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My forum is getting attacked by spammers with Chinese IP's.

Replies are created to discussion topics, always short responses and along with the response an image is inserted using forum code which is then modified by the forum to an HTML image tag (no anchor tag).

So beautiful picture [img]http://www.coupon-domain-goes-here.com/avatar2.jpg[/img]

The replies are created by humans not bots because they are slightly relevant to the discussion.

The images do not display so regular forum members have no idea that this is spam. the reason they don't display is because the images return a 302 response code and redirects to a URl like this

http:// www.coupon-domain-goes-here .com/avatar.php?u=2

which then redirects with a 302 to another image on the same domain which is also called avatar.gif.

http:// www.coupon-domain-goes-here .com/images/avatar.gif

My question is why are they doing this. Is there an SEO benefit. There is no link created. It's only an image so the URl in the middle which is a PHP file should not be getting any link juice from search engines. Or maybe I am wrong?

What do you think?

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The replies are created by humans not bots because they are slightly relevant to the discussion - How relevant are they really? It's surprising what on can do with markov chains and possibly some Google searches. –  André Paramés Mar 16 '12 at 23:25
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Ok here is a very good possibility which you can test out. Since it's a coupon domain they are potentially cookie stuffing your visitors using the hot linked image.

How it works is they hot link to an image on their server. And within their own .htaccess rule they create a redirect so when that image is loaded it redirects to an affiliate link, your visitors get cookied because when the image loads it's actually loading an affiliate page.

To test this clear all your cookies then visit the forum thread with the images then check to see what cookies may have been stuffed into your browser.

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Just did a quick read up on Cookie Stuffing on wikipedia and your suggestion makes a lot of sense, however when I tested it I don't see any cookies. Maybe they add them later? –  donaldthe Mar 16 '12 at 18:00
    
It seemed more logical than trying to replace the image with a banner on old threads. As you said very little ROI. If the image is still hot linked they could always update the redirect and stuff cookies. –  Anagio Mar 16 '12 at 18:02
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Another idea is to use live headers plugin for firefox and see what they display. –  Anagio Mar 16 '12 at 18:03
    
Yeah, they're dropping cookies alright. Just not every time. –  donaldthe Mar 21 '12 at 19:59
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They do this because they can go back later on when the thread is forgotten about (e.g. less likely to be moderated) and switch the image with a spam advertisement. Doing it doesn't require anything more then switching out images on their end so even if you delete the account as long as the post remains they will be successful and with virtually no work on their part.

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An interesting suggestion, so later on they switch the image to a huge banner ad. My problem with it is the ROI is ridiculously small. Old forum threads are rarely read by humans (At least my forum). If it's just an image, with no clickable link and no SEO value, it seems like a waste of time. Also, why would the domains which host the images (so far it's been 2 or 3 different ones) all be coupon websites, in your scenario where it is not done for SEO reasons, the images could be hosted on any domain. –  donaldthe Mar 16 '12 at 17:14
    
Also, why all the redirects? –  donaldthe Mar 16 '12 at 17:18
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The ROI is worthwhile if everything is automated on their end. Even if the return is small, it adds up across thousands of domains. –  JMC Mar 16 '12 at 21:03
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