Jesse Lawson

Bestselling author and open-source evangelist.

Jan 1, 0001 - Rant

Who is paying for all that Spam Traffic?

Have you ever logged in to your WordPress dashboard and saw tens of thousands of spam comments in your queue? Ever wondered whose paying for all that traffic to come to your site? If you’re on a managed hosting setup, then the cost of serving your site to all this garbage traffic is most likely coming out of your pocket.

If you run an anti-spam plugin like Akismet, then you are presented with this little treat every time you login to your dashboard:

spam-in-the-queueAt the time of writing this article, there are 10,935 spam comments that have been thwarted by Akismet since I started using it on December 31st, 2013. That means over 700 comments per day to my little blog here are spam. Is this a huge number? Not really, unless you’re on a managed hosting service that charges you for overages in your allowance for visitors per month. Let’s look at an example:

Let’s say Lawsonry was hosted at a managed hosting company for $29 that afforded us 25,000 visitors per month — that’s ~833 average visitors per day, per month. I currently get around 500 hits per day that last longer than a minute (which I would count as “real” traffic), and a few hundred here and there of obvious bots and bounces. With my traffic from JetPack and Google Analytics telling me that I’m pulling in about 15,000 visitors per month, it makes sense for me to have chosen the $29 per month plan that I did, right?

Not if your managed hosting service counts every request for your site as an element of visitor traffic. Don’t get me wrong: if something requests your site and your site is served up by the server, that does and should count as one visit. The issue I have with certain managed hosting providers today is that they offer such a small amount of visitors per month and market to consumers who are already under the impression that “visitors per month” is equal to “human visitors per month.” Yes, this is incorrect. Yes, a visitor is any visit to your site, bot or human, spammer or legitimate user. But if we’re going to market services to the general population, then we need to come up with a new way to accommodate not just what is technical truth, but also what is widely considered a truth in the world of web hosting.

I’m talking about the discrepancy between what visitor tracking system have taught us and what visitors actually are. You can read more about what counts as traffic and why in this article, but if you’re a web hosting provider, you should already know that your consumers are coming to the table with bias metrics. If you offer tiered pricing models, you should be up-front with what your customers are probably going to have to pay, and not have to backpedal when they’re complaining about overage charges.

In our example, Lawsonry began a hosting plan under the impression that 25,000 visitors per month would be all it needed. At around 15,000 visitors per month *from the data I’m coming into the hosting relationship with *(regardless of whether this data is bias toward human visitors or not), I’m entering into a managed hosting relationship thinking that I can have up to an additional 10,000 visitors per month under this plan. In reality, my traffic is going to reflect additional spam and bot traffic that will force me into a higher hosting tier.

Does this sound familiar? You thought your traffic was going to be around ~15,000 per month, and then at the end of the month you were charged for something like 54,592. At an average overage rate of $1 per every block of 1,000 visitors above your allowance, your $29 plan just turned into a $69 plan — all because you’re now paying for the spam and bot traffic that you never realized existed. Is this the host’s fault for charging for these visits? Of course not. A visitor is a visitor, regardless of what kind of visitor it is. Is it your fault? Not really; you should know the difference between what Google Analytics says traffic is and what actual web traffic is, though. So what can we do?

  • Managed hosting providers can absorb some of the costs of serving to spammers and bad bots by actively blocking malicious and spammy IPs.
  • Hosting tiers can include more visitors per month to make up for the discrepancy between what people think their site traffic looks like and what their site traffic actually looks like.
  • We can ensure that no one is upset by providing this information up-front during the signup process.

I’ve written before that over half of all your website traffic is coming from bots. Going forward, ask yourself one question: who is paying for all that spam traffic?