Join me for magical mystery tour of website analytics and SEO!

Do you like a good mystery?

If you do, come with me on a little journey. I won’t take much of your time and along the way we might solve an online mystery you’ve experienced.

I was reviewing a list of websites that had referred visitors to my site and I found that a few visitors had come from a Yellowstone area travel website.

I recognize most of the referring websites on the list, and of course sources like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are always at the top. But I wondered why and how were visitors coming to my site from this travel website.

I clicked on the link to find the backlink to my website. I examined the page and found nothing; there was no link to my site from this page that presumably sent visitors to my site. I wondered how are people traveling from a Yellowstone area travel website to if there is no link connecting the two sites?

After doing a little research I found the answer: the Yellowstone area travel site hadn’t sent any visitors to my homepage. Zero. Zip. Nada. The “statistic” in my analytics that told me a couple of visitors had come from that site was plain wrong.

My analytics had been “gamed.”

But what is worse is that I fell into the trap set by these bogus “visits.” I clicked the link back to the Yellowstone travel page in my attempt to find the reference to my website.

In other words, while I originally thought the travel site had boosted my visitors, I had, in fact, boosted the visitors to the travel site; the Yellowstone site had pulled the old switcheroo on me.

The folks at the Yellowstone travel site may not even understand the situation. Here’s what I believe has happened:

The good people leading tourist groups at our premiere national park probably signed up with an agency (right now there are some based in China that are doing this) that promised to increase their web traffic. The agency then makes various websites (and Google analytics) believe that traffic is coming from the Yellowstone site. Finally, a curious website owner (like me) clicks on a link within analytics to find the referring link.

Ta-da! The Yellowstone travel site has one more visitor to its homepage.

This is one black hat SEO tactic that is being used today. There are others done by agencies that will send ghost visits to your site that will register on Google analytics and make it look like your traffic is surging. Unscrupulous website owners will then use this increased traffic to make their site look good to advertisers.

That’s not what the Yellowstone travel site was doing. I believe they just wanted to pull more visitors into their site. The problem is that the kind of visitors that come by a tactic like this are not interested in the product or service the website sells.

It’s better to have 10 qualified prospects a day visit your site than 1,000 random web surfers who end up on your homepage through some digital slight of hand.

This situation can be avoided if you remember some universal truths:

  • There is no such thing as a free lunch. You have to earn qualified prospects.
  • When it seems to be too good to be true, it is. Any SEO “expert” promising huge traffic is drumming it up in a way that, in the long run, you won’t want.

Don’t fall for any of these SEO scams. You’ll be wasting your money. Also, if you’re getting “visits” like these showing up in your Google analytics, you can filter them out. This way you can better judge what is really happening with your traffic. Zee Drakhshandeh has written a nice how-to article on Google analytics filters.