Who the Hell is Semalt.com?


Written by Rob Truslove
SEO Manager at Hello SEO Copywriting

In December 2013, the rise of a new phantom website called semalt.com began to baffle and irritate web developers. The first place many developers spotted it was in their Google Analytics reports. Semalt.com shows up under the referrer traffic subsection of Google Analytics. In appearing there, it affects the data to make it look as though the website received a hike in traffic. These referrer hikes often exceed 30 additional website viewers per day.

 

While traffic spikes in themselves seem rather harmless, many developers were annoyed that another website was interfering with their data. Semalt drives fake traffic. Developers began investigating and creating ways to avoid seeing Semalt’s name plastered across their reports.
What is Semalt Really Doing and Why?

Semalt describes itself as “a professional webmaster analytics tool that opens the door to new opportunities for the market monitoring, yours and your competitors’ positions tracking and comprehensible analytics business information.” As Charlie Harvey, computer geek & blogger from charlieharvey.org.uk, noted that this is a very wordy but ambiguous description. In short, they appear to be a competitor analysis tool. In addition to messing up website analytics, they aim to collect information from your website that can in turn be shared with your competitors.

While it is difficult to determine Semalt’s exact purpose in crawling the web, it does appear that they are harvesting information. Online Threat Alerts points out a few other reasons to be suspicious of Semalt accessing your website:

  1. Their domain name is only registered for the minimum one-year amount of time, a frequent indicator of fake sites.
  2. Semalt doesn’t have a secure SSL connection (i.e. https://www.semalt.com doesn’t exist)
  3. Payments are processed through a third party service. They offer a paid service that is already freely available on the web

Bad Bots?

When Semalt first began snagging bandwidth across the World Wide Web back in January, many developers speculated that they were harmful bots. Bots are an inevitable part of web searching, and they are usually used to crawl and index various pages of your website. Good bots are ones like the Google spiders which crawl and rank your website. Bad bots are ones that often crawl sites with the intent of spamming or content theft.

Bad bots affect website bandwidth by relentlessly crawling through your web pages. This slows down your whole site and can in turn affect your website ranking on Google, Bing, and Yahoo. There are a number of bad bots that are blocked by most webmasters. They can be blocked through a website’s robots.txt file, by IP Address, or directly by web hosting companies.

Blogs like The Grinning Skull took a mocking approach to warn web developers of Semalt’s “shady motives”.

A Russian Phish?

Although the Skype accounts of the Semalt managers would suggest that they are based in Sarasota, Florida, Semalt appears to be Russian. One blogger traced breadcrumbs back to the Semalt site, noting that the page loads with address “counter.yadro.ru.” This address refers to Yadro, a Russian advertising company often regarded as spyware. Yadro is frequently reported by internet security firms as either a tracking site or a trojan malware infection. It’s certainly something to be avoided if possible.
 
Social Media Outcry and Response

Whatever their shady reasons might be, Semalt certainly seems to be putting a lot of resources towards customer service. Senior Sales Manger @AlexAndrianov1 offered his Skype address for anyone who is having problems with their service. His microblogging posts insist that Semalt is nothing but a marketing monitoring company, analysing web statistics.

Currently, he seems to be apologizing to more than one dozen people per day for all the problems Semalt is causing.

Should You Block Semalt...?

Desperately in need of another opinion, we discussed semalt.com with Colin McDermott, a Manchester based SEO expert at Banc Media. You can find Colin on Twitter at @colinmcdermott. Colin said: 
"SEMalt has recently started appearing in logs for multiple sites we manage – even to the point that some clients have asked about it. I do suspect this is some form of referral spam marketing – which if you have the bandwidth resources as they clearly do – is quite ingenious. Of course there are 10,000s of different bots and web services out there, and sometimes some of them can misbehave. Thankfully a reasonable percentage of bots will obey robots.txt directives asking them not to crawl.

If you feel like a disproportionate amount of your server resources are being taken up by bot traffic, you could consider employing a Robots.txt whitelist, then block everything else. You can find out more about doing this here: http://www.robotstxt.org/robotstxt.html. And don’t forget to allow Googlebot, MSNbot/Bingbot, and if you run AdSense, the Google Mediapartners bot:
 
User-agent: Mediapartners-Google
Allow: /

Unfortunately, some of the worst bots do not obey Robots.txt directives – however if you have control of your server you can employ a firewall. On my server I use CSF, a free firewall tool designed to work hand in hand with WHM/cPanel – which drastically reduced the amount of resources used by spam bots etc."
 
More Ways to Block Semalt's Bots
 
In January, a few peeved developers began creating easy instructions for how to block semalt.com. The bloggers at logorrhoea.net created a few simple lines of code that can easily block referrer traffic via an .htaccess file. They gave a simple reason for doing so: “Semalt.com [is] best avoided and there’s a whole load of suspicion about why they’re trying to harvest information.” According to logorrhoea.net, you can block semalt.com from your site by adding these lines to your .htaccess file:

# block visitors referred from semalt.com
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} semalt\.com [NC]
RewriteRule .* - [F]

After two months of referrer spam terrorising their bloggers, Wordpress.com was also fed up. In February, they blocked Semalt from their site.

Blogger Pritesh Patel from priteshpatel.me was equally suspicious: “These crawlers are then being logged as referral traffic in Google Analytics which is not a nice thing to happen. It’s not how other software providers do things – some say it’s a clever marketing stunt in order to get the attention of web masters.”
Pritesh suggested that Semalt might be trying for a publicity stunt, and shared this YouTube video to help webmasters filter Semalt from their Google Analytics:

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