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Using Google Analytics, in the past week we've noticed an extremely high percentage of people visiting our pages and leaving after less than one second. In some cases they are leaving after zero seconds...

Anyone versed in today's SEO knows that Google track's the "time on site" statistic and uses that to help determine their rankings in search.

What we think is happening is that a competitor might be doing this intentionally. Setting up CURL scripts or something to continuously visit a site and leave immediately, thus hopefully lowering our search rankings eventually. Perhaps they are doing it from multiple IP addresses, we can't tell using Google Analytics (or can we?).

Has anyone heard of this type of behavior? Is there a specific name for it? How do you combat it?

We've been considering tracking the time-on-site using window.load and window.unload and then recording the visited time along with the IP address in order to determine the IP addresses that are causing the problems.

Any clues?

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I wonder how they measure the time someone stays on your site, there is no OnExit event you can catch. If a user only visits a single page, you cannot tell how long he was there. I could imagine other reasons for short visits, e.g. browsers prefetching pages. –  martinstoeckli Aug 17 '11 at 15:43
    
I would make sure there aren't any technical problems with your site before considering it an attack. –  JMC Aug 17 '11 at 16:01
    
On a somewhat related note, from the 12th - 16th one of my busier sites noticed a drop of 1 minute avg time on site from all three major search engines. All other referral paths maintained normal avg time on site. Strange...When did you notice the drop off? –  JMC Aug 17 '11 at 17:30
    
Nevermind about time frame, I see that you mentioned the past week it started. Make a custom analytics report using Source -> Avg time on site. See if the drop came from the major search engines. –  JMC Aug 17 '11 at 17:46
    
"Anyone versed in today's SEO knows that Google track's the "time on site" statistic and uses that to help determine their rankings in search." - I'm highly sceptical of this claim. Its the sort of thing which is highly suspect to gaming. –  MrG Aug 17 '11 at 17:48

1 Answer 1

There are three ways google can track time on site that I know:

  1. Through chrome browser statistics
  2. Through google analtyics
  3. The amount of time between the click on your link in the SERP and the time between the next click on the same SERP (indicating the user visited your site then went back to the results page for another link).

There have been a number of articles from google saying they don't use google analytics data in search ranking. That leaves chrome statistics and #3 above. Seriously manipulating chrome statistics would be a major chore for even advanced technology groups so it's unlikely this is the case.

Finally you have no control over #3.

In summary, I wouldn't sweat it because you can't control it and it's unlikely that doing the type of attack you're suggesting would accomplish anything.

Speculation: Your competitor would probably have to send thousands of requests using unique chrome browsers from unique ip blocks to make google take any consideration from the attack. I don't think a few curl requests from a few different ip addresses would be enough to make google reconsider your site.

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Number 3 could even be rated positive, how many people open several tabs at once and view them later. But a click is a confirmation that a link sounds interesting to a user. I doubt that Google would rely on such uncertain assumptions. –  martinstoeckli Aug 17 '11 at 16:01

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