Gaming the Blog Ecosystem

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) Music, Politics, TV, Film, Books, Sports, Gaming, Science, Tec 33150 visits/day
44) 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) 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"

78) BTF’s Baseball Primer Newsblog 13257 visits/day
79) BTF’s Baseball Primer Newsblog 13257 visits/day
80) BTF’s Baseball Primer Newsblog 13257 visits/day
81) BTF’s Hall of Merit 13257 visits/day

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

Jason Fry
WSJ, February 27, 2006

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Eclectic commented on Feb 25

    I couldn’t escape the notion I was reading a discertation very similar to other ones I’ve read on hocus pocus EBITDA. They both have a similar odor, generally undetectable by our olfactory-challenged contemporaries.

    I know you must’ve worked hard on it, Barry… but, other than I’ve stated about it… it’s boring as a sack full of hammers. Sorry.

  2. Spike commented on Feb 25

    Daily Kos, Red State, and all of the baseball sites all run on the same software (can’t speak for the other blogs, I’m not familiar with them). They use the “Scoop” engine, which is very popular for community blogging.

    I’d wager this is less a problem of people trying to game the site ranking software, and more an issue of the site ranking software simply not being able to handle some aspect of Scoop.

  3. Franklin Stubbs commented on Feb 25

    “I know you must’ve worked hard on it, Barry… but, other than I’ve stated about it… it’s boring as a sack full of hammers. Sorry.”

    Yes, incredibly boring. How dare you work out a trite little piece of analysis, just because it caught your eye, without considering the browsing preferences of your readers first. It’s only a third of a second to skip past this bit of piffle, but really, do you think mouse clicks grow on trees? Shame on you.

    All those dissatisfied should demand a full and total refund, on pain of comment spamming if not received immediately.

    I think you’ll agree it’s only fair.

  4. Barry Ritholtz commented on Feb 25

    I worked neither hard nor long on this — I first looked at it a few weeks ago, and it kinda percolated in my head for a while.

    Then this morning, while the missus was still shnoozin, I quickly ran the numbers — perhaps 30 minutes total time. (There was nothing compelling in Barron’s anyway)

    Thanks for the defense Franklin

  5. Eclectic commented on Feb 25

    Merely a metaphorical compliment, good friends.

    Retract the claws… read it again… no refund requested.

    It’s my personal opinion that irresponsible pro-forma accounting is the biggest single unresolved problem we have in corporate America. In a sense, erroneous click counting, intentional or otherwise, is analagous to the emphasis on EBITDA that has run rampart for generally the last 15-20 years.

  6. Paul commented on Feb 25

    Inflated stats for bragging rights is one thing, but I’d hope anyone who wants to invest in a blog or blogging network has some sense that Sitemeter does not equal due diligence. There should be some server stats that are more accurate and other places that independently measure site traffic.

  7. Jon H commented on Feb 26

    “I’d wager this is less a problem of people trying to game the site ranking software, and more an issue of the site ranking software simply not being able to handle some aspect of Scoop.”

    And I’d guess the Americablog thing is less an issue of gaming the system and more about a similar flaw in the ranking software. just redirects to the blogspot site, so the site ranking software probably neglects to account for that. There’s nothing particularly sketchy about setting up a .com alias for a blog.

  8. The Cheat commented on Feb 26

    As one of the offenders, I feel I have to defend my honor.

    Nobody is trying to “game” the rankings. We are a group of blogs that all run on the same server, and have two sitemeter buttons at the bottom.

    I’m not sure how TLB calculates their figures, but i figure the problem lies in one of those two things. Either TLB is getting all of the blogs confused because they are all on the same server, or TLB is culling their traffic stats from the entire network, and not just each site separately.

    I don’t think any of us care about our rankings one way or the other.

  9. mapgirl commented on Feb 26

    Interesting insight. I never think about rankings that much, but this does explain why I’m still just a Multicellular Microorganism… ;-)

  10. Barry Ritholtz commented on Feb 27

    To Southside Sox (“the Cheat”):

    If honor is at stake, then perhaps you may wish to contact Truth Laid Bear or Sitemeter about making this right.

    The traffic data makes it appear that all 13 sites are running off of the same counter.

    If this is an accident, then its a brilliant one . . .

    (If you knew an ump was helping your team, and you didn’t do anything, its still cheating).

  11. JD Arney commented on Mar 2

    The fault lies entirely with Truth Laid Bare which gets confused by more than one sitemeter tracker. The SportsBlogs network tracks traffic with a sitemeter button at the bottom of every site. Every individual site also has a sitemeter button dedicated to tracking its individual sites.

    I run Red Reporter and get quite literally zero traffic from Truth Laid Bare, so I’m not sure what the benefit of gaming this would even be? Its not as if advertisers make ad buys based on this.

  12. Tom Ziller commented on Mar 2

    Here, here, JD and Cheat.

    Frankly, it’s embarassing to see my site up there in top 100 when I know that’s not where it belongs. I’d rather my site appear where it honestly and truthfully should, so I could better compare its rank with similar blogs.

    When you pulled all of those individual SBNation stats, you should’ve seen two Sitemeter logos on the bottom. Then, you’d have seen that the numbers that appear on TTLB’s ecosystem are actually SBNation’s combined daily total for all its sites – possibly because TTLB keeps the last Sitemeter report it grabs on a site.

    Furthermore, you made the same mistake TTLB did. David at, Lord bless him, gets nowhere near 40K visits a day. You clicked the wrong Sitemeter logo, and got (shock!) the SBNation total. Like TTLB does. Wait, is SwampBall trying to game you by having a link to both the SBNation and Swampball traffic stats? Hmm.

    Your post is irresponsible at best. SBNation isn’t trying to game anything.

  13. kos commented on Mar 2

    Actually, TTLB knows about this problem. There’s nothing nefarious about it. He just hasn’t apparently figured out a way to filter out network sitemeters and redirects. (He’s probably got a day job and all.)

  14. The Big Picture commented on Jun 16

    Major Internet Site Web Traffic

    Paul Kedrosky references the Comscore internet traffic data. Its pretty interesting to see some of what’s getting measured and metrixed, and what the fastest growers are (YouTube, Social networkers,). There are a few things about the Comscore ratings t…

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