing
by Linda Stone (tech writer)
  • Being sedentary, sitting, and screen time are all negative
  • Look for opportunity to stand and walk throughout the day
  • Watch for screen apnea- the temporary cessation of breath or shallow breathing while sitting in front of a screen
  • Sustained stress causes us to fall back on familiar routines
  • Focus on breathing & posture while at desk, especially when looking at screens
Reclaiming our Self-Respect
by James Victoire (author, designer, filmmaker)
  • We’ve been fitted with an electric leash for bad bosses, demanding clients, and bored friends
  • We are losing the distinction between urgent and important
  • “If it’s important, they’ll call back.”
Ch. 4 Sharpening Your Creative Mind
Creating for You and You Alone
by Todd Henry (founder of Accidental Creative)
  • “Unnecessary creation is essential for anyone who works with their mind” (e.g. writing 3 pages of free-flowing thought each morning.
  • Keep a running list of projects to work on during your free time
  • We need regular reminders of our capacity to contribute something unique
  • “The pressures of the ‘create-on-demand’ world can cause us to look sideways at our peers and competitors instead of looking ahead
Training Your Mind to be Ready for Insight
by Scott McDowell (consulting and executive search firm)
  • Lay the groundwork for ideas to germinate
  • Many times, people undervalue the times they are apparently ‘doing nothing’
  • Constraints historically have resulted in a flowering of the imaginations
  • Exercise and get regular sleep
  • meditate
  • “Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer”
Tricking Your Brain Into Creativity
by Stefan Sagmeister (designer & typographer)
  • Try to do the most difficult things in the morning
  • If stuck on a problem, try thinking about it from a totally different point of view
  • Carve out time that is always untouched no matter what
Letting Go of Perfection
by Elizabeth Grace Sanders (author of effective time mgmt books)
  • Don’t let perfectionism control you
  • Perfectionism can hold you back if you refuse to be put in asituation where you might deliver an imperfect performeance and receive proper feedback
  • Many times, there is no ideal starting to, so start ASAP and know ti’ll be messy at first
  • Don’t over-invest yourself in insignificant areas – focus on your goals
  • Be open to honest feedback and use it to become more skilled
Getting Unstuck
by Mark McGuiness (creative coach)
  • Everyone gets creative blocks
  • Ask yourself what kind of block you’re facing
  • If in need of more inspiration, take a break
  • Don’t be embarrassed – get everything out, then decide what should be public
  • Be ready for bumps in the road
Coda. A Call to Action
How Pro Can You Go?
by Steven Pressfield (author of The War of Art)
  • The first step is just being able to work for a whole hour
  • Realize that expertise takes time – strive for it
  • “A professional is someone who can keep working at a high level of effort and ethics, no matter what is going on.”
  • “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work” – Chuck Close
Key Takeaways:

  • Ch 1 Building a Rock Solid Routine
    • Great work before everything else
      • Do your most meaningful creative work at the beginning of the your day, and leave “reactive work” – like responding to email or other messages for later
    • Jump-start your creativity
      • Establish “associative triggers” – such as listening to the same music or arranging your desk in a certain way that tell your mind it’s time to get down to work
    • Feel the frequency
      • Commit to working on your project at consistent intervals – ideally every day – to build creative muscle and momentum over time
    • Pulse and pause
      • Move rhythmically between spending and renewing your energy by working in ninety-minute bursts and then taking a break
    • Get lonely
      • Make a point of spending some time alone each day. It’s a way to observe unproductive habits and thought processes, and to calm your mind
    • Don’t wait for moods
      • Show up, whether you feel inspired or not
  • Ch 2 Finding Focus in a Distracted World
    • Defend your creative time
      • Book time on your calendar for uninterrupted, focused work – and respect those blocks of time as you would any client meeting
    • Focus when you’re fresh
      • Tackle the projects that require “hard focus” early in your day. Self-control – and our ability to resist distractions – declines as the day goes on
    • Kill the background noise
      • Turn off your phone, email, and any apps unrelated to your task. Event he presence of background activity (and temptation) can drain your focus
    • Make progress visible
      • Marking progress is a huge motivator for long-term projects. Make your daily achievements visible by saving iterations, posting milestone, or keeping a daily journal
    • Give your brain a break
      • Alternate challenging creative work with more “mindless” tasks to give your brain time to rest and refuel
    • Tap into transitional moments
      • Take a break from checking your smartphone during transitional moments, and open yourself up to opportunity and serendipity
  • Ch 3 Taming Your Tools
    • Keep the long view in view
      • Post your complex, long-term goals by your workstation to keep them top of mind when prioritizing your tasks
    • Be conscious of your bandwidth
      • Practice letting go of certain email and social media conversations. There will always be more opportunities than you actually can take on
    • Check yourself, or wreck yourself
      • Distinguish between compulsive and conscious behaviors. Are you acting out of boredom or blind habit when you could be serving a higher goal?
    • Hit the reset button
      • Make a ritual of unplugging on a regular basis. Turning everything off is like hitting the ‘reset’ button on your mind – it gives you a fresh start.
    • Don’t hold your breath
      • Be conscious of your body. Breathing deeply and regularly can decrease your stress levels and help you make better decisions.
    • In imagination we trust
      • Don’t trust technology over your own instincts and imagination. Doing busywork is easy; doing your best work is hard
  • Ch 4 Sharpening Your Creative Mind
    • Practice unnecessary creation
      • Use personal creative projects to explore new obsessions, skills, or ways of working a low pressure environment
    • Wander lonely as a cloud
      • Make time for your mind – and body – to wander when you’re stuck. Disengaging from the problem allows your subconscious to do its work
    • Define “finished” from the start
      • Keep your inner perfectionist in check by defining what finished looks like at the beginning of a project. And when you get there, stop!
    • Don’t go on autopilot
      • Repetition is the enemy of insight. Take unorthodox – even wacky – approaches to solving your stickiest problems and see what happens.
    • Search for the source
      • When the well runs dry, don’t blame a lack of talent. Creative blocks frequently piggyback on other problems. See if you can identify them.
    • Love your limitations
      • Look at constraints as a benefit, rather than an impediment. They activate our creative thinking by upping the ante.

 

For me, here are my top personal takeaways:
  • Get up early – all the greats, do it
  • Have set time for email, SM, and phone and set them aside when it’s not that time – out of sight, out of mind
  • Plan out time for necessary work (usually at the beginning of day/week) and leave time to be creative
  • Take walking breaks to get a change of scenery and get some fresh air/perspective
  • Wind down at night – take a walk before moving to bed, and don’t stay up late unnecessarily
Here are some ideas on what I’m planning to do more of:
  • Running/racquetball
  • Writing
  • Language practice (German, French)
  • Coding
  • Marketing (projects like SocialPiq, FindSalsaDancing.com, etc)
  • Ambidextrous practice – writing w/ opposite hand
  • Illustration
  • Practice guitar

Are there any standard infographic dimensions? That’s the first question I asked when beginning my first infographic. After searching far and wide, my answer was a big, resounding NO. Great, so why is that even in the name of this post? I took a look at the 200 most-viewed infographics on Visual.ly. We’re going to look at the dimensions of successful infographics and get an idea of some best practices.
Below is a (meta!) infographic detailing my findings.

 

 

5 Facts About Standard Infographic Dimensions

5 Facts About Standard Infographic Dimensions

 

1. Orientation

Before even starting out on Illustrator, I sketch out ideas on paper. Before that, I need to figure out what the orientation is going to be. After recording the dimensions of the most popular infographics on the web, I thought back to these first steps of the infographic design process. In the past, I’ve always chosen vertical (or portrait) orientation. How does this compare to the rest of infographics?

 

It turns out 81% of the top creations I reviewed are also vertical, as opposed to horizontal orientation or square. A horizontal orientation may be preferable based on content or for horizontal-only tablet apps. But in today’s Facebook-centered, infinite scroll-addicted world, it’s not surprising that 4 out of every 5 infographics are vertical.

 

2./3. Height and Width

Ok, you figured out your orientation…now how big or small do you want your infographic to be? This depends on the application of your data visualization. Some advocate having width no more than 600 px. Limiting yourself is never a good idea, so take that with a grain of salt. Yes, you may want to optimize for smaller screens or social media – then again, you may want a huge infographic. You may even want a 14 foot-wide click and drag map.

 

But what did the study show about pixel size? Almost all vertical infographics are 600-1100 px wide. As for height, that’s a bit more complicated. The beauty of infographics is that you can make them however long you need! There are actually two buckets we can put height in. First, the shorter infographics, which center around 2000 px. Second, the mega long ones, which reach more than 5000 px (and sometimes more than 20,000 px). For those with horizontal orientation, the most common width and height are 1200 px and 900 px, respectively.

 

4. Ratio

The most common width to height ratio for vertical infographics is 1:4, roughly the dimensions of the Empire State Building (sans antenna). With a general width of 600-1100 px, that should take you about two or three scrolls to finish reading. For horizontal works, that ratio turned into 3:2, much closer to your computer screen dimensions.

 

5. There are no standard dimensions!

You bozo! I already told you, there aren’t any standard dimensions, but now you can use these findings to give yourself a little more guidance when designing.

 

Advice:

Choose a smaller size if you’re going to share on social media. Short attention spans mean that people want data snacks, not a data dinner.

 

There’s no perfect size, but if you want to start out with some specific dimensions, try this out: 600 px wide, 2000 px tall. Didn’t fill everything out? Make it shorter. Trying to optimize for an iPhone screen? Make it skinnier.

 

Tailor for your audience. You can get recommended dimensions or sizes from anyone, but in order to make a good infographic – no, a great infographic!  you need to know your audience. Ask yourself how your audience will look at the data visualization (e.g. will they use a mobile publishing format like AMP, Instant Articles, or Apple News) and what they’ll be looking for. Now go – be fruitful and illustrate!

 

 

And a quick thanks to all the resources out there:

http://www.fetch123.com/SEM/how-to-design-infographics
http://webdev-il.blogspot.com/2011/04/how-to-make-good-infographic.html
http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2011/10/14/the-dos-and-donts-of-infographic-design/
http://www.techwyse.com/blog/infographics/facebook-cheat-sheetsize-and-dimensions/
http://www.quicksprout.com/2013/07/25/how-to-create-a-popular-infographic/
http://visual.ly/

 

P.S. When posting an infographic, be sure to fill in the alt text field of the image, allowing users with disabilities to understand the underlying premise of the infographic, in addition to giving search engines a better idea of what’s included in the image — part of SEO basics, something I implement regularly at the web design and development company in Colorado where I work.

Hi there internet. I’ll be updating sooner or later, so check back tomorrow. Even better, you can reach me via email here.