For quite a while now, Search Engine Optimization geeks spent lots of time trying to game Google’s search results. That’s no surprise, given the status and influence of Google, and the money at stake in paid search.
More recently, however, I have noticed that a similar attempt has been made to game blog rankings. That’s right, some geeks have been applying their considerable programming prowess to making individual blog rankings appear greater than they actually are.
That these gimmicks are even attempted reveals the growing influence of Blogs. And given the sales prices that some legitimately trafficked blog networks have garnered, we are now looking at millions of dollars in potential sales for any of the top "gamed" high ranked blogs.
About 1 in 4 of the top 100 websites ranked by sitemeter are faking it
The most blatant blog rank gaming I have noticed is visible at the Truth Laid Bear, my favorite site for tracking traffic, and one of the best known eco-traffic web pages.
The strategy is quite simple: Group related blogs together, register them all with SiteMeter, which is the basis for traffic stats.
The trick, it seems, is to some how get traffic monitoring sites to count the same stats repeatedly for different sites.
For example, consider these 13 sports (mostly baseball) related sites. Note that all 13 have the precise number of daily hits — 40,455. Set aside the statistical unliklihood of this occurring, and its apparent that somehow, all 13 sites are trading off of the same traffic data.
Here’s the faked misleading traffic data:
28) Athletics Nation :: An Oakland A’s Blog 40455 visits/day
29) Red Reporter :: A Cincinnati Reds Blog 40455 visits/day
30) Bruins Nation :: A UCLA Bruins weblog 40455 visits/day
31) Camden Chat :: A Baltimore Orioles Blog 40455 visits/day
32) Royals Review :: A Kansas City Royals Blog 40455 visits/day
33) South Side Sox :: A Chicago White Sox Blog 40455 visits/day
34) Lone Star Ball :: A Texas Rangers Blog 40455 visits/day
35) Let’s Go Tribe :: 40455 visits/day
36) Burnt Orange Nation :: A Texas Longhorns Blog 40455 visits/day
37) Sactown Royalty :: A Sacramento Kings Blog 40455 visits/day
38) Pounding The Rock :: A San Antonio Spurs Blog 40455 visits/day
39) Swamp Ball :: An Unofficial Florida Gators Blog 40455 visits/day
40) Over the Monster :: A Boston Red Sox Blog 40455 visits/day
And here is the very different reality of these sites’ traffic, according to sitemeter:
28) Athletics Nation 5,939 visits/day
29) Red Reporter 571 visits/day
30) Bruins Nation 780 visits/day
31) Camden Chat 416 visits/day
32) Royals Review 126 visits/day
33) South Side Sox 752 visits/day
34) Lone Star Ball 1,129 visits/day
35) Let’s Go Tribe 1,029 visits/day
36) Burnt Orange Nation 726 visits/day
37) Sactown Royalty 134 visits/day
38) Pounding The Rock 63 visits/day
39) Swamp Ball 41,988 visits/day
40) Over the Monster 516 visits/day
I pulled these traffic stats off of Siter meter (located at the bottom of each page) as of February 25, 2006 early am.
Note that only two of the 13 sites of this network garners significant traffic — Swamp Ball with almost 42k per day, Atheletics Nation gets nearly 6,000 daily hits. The remaining 11 sites range from 63 daily hits to a little over 1,000.
Yet all appear to receive the 42k of the lead site.
While sports sites seem to be the most prevalent of the gamed traffic stats — see also the four BTF Baseball sites — its also politcs, tech and culture doing the gaming:
Traffic on these two pages (which are differentsections od Daily KOS) are identical according to site meter; They are feeding off of the same measuring stat:
2) Daily Kos :: Diaries 685115 visits/day
3) Daily Kos: State of the Nation 594115 visits/day
These two sites appear to be identical mirrors:
20) AMERICAblog: Because a great nation deserves the truth 75379 visits/day
21) AMERICAblog: Because a great nation deserves the truth 75379 visits/day
These two are actually only one site; The 2nd one is a long, single post from the 1st; As they are the same site, they both garner the same traffic:
43) Blogcritics.org: Music, Politics, TV, Film, Books, Sports, Gaming, Science, Tec 33150 visits/day
44) Blogcritics.org: A Paradigm Shift of How We Disseminate and Communicate 33150 visits/day
A combination of mirrors and subheaded siters all feed onto the same site meter meaure:
46) RedState – Conservative News and Community 26084 visits/day
47) RedState – Conservative News and Community 25382 visits/day
48) RedState – Conservative News and Community 25382 visits/day
50) RedState.org 23665 visits/day
Some of these look like mirrors, other sub sites, and still others single posts; All run off of the same sitemeter measure:
66) Wizbang: Explosively Unique… 16306 visits/day
67) WizbangTech 16306 visits/day
68) Wizbang Bomb Squad 16306 visits/day
69) Wizbang Pop! 16306 visits/day
These first two are unavailable, and the last two show up under the same site meter as part of "Baseball Think Factory"
All told, of the top 100 websites as traffic ranked by Truth Laid Bear via sitemeter, 31 are conjoined, and are misrepresented as separate web logs. Of the 31, there are 7 legitimate traffic generators,leaving 24 that are gamed and do not belong in the top 100.
In other words, about 1 in 4 sites in the top 100 are misrepresenting their traffic.
Fixing the cheating should be easy enough: Simply do not allow multiple sites to be listed independently on traffic ranking data pages by the same site meter ranking . . .
UPDATE February 27, 2006 10:14am
Interesting WSJ article covering some very related issues:
Blog measurement is another mess. The latest word from
Dave Sifry, CEO of the blog search engine Technorati, is that there are some
28.4 million blogs and the blogosphere is doubling in size every 5.5 months.
Eye-popping figures like that have been thrown around a lot recently, but folks
making revolutionary claims about blogging won’t like other Technorati numbers:
Less than half of those blogs are still getting posts three months after their
creation, and less than 10% — just 2.7 million — are updated at least weekly.
That means of Technorati’s blogs, more than 90% are either abandoned or updated
too rarely to merit the name — nothing kills reader interest or visits more
quickly and thoroughly than a stale blog.
Still, 2.7 million active blogs is impressive. But how should we
measure their audience? Technorati does so by looking at incoming links, which
is the closest thing the blog world has to an industry standard, but doesn’t
tell the whole story — not with search engines and news aggregators shooting
blog posts out into the general fray of the Net.
UPDATE 2: March 11, 2006 5:05pm
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em: I added some of the sub-categories to the TLB Traffic Ranking Page; No tricks required — just put in the URL off of the same site meter measure, and voila! We now have spots 87-92
87) The Big Picture 11875 visits/day (929)
88) The Big Picture: Markets 11875 visits/day (27123)
89) The Big Picture: Economy 11875 visits/day (27124)
90) The Big Picture: Music 11875 visits/day (27125)
91) The Big Picture: Film 11875 visits/day (33032)
92) The Big Picture: Web/Tech 11875 visits/day (27126)
At least the traffic is legit !
Blog Epitaphs? Get Me Rewrite!
Rumors of Blogs’ Demise Are Exaggerated,
But a Lot Less Obsession Would Be Healthy
WSJ, February 27, 2006