Is “Junk Traffic” Destroying Your Conversion Rate And Distorting Your Analytics?

by Sherice Jacob

Last updated on March 5th, 2018

Everyone wants more traffic, but at what cost?

Both small businesses and large retailers are learning that quality matters more than quantity – especially when it comes to boosting conversion rates and profits.  In one recent example, watch retailer increased its conversion rates by dumping affiliates from China, India and the Phillipines who were smothering high-traffic sites with ads and driving thousands of clicks – but no conversions.

You can guess what happened next.  Their Google ranking tanked and search engine results suffered.  The retailer then took a bold step and kicked out nearly 1,000 affiliates while cutting back its affiliate networks to solely Commission Junction. As a result, their conversion rate went up 50%.

Online retailer cut nearly 1,000 affiliates who sent waves of junk traffic to the site

When Conversions Turn Criminal

With lots of affiliates promoting your products, there’s also the potential that crooks will try to make a quick buck.

Indie artist retailer found out the hard way when its chargeback rate soared, turning it into a hotbed of activity for thieves looking to check stolen credit card numbers by buying 99 cent music downloads, and affiliates cashing in as so-called “independent artists” and making commissions off of albums stuffed with pirated music.

CD Baby’s controller, Christine Barnum says “80% of my time, seven days a week I was trying to contain fraud…it was like whack-a-mole, I would identify a pattern and put rules in effect to stop it and the fraudsters would come up with another trick.” decreased fraudulent chargebacks by over 92% with proactive security measures

Where Does Junk Traffic Come From?

Underhanded affiliates aren’t the only ones giving honest marketers a bad name and causing website owners to question their promotional programs.

Poorly converting traffic can come from other sources too, such as StumbleUpon, which is labeling itself as more of a content exploration and discovery tool rather than a traffic generator.

Many website owners find that StumbleUpon traffic (as well as Reddit, Digg and other voting-style sites) provide greater traffic numbers, but few conversions.  Still, it’s worth keeping in mind that you aren’t building relationships with readers on these sites like you typically do with Twitter and Facebook. If you’re aiming for broad brand awareness, the voting/stumbling sites could be worth a test drive.

Who’s Really Visiting Your Site?

Beyond actual website visitors, there’s a more worrisome trend making the rounds, courtesy of the underbelly of the internet.  According to cloud security firm Incapsula which did a study of 1,000 customers using its services, over half of the “traffic” reported by some analytics software is actually malicious bots, spyware-hijacked users, and other gunk designed to gum up the works.  Incapsula’s study found that:

  • 49% of traffic was users browsing the internet
  • 20% are from search engine bots and crawlers
  • 19% is from automated software querying things like your keywords and other meta tags in an attempt to gather intelligence
  • 5% is from content scrapers
  • 5% is from hacking tools looking for any exposed vulnerabilities or unpatched issues on your site.

So what’s a website owner to do?  The answer is not to stick our collective heads in the sand and hope the scammers and scumbags pass us over, but instead, be proactive about your traffic.

Junk traffic could be eating up as much as half of your site’s bandwidth according to
a study by cloud security provider Incapsula

Action Steps

  • Know your visitors. Take the time to install good analytics software and know where visitors are coming from, how long they’re staying, and what they’re doing on your pages.
  • If you’re getting a glut of poorly-converting traffic from certain affiliates in certain countries, you can block a range of IP addresses at the DNS level.
  • Take steps to make sure the security of your website is being handled properly. If you’re on a shared server, all it takes is one DDoS attack, malicious worm or hijacking someone’s unpatched script for junk traffic to slither its way into your site.
  • Scan your own computer for viruses and spyware, as an infection can easily “phone home” and spill over into your site.
  • There are tons of affiliate networks out there all vying for your business.  Screen them as you would a potential employee, after all, you’re putting a good chunk of your promotion into the hands of their affiliates.



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Sherice Jacob

Sherice Jacob helps website owners improve conversion rates with custom design, copywriting and website reviews.  Get your free conversion checklist and web copy tune-up by visiting


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  1. May 5, 2013 at 5:13 am

    I found this article very interesting. My website is attracting a lot of traffic (which is great), but I have also had to block at the server level some ip addresses due to the suspicious nature of the traffic and it’s source.

    • May 6, 2013 at 8:57 am

      Sherice did a good job covering this topic. Sounds like you’re staying on top of things. Good for you, Isaac!

  2. December 8, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    You’re absolutely rigth Russ, as affiliate programs other marketing channels require an ongoing maintenience, like search engine optimization, social media, email marketing, and so on. This channels are also evolving as you say for the affiliate programs. Btw, good post 🙂

  3. Russ Henneberry says:
    May 3, 2012 at 10:23 am

    I think a good lesson here is that setting up an affiliate marketing program for your products and services requires a lot of maintenance. The seedy side of affiliate marketing is always evolving with different ways to gain an edge and make a quick buck. Prepare for that ongoing maintenance when you choose to use affiliate marketing as a sales and marketing channel.

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