Spam or Clever Marketing?
Note: This was an experiment that I tried for about a week. I’m not advocating this approach, but merely throwing it out there for discussion. A couple of website owners (see the comments) have already voiced their opinion and I’d love to hear yours.
Anyone that runs a website, big or small, should be checking some basic web traffic statistics. Web analytics software is an important tool to confirm that things are working correctly, but it’s also a good way to learn more about a site’s users. One report worth looking at is the referrer (often misspelled referer) report.
Referrer information is transmitted by most web browsers and serves as an indication of where the user was just before coming to your site. This is a good way to find other sites that link to your site because in such cases, the location of the link will be what’s transmitted as the referrer.
Since the referrer is something controlled by your web browser, it is possible to wield some control over it. Many people block the information entirely in an attempt to maintain a level of privacy. Blocking a referrer can be done with easily with browser extensions or with the use of a firewall or proxy server. For me, a more interesting approach is to change the referrer to always be my website (thanks to Bjorn for the idea). The idea being that a percentage of the owners of the websites I visit will see my site as the referrer and choose to investigate. This can result in more visitors, feed subscribers, and maybe even links.
Bjorn suggests using Privoxy which is a free proxy server that you can run on your computer. For just referrer spoofing I found this tool to be overkill. It also resulted in a lot of errors when I was visiting sites. A better solution, in my opinion, is the RefControl Firefox extension. Aside from being easier to use, it also makes it possible to send different referrer information depending on the site you’re visiting. So if you happen to run a financial blog (like I do) and are visiting a financial site, you can use a different referrer than if you run a technology blog (again, like I do) and are visiting a technology site.
So the question is whether this is spam or clever marketing. Some might consider it spam because I’m consciously manipulating data that you might rely on for reporting purposes. Also, this tactic is in effect tricking other website owners in to thinking that a link to them exists on my site. Others might argue this is clever marketing because it doesn’t affect anything that is publicly visible and therefore not detrimental to the site.
I’m going to skirt the issue in my case for the time being. My initial test will be just to determine if the tactic works. What’s your take?