Smart Solutions Blog

Understanding and Stopping Referrer Spam

June 23rd, 2015

Having a great looking and user friendly website is essential for an effective web presence. But even more important may be the need to measure this “effectiveness”. Google Analytics is currently the most widely used tool for analyzing website traffic, and it provides an excess of data to glaze over the eyes of many SEO strategists. Unfortunately, just as your email’s inbox can be spammed by countless unwanted messages so can the data being collected by Google Analytics. Referrer spam results in reports handicapped by fake visits/sessions that affects crucial metrics such as bounce rate and average session time. Understanding how Google Analytics (GA) is being spammed and how to stop it is tantamount to measuring your website’s “effectiveness”.

Crawler Referrer Spam

Web crawlers are an integral part of the Internet and are the heart for many web based companies such as Google. Crawlers, also referred to as bots, are used to index the web for search engines and are a valuable asset to those navigating the web. For as many good reasons web crawlers exist there are also bad reasons.

These bad bots are usually deployed by a black hat marketer whose goal is to get either more visits to their website or are looking to set a cookie on a visitor’s machine. When a webmaster observes a site that is getting lots of traffic from an unknown referer often curiosity will lure them to visit the spam site. Once the webmaster is on the site a cookie is placed on their machine so that if the webmaster happens to visit an affiliate’s site (Amazon, Alibaba, etc.)  and make a purchase the black hat marketer will make a profit.

Spotting Referrer Spam

The main goal of a black hat marketer deploying referral spam bots is to make sure the webmaster or person responsible for analytics sees the bad referrals. This makes finding referral spam in analytics reports pretty easy. In the image below we can see that 4webmasters.org is at the top of our referral list. It seems really suspicious because there is no reason this site should be sending us so much traffic. An unaware webmaster or SEO analyst may decide to go visit this site to see why they are linking to their website. Due to suspicion we decide to check a reference of referral spam sites listed at GitHub.

referralspam2

After viewing the referrer spam blacklist on GitHub we see that 4webmasters is the first one on the list.  This is a pretty good indication that this is crawler referrer spam.

 

Stopping Crawler Referrer Spam

Stopping crawler referrer spam is pretty straight forward as this type of crawler is “physically” accessing a website. Webmasters can implement the .htaccess file to block this type of spam.  Typically, a .htaccess file would be updated with rules similar to the following:

## SITE REFERRER BLOCKING

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} 4webmasters.org [NC,OR]

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} best-seo-offer.com [NC,OR]

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} darodar.com [NC]

RewriteRule .* – [F]

These rules will stop the spam sites from being able to crawl a website, thus preventing the data from ever registering on Google Analytics. Another way to keep spam data out of analytics is by creating filters that exclude the spam referrers entries. Although, this method does help your reports from a visual perspective. It does not keep the bots from actually visiting the site.

 

Ghost Referrer Spam

Black hat marketers seem to always find a way to make a dirty dollar. Because webmasters have figured out how to block crawlers from accessing their sites up crops a new way to position their spam sites in Google Analytics. Ghost referrers are now sending Google Analytics (GA)  request directly to Google using collected GA IDs (tracking numbers) or by random selection. This means that a spammer doesn’t have to crawl over a website, but can go straight to the source making it really hard to stop spam from destroying your analytics data.

 

Stopping Ghost Referrer Spam

At this time there is no concrete way of stopping Ghost Referrer Spam because the crawler/bot is not actually visiting the website. However, it is possible to set up filters in Google Analytics to keep the spam counts from displaying in reports.

First, navigate to the view you would like to apply the spam referral filter . Then, select filters from the view menu.

 

Next, click the New Filter button to begin creating the filter.

The Add Filter to View screen supplies us with many options to filter our analytics data.  First, give the filter a name, and then choose Custom for the filter type.  In the Filter Field box select Campaign Source, and then place a regex string containing the spam referrer’s domains in the Filter Pattern field.  It is imperative that the regex string is correct or you could end up excluding relevant traffic from your reports. In the regex string each domain should be separated by a pipe.  The backslash and period suggest any pages that fall after the .com will also be filtered out.  Also, make sure that there are no spaces and that the string does not end with a pipe character.

If you are hungry for more information on how to set up these filters take a look at Megalytics’s How to Filter Out Fake Referrals and Other Google Analytics Spam.

Stopping Ghost Referrer Spam

As with all web related technology the landscape of the Internet is perpetually changing. There will always be a scam artist out there trying to make a quick buck, and unfortunately the Internet offers many ways to accomplish this. Some spammers pull right up to your front door while others try to sneak around the back. It’s up to us to stay on top of the tools needed to prevent intrusion, and in this case keep them from ransacking our precious analytics data.

Google Mobile Update – Is Your Site Mobile Friendly?

April 7th, 2015

Google has announced that on April 21st, 2015 they are making a major update to their mobile search algorithm that will use mobile optimization as a ranking signal. This will result in more mobile friendly sites showing up in mobile search results. According to Google, this “will have a significant impact in our search results”.  It’s not often that Google confirms elements of their algorithm that impact search results, so this is kind of a big deal. Is your site ready?

How the Google Mobile Update Could Impact Your Traffic

If your site is mobile friendly – either designed to be responsive on all devices or you have a specific mobile version of your site (i.e. m.domain.com) – you could see a boost in organic traffic from mobile searches if your competitors don’t have mobile friendly sites.

If your site is not mobile friendly, you could see a decrease in organic traffic from mobile searches if your competitors have mobile friendly sites.

Is Your Site Mobile Friendly? Use this Test to Find Out

Google has created a guide for mobile friendly websites, which includes an easy mobile friendly test where you simply enter your domain and it will crawl your site to see if it’s mobile friendly. It will show you how Google sees your page when they crawl it, and let you know if it’s mobile friendly or not. If not, they will provide reasons why. Common issues are:

  • Text too small to read
  • Links too close together
  • Mobile viewport not set
  • Uses incompatible plugins
  • Blocked resources
mobile friendly test

Mobile friendly test

 

Google also provides a mobile usability tool in their webmaster tools program that shows you which pages on your site have mobile usability issues, and the specific errors for each page.

 

Why Your Site Should Be Mobile Friendly

      1. More Traffic. More and more people are using their phones and tablets to access the internet, and more searches will be done on mobile devices in 2015 than on desktop, especially for local results. As a result, more and more traffic to your site will come from mobile. Over the last year our clients have seen a +100% increase in mobile traffic after their sites were made responsive. After Google’s April 21st algorithm update, this will only increase for sites that are mobile friendly.
      2. Better User Experience. We’ve all experienced it. You’re on your phone and you land on a site that isn’t mobile friendly. You have to expand the viewport so you can see the tiny text, drag the screen left and right so you can see all the content, and then you bounce. Is this the experience you want your visitors to have? Google doesn’t, and is already notifying mobile searchers if a site is mobile friendly or not in the search results. If a site is mobile friendly, they include a “mobile friendly” annotation in the search results. If not, they include a red “not mobile friendly” annotation. Do not give your visitors a reason to click on your competitor’s site because they are mobile friendly and you’re not.
      3. More Conversions. At the end of the day, it’s all about conversions. Whatever the action is you want people to take on your site, it’s much more likely they will complete it from a mobile device if your site is mobile friendly.

We recommend making your site responsive to all devices, rather than creating a separate mobile site. The benefit is that you don’t have to maintain and update two different versions of your site, and responsive is more cost effective.

If your site isn’t mobile friendly, we can help. It’s an affordable process that in most cases will pay for itself in increased traffic and conversions. In our experience, 85% of client sites have been made responsive for $1,000 – $3,000, which will address the major factors in making a site mobile friendly.

Contact us today for a quote.

3 Ways to change how mobile affects your business

December 29th, 2014

Mobile use is on the rise, and Google is doing plenty to keep up with the demand. Recently Google rolled out some changes that will make marketing to your mobile audience easier. Not only will marketing to mobile users be more efficient, but you can also market FROM your mobile device! Here are 3 ways to “up your mobile game.”

1. Mobile Manager

Google rolled out the AdWords Express mobile app just a few months ago, and the app has received some great feedback. The new app allows you to do a number of tasks right from your Android or iOS smartphone. The tasks we found most useful are being able to: Create or edit an ad, edit a budget, and edit audience settings.

Sometimes it’s hard to stay on top of managing your AdWords account if you have a busy schedule. Imagine being away from your desk with some downtime, and instead of playing a game of Angry Birds, you can be proactive with your AdWords account instead. Also, if you download the Google My Business app, you can view your top stats for the month. Talk about staying productive!

2. Mobile Friendly Differentiation

Now, imagine you clicked a link from a Google Search, only to find yourself on a page that requires a magnifying glass to see it. Good luck if you actually want to click anything on the page without thumbing the wrong link. Google is rewarding sites that are mobile-friendly by adding a tag to the ad that says “Mobile-friendly.” This tells your potential visitors that they will have no problem viewing the page on their smartphone. The Googlebot automatically labels your page as “Mobile-friendly” if it meets certain requirements. So, make sure to avoid using uncommon software for mobile devices, like Adobe Flash, and look into having your website set up with a responsive design. This allows your site to be optimized in a way that makes it view-able on a smaller screen as well as a desktop, by re-sizing the content based on the screen size.

3. Google Shopping for Mobile

Google is seeing a huge increase in shopping searches coming from mobile devices. This prompted them to make Google Shopping a better experience. Now more information can be seen on product pages such as detailed product information, product reviews from customers, multiple image sources, and a 360 degree view of the product. Tablets also have the visibility of local merchants inventory of products, so customers can run to the store for purchase, instead of waiting for it to be shipped.

Integrate these mobile friendly features into your business, and you’ll be sure to see results.

Smart Solutions Travels to SEMA

December 2nd, 2014

Here at Smart Solutions, we’re big fans of all things automotive. So when it was time for the SEMA Show this year, it was a no brainer for us to go. With automotive clients including leaders in aftermarket performance exhaust, a garage equipment manufacturer and retailer, and aftermarket RV and truck parts manufacturer and distributor, we have an obligation to stay current with industry trends. Attending the show also gave us an opportunity to catch up with all of our automotive clients in one location. This year’s show was all about the new Mustang. Ford went all out and displayed 50 Mustangs, each representing a specific model year of their 50 year history. It was great to see how the Mustang has changed over the years into the aggressive, yet refined machine it is today. One of our Ecommerce and PPC clients, Borla Exhaust, brought with them a 2015 Mustang outfitted with a polished stainless steel Borla exhaust… which was simply stunning!

Borla Mustang

Borla Mustang

Now, I’ve mentioned we love cars right? Well, we also have a passion for craft beer. So when we saw that Kia and Ballast Point Brewery teamed up to make a car that’s also a bar, we had to check it out. This Kia Sedona was modified and fitted with two taps and a bar top right out of its back!

Kia Bar Car Photo Courtesy of Kia-world.net

Kia Bar Car
Photo Courtesy of Kia-world.net

We can’t leave out mentioning the Strati by Local Motors. A car that was printed – yes, I said printed – during the show. Using a cutting edge technology referred to as additive manufacturing, Local Motors was able to: print the car in 44 hours; spend an additional 10 hours of milling; and then handle final assembly by the Local Motors team. What is truly amazing, is that the car was able to be driven out of the convention center onto the Las Vegas Strip!

3D Printed Car

3D Printed Car

For SEMA not really being considered a car show, they definitely act like one. We can’t wait to show up for next year’s show!

 

Do you have an automotive or ecommerce website, and need help with digital marketing or web design? Be sure to connect with us, we would love to help.

We’ve Moved!

September 12th, 2014

We are excited to announce that we have moved our office to The Old Mill District in beautiful Bend, Oregon!

Smartz_0108_Location Edited

After 15 years on Twin Knolls Road in Southwest Bend, we are thrilled to be starting the fall season in our stunning new space. Located above Gymboree, Motherhood Maternity, Tumalo Art Co. and Zumiez in The Shops at The Old Mill District, this new office space is larger accommodating our growing staff, as well as state-of-the-art conference rooms, training room and spacious kitchen.

Smart Solutions Conference Room One “The Fish Bowl”

Smart Solutions Conference Room Two “The Barn”

Smart Solutions Training Room

From our workspace, we have panorama views of the iconic old mill smoke stacks above REI, the shops at The Old Mill and the Deschutes River.

It’s been very exciting settling into our location and enjoying all the wonderful things The Old Mill District has to offer. We are also proud to be hosting this year’s Bend WebCam Brew Ha Ha in our new space. If you aren’t already registered for Bend WebCam – you can do so by clicking the link through to their site. This two day web and marketing conference is not to be missed.

Please don’t hesitate to stop by if you are in the area. and we look forward to meeting with all of our clients in our new digs!

 

www.mapstcode.com

SMX Advanced 2014 Top Takeaways

July 18th, 2014
smx-advanced-coachella-of-seo

SMX Advanced meme borrowed from Bruce Clay’s blog. Too awesome not to share.

It’s been a few weeks since the SMX conference took up residency in Seattle focusing on advanced search marketing tactics. As with most conferences, it has taken us a couple weeks to wrap our heads around all the great information we received over the two days.

This year’s conference definitely did not disappoint and was jam packed with educational sessions following three tracks:

  • SEO
  • Paid Search
  • Local, Social and Mobile.

Topics, Conversion and Engagement didn’t have their own tracks, however they was covered in many sessions and we received a lot of great, applicable takeaways we thought were worth sharing. While the other three tracks were focused on getting traffic to your site, it’s just as important to learn how to better engage users once on the site – thus getting them to convert. Which is the whole point, right?

SEO

  1. Quality Content is King: Average word count has increased by 12% in the last year. Focus on user intent rather than keywords. Where are they in the buying cycle? What information are they looking for? Provide them with content that answers their questions and moves them along the buying cycle to conversion. Don’t focus on one keyword per page, include relevant keywords to the topic to capture long tail searches and show authority on the topic.
  2. Links Still Matter: Quality over quantity. More internal links aren’t necessarily a better user experience. Pass authority to your most important pages, and the majority of your content should be accessible within 3 clicks. External links are still important, but they should be from relevant sites with good authority. A few good links are better than a lot of poor quality links.
  3. Voice is Changing Search: Google’s head of web spam, Matt Cutts, gave a demo of how voice commands are changing search. The first search may have your target keyword, such as “Where is the Space Needle?” But each question after that doesn’t – “How tall is it”, “What restaurants are close to it”, “How about Italian?” Each question is answered by an audio response; the user doesn’t see search page results until the last query. This is especially relevant to local businesses.

PAID SEARCH

  1. Ideas for Ads. Most come from brainstorm sessions with your team or agency. Broaden focus to include customer reviews, blog comments, social media engagement, recorded phone calls, search query data. What are your customers already saying about you? What are they searching for on your site? Compile data in spreadsheet, run keyword density analysis to see what comes up the most.
  2. Conversion per Impression. Use this as an ROI metric.
  3. Target Users by Browser and Device Operating Systems. Safari clicks are twice as valuable as other browsers, IOS has better conversions than Android.

LOCAL, SOCIAL and MOBILE

  1. Mobile Page Load Speed is Crucial. Search engines want to give users best experience. Your content may be better, but if they have to wait for page to load to read it they’ll leave, and search engines will return a better result (not yours).
  2. Mobile Ad Auction is Broken. No mobile ad impression share below position 4. CTR 5% for position 1, drops to 2.5% for position 2. 86% of mobile time is spent in apps.
  3. Mark Up Mobile Forms with Auto Complete. Much better user experience if they have to type less on mobile device which can lead to better conversions.

CONVERSIONS / ENGAGEMENT

  1. Scroll = engagement. Bounce rates are recorded when a user lands on a page and leaves before going to second page. This isn’t an accurate reflection of engagement. If someone is reading an article and scrolling down the page, they are engaged with your content. If they click to watch a video on the page they are engaged. Use event tracking in Google Analytics to capture video views and scrolling.
  2. Test Small Design Changes. No more major redesigns. Test different page elements to improve conversions. Work on header, footer, navigation, product page elements and category page elements individually. Constant testing will result in subtle changes and improved design on an ongoing basis.
  3. Don’t Follow Conversion Best Practices. Your audience is different, and what works for others may not work for you. A more savvy audience will be turned off by large buttons and strong calls to action; they don’t want to feel like they are being marketed to. Security symbols can trigger anxiety rather than reassurance.
  4. Use Mobile Specific Calls-to-Action. No downloads, call instead.

Were you at the conference? Now that you’ve had some time to digest it all, we’d love to know what your top takeaways were! Please leave them in the comments below.

Google Updates: My Business, Shopping Ads, Panda 4.0

July 2nd, 2014

It seems that almost every week there is a new or anticipated update from Google. Whether it’s an algorithm update for hummingbird, penguin or panda – or changes related to their many ‘products’ – one thing is for certain, Google’s practices are always changing.

The last 6 weeks has brought a variety of changes to many of the services we use at Google – and there have also been announcements for upcoming changes. So this is the first of many blog posts, to keep you up-to-date in the ever-changing world of Google’s practices and what you can do to protect your organic search rankings.

Google My Business

  •  A little over a week ago, Google launched My Business. A much easier way to manage Google Search, Google Maps and Google+ business accounts, which previously were managed separately under Google Places for Business and Google+.
  • Now updating summer business hours, reading and responding to reviews, or posting photos on Google+ can take place from one dashboard. What’s even cooler is Google now provides insights and a snapshot of analytics right in your main dashboard, making it a great place to regularly check how many people are finding and engaging with your business on all Google properties.Google My Business Dashboard

Google Shopping

In the name of user experience, Google is looking to improve on Google Shopping by enforcing and adding new feed specifications that will become mandatory, September 30, 2014. Here is what’s new:

  • Google is moving to make their Shopping Feeds much more mobile-friendly by allowing ads to link to a separate mobile landing page.
  • The Image Quality Recommendations are getting a refresh and Google is providing more tips and details on how to create images that will catch visitor’s attention.
  • Google Shopping is expanding their support of Merchant-Defined Bundles, making it easier for merchants to specify and display products that are sold together as a bundle.
  • To help make posting easier and more straightforward, the feed specification, coming September 30, will specify how many characters can be used for most attributes. Taking the guess work out of Google Shopping Ad writing.
  • Google also has used this opportunity to update their Landing Page Content Policy giving users more background details, examples, explanations and guidelines for landing page URLs.

For more information about the 2014 Google Shopping Feed Update, you can visit https://support.google.com/merchants/answer/3097504

Algorithm Updates: Hummingbird, Panda and Penguin

Hummingbird:

Although this algorithm update was released almost a year ago, it is still incredibly relevant and important to keep in mind when optimizing content and sites. Since hummingbird is all about semantics – or the meaning behind what users are searching for – the key to optimizing for hummingbird is creating great content that your audience is searching for; finds useful; and enriches their overall experience.

Panda:

Panda 4.0 was release around May 20, 2014 and has been getting a lot of buzz in the last few weeks, most notably because of the alleged 80% drop in organic visibility for Ebay.com after a speculated algorithm update. Since this update is relatively new, experts and the SEO community are still analyzing why certain sites are being hit and what to do about it. One aspect of Panda is penalizing sites that have duplicate content in an overall attempt to be vigilant against spam. Unfortunately, this penalizes both the sites that are the true authority and original publishers of content as well as the sites that “steal” and reuse another website’s content. Panda also targets sites with ‘thin’ or poor quality content and does its best to make sure these sites don’t rank highly in search results

What to do to make sure your site isn’t affected by Panda:

  • As with hummingbird, create content your audience is searching for and will be useful to them
  • Always create unique content. If you are aware of another site using your exact content, consider reaching out to them and asking them to remove the duplicate content for the sake of both site’s rankings.
  • Create rich content. More content doesn’t always mean better. Make sure that you are covering your topic and it’s laid out in a way that is useful for the visitor. Use visuals – photos, videos, graphics and infographics enrich the user’s experience.
  • Use appropriate terminology for your topic. This is one of the ways to how Google you are the authority on a topic and should be ranked accordingly. Don’t repeat the same keyword over and over, broaden your keyword focus to capture long tail searches that are relevant to the topic.

Penguin:

The Google Penguin algorithm targets sites trying to boost their search results by unauthentic and unnatural link building. Although many in the SEO community have been buzzing about the effects of a possible Penguin update in May, Google maintains there was no update. Nevertheless, being aware of this algorithm is very important when creating link building strategies. It’s been 9 months since the last Penguin update (October 2013), and at the recent SMX Advanced conference Google’s head of web spam, Matt Cutts, teased that they were overdue in releasing an update. Stay tuned!

What to do to avoid getting penalized by the next Penguin update:

  • If you’ve engaged in questionable link building tactics, reach out to those sites and ask for the links to be removed. At the same time, continue to create quality, link worthy content to increase your percentage of good links.
  • If you hired someone to build links for you and aren’t sure where they are coming from, or if they are good or bad, use one of the many SEO tools to catalogue all your backlinks. Go through them and look for any domains that are obviously sketchy and would trigger a red flag from Google. Reach out to those sites and ask for the links to be removed.
  • To disavow or not? SEOs are split on this question, but if you find that you have a large percentage of sketchy links and can’t get them removed with direct outreach, you may want to proactively disavow them to avoid being hit with a penalty, as explained by Matt Cutts in the video below:

Google Is Judging You by Local Citations

April 18th, 2014

Goggle Local Search

Similar to how scientists are judged by the number of times their work is cited by others. Google is using local citations as a way to decide the validity of your business. These local citations, which can include your business name, address and other information, can directly improve your local search marketing results. This is because Google is assuming that more queries have local intent.

Learn more about Google’s local search efforts; the importance of claiming your business; and how you can get your share of citations with our help.

Heartbleed Bug: What It Is & What You Should Do

April 10th, 2014

Heartbleed Bug

As many of you are probably aware, a bug was recently discovered in the OpenSSL software used by roughly 2/3 of the sites on the Internet for SSL encryption. This is known as the Heartbleed bug. You are likely wondering if your site hosted by Smart Solutions is affected by this problem. That answer depends on the type of site(s) you have with us. It is likely that you are not affected, but there are a few cases where it may be.

Sites that are not affected:

  1. Sites that do not use SSL (encryption);
  2. Site that use SSL for a secure Pixelsilk form (donations, etc..);
  3. Site that use SSL for a secure Impact form;
  4. BV Commerce stores that use SSL.

Sites that may have been affected:

  1. Magento or WordPress sites that use SSL;
  2. Custom sites hosted on a Linux server using SSL.

The above had software versions that included the Heartbleed bug. We have already taken the necessary steps to patch the problem and the site is no longer susceptible to the Heartbleed bug.

What should you do about your site?

While there is not yet a way to determine if the bug was exploited, the likelihood is small. However, to be on the safe side, you should immediately change any passwords that you used to log on to the administration area of the site if it is in the affected list above.

What should you do personally?

You should immediately change your passwords on any of your social media, email or other sites that were affected by the Heartbleed bug. A list of known sites can be found at Mashable. As a safety precaution, you should also change the affected password that you used on unaffected sites.

Password Best Practices

In general, you should use unique passwords for each site to avoid one password compromising all of your accounts. We know this puts more of a burden on you to track those passwords; however it is the best way to stay safe. If you do not want to do that, please at least follow that advice for any sensitive sites such as banks, email, etc..

It is also recommended that you change your passwords on any sensitive sites at least once per year. This is simply a precaution but can save you a lot of headaches if there is a compromise.

In closing, if you have any questions about the your site or you do not know which category your site falls into from the above list, please do not hesitate to contact us at support@smartz.com or via telephone at 541-388-4298.

Sign-up for Bend WebCAM 2014 before May 6 and Save!

April 8th, 2014

Early Registration for Bend WebCAM Conference

For those of you who have attended Bend WebCAM (Web + Creative and Marketing) conference, you know what an amazing brain-boosting experience it is. Dates are set for this year’s two-day event on October 13-14, 2014. And we want you to be the first to know about this great registration deal:


Temporary Insanity Pre-Agenda Special

When you invite a newcomer to Bend WebCAM 2014, you AND your friend will get an insane-in-the-brain-deal towards registration—only $229 each!

So don’t miss out. When this year’s agenda and star-studded lineup of speakers is announced on Tuesday, May 6, the deal is done. Sign-up now>>

Or, learn more about this great deal
>>

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