Do you remember when you were a kid, you thought you had received an amazing gift, and it was actually a pair of socks?
Well, the equivalent of that in the life of an SEO professional is opening up Google Analytics, seeing a spike in organic traffic, and actually discovering it was all a lie.
That’s exactly what happened with the Rock Content blog at the beginning of August.
Practically overnight, we started to receive a huge amount of traffic from two places that never appeared in our rankings: Czechia and Seychelles.
After investigating, we realized that this was happening with several other websites on the internet. And then we concluded: the traffic was fake.
A sad story full of broken hopes and unfulfilled goals, right? But a story that brought valuable lessons to the entire team — and that I want to share with you now.
In this post, you’ll learn how our investigation went and what to do when your site receives fake traffic.
How did Czechia and Seychelles come into our lives?
It all started on August 4th, when the traffic on our US blog (which remained constant throughout June) grew 37% from one day to the next.
On the 8th of August, we were already getting almost twice as much traffic compared to a day in June.
The first thing I did was identify the source of this traffic in the Acquisition Reporting section of Google Analytics. Maybe it was a spike in paid traffic coming from some campaign. Maybe we went viral on social media, who knows?
But no, it was actually a spike in organic traffic. This already struck me as odd, because Rock Content‘s blog traffic has never behaved this way.
Then I did something I always do: I put “Country” as a secondary filter on Analytics. And this was the result:
The United States left first place as the country that most accesses our blog, losing its crown to two countries that had never appeared in our rankings.
The strangest thing was Seychelles, an archipelago in Africa with a population of less than 95,000 people that, ten years ago, had less than 2,000 internet users, according to Wikipedia. If you like cartoons, it’s near Madagascar.
This intrigued us: how does a small archipelago that has tourism and fishing and its primary economic activities become so interested in Digital Marketing all of a sudden?
The investigation continues…
Once I knew where the traffic was coming from, I needed to understand why.
First, I identified how traffic in Czechia and Seychelles behaved from June to August. Was it a more or less natural growth, or something more akin to an explosion in sessions?
Looking at the percentages is enough to understand that the second option won:
This behavior also went against anything else observed on the blog.
My next step was to identify the pages that were getting the most traffic from these countries (with the help of the Behavior Reporting section of Google Analytics).
The ranking was quite varied, but some pages were getting more attention in both regions, like our posts about:
And that’s when things got even stranger.
Despite gaining a lot of traffic, the most visited pages in Czechia and Seychelles had an incredibly high bounce rate. Besides that, the average session duration practically did not exist.
All this pointed to the presence of bots on our site.
What I needed to know now was if this attack was happening only with Rock Content or with other sites as well.
It’s everyone’s problem. But what’s causing it?
A simple online search revealed to me other people reporting the same problem.
Some professionals shared possible causes on websites and forums, but the exact reason for the spike in organic traffic is unknown.
One hypothesis is that the affected sites are victims of a DDos attack. Basically, it is a type of attack that consists of flooding a server with traffic to prevent users from accessing it.
Why? According to Kinsta, there are some reasons, such as:
- Your competitors could take down your website to steal business from you while you are offline.
- Perhaps the nature of the content on your site is controversial enough that people want to block access to it.
- Or maybe a company takes down your website to show that the internet service they offer is better than the one you have.
Although this hypothesis is valid, sites from different segments were affected in the same way. So it doesn’t appear to have been a coordinated DDos attack with a specific intent.
This leaves us with the second hypothesis: it is a problem of Google Analytics itself, which is unable to filter the bots for some reason.
How did we reach this conclusion?
NameHero did an interesting experiment to see how their traffic was behaving in Google Analytics 4 (GA4), and found that its numbers there were pretty close to reality — in other words, the platform did not identify traffic coming from Czechia and Seychelles.
So check your data on the GA4. Maybe this is happening to you too.
Czechia and Seychelles: what to do with all the fake traffic?
The most talked about solution online is to block the fake traffic using Cloudflare.
There are reports of people using this service and seeing traffic from Czechia and Seychelles being stopped (check out an example on Mighty Gadget)
But there are also chances that this traffic flow will end naturally. That’s what happened to us on the 16th of August:
Whatever the problem was, it could be that Google has already fixed it.
And thankfully, after analyzing our data in SEMrush, it seems safe to say that the bots have not harmed our SEO strategies.
What happened was pretty bizarre and didn’t bring definitive answers, but it made even clearer the importance of always analyzing data in depth.
When traffic spikes occur, it’s best to be suspicious and hold back the excitement.
It could be that your content plan is paying off, sure, but it could also be something completely out of your control influencing your numbers.
So investigate first, celebrate later. This is the life of an SEO professional.
Do you want to continue to be updated with SEO best practices? I strongly suggest that you subscribe to The Beat, Rock Content’s interactive newsletter. There, you’ll find all the trends that matter in the Digital Marketing landscape. See you there!