Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Russian search engines floods internet traffic with Vote for Trump keywords during election, proof in Google Analytics

You heard it here 1st:

Russian Federation floods the internet with traffic to sites to promote "Vote for Trump" keywords 

In a series of Russian hacks, disinformation and persuasion, this post details a method the Russians were using to promote Trump to dominate search results. Traffic from crawling search engines emanating from Russia cleverly hijacked the language metadata setting with "Vote for Trump", boosting these ranking of these keywords.

One must ask to what end, for example to create and exploiting 
leverage over Trump? 

Specifically, a surge of traffic appeared during the election in month of November 2016 with language set to " You are invited! Enter only with this tick URL. Vote for Trump!" to boost keyword visibility in-part of "Vote for Trump".

Technically, the request Accept-Language header is set in browser/crawler to indicate the language (aka country) of the source request. This is one field of many as defined in the request headers specification, which is a whole slew of identifying metadata that is logged by your site and search engines. The values are generally agreed upon standards and overloading these values is generally verboten.

In the 1st screen shot below, is the traffic for a typical site I manage below. The traffic is tracked using Google Analytics (GA) portal and is set for a period of 1.5 months, starting Nov. 1st, 2016. It is the only period when this keyword manipulation occurred. Note;  

  1. Language 1 "... Vote for Trump!" suddenly appears during election time only.
  2. For the 1.5 month period spanning (Nov 1, 2016 - Dec 15, 2016) an increase in 34% traffic increase resulted. Be advised, that percentage is relative to amount of traffic a site gets. For small sites this is about double. For large site about 3% or less.

    However, checking 5 sites I manage the average number of hits remained consistent with 110-120 per site with Language as "... Vote for Trump!".

    This implies, 
    that every site worldwide has been hit with this keyword traffic manipulation to increase "Vote for Trump!" keyword visibility in search results for Google, Bing, etc search engines.

    This activity would influence all searches for "Vote for Trump", or similar associated searches on "Vote" and "Trump" combined, so that these keywords are more likely to appear at the top of search results. This intervention is called search engine optimization (SEO) by the internet advertising industry.

    People pay big money to getting higher rankings. Google Adwords, is specifically designed so companies to just that bid on keywords to guarantee 1st page, 1st position  on the top of the list. Bids can they run $1,000 per day per popular keyword. Highest bidder wins the auction and gets 1st place.

    For example, to promote "Trump" on would be $4,500 US daily. See Screen Shot #4 (last one below).
    Google Analytics Screen Shot #1 - 'Vote for Trump' dominates hits for this period

In the 2nd Google Analytics screen shot is drill down in the Language called " You are invited! Enter only with this tick URL. Vote for Trump!" for the same period. A surge of traffic appears. 
  • For the period spanning (Nov 1, 2016 - Dec 15, 2016), a majority of this traffic peaked before Nov 28th, when Trump stated in an interview was election day. 

    Did the hackers not check their facts? Traffic would be most influential for a Nov. 28 election day.

    Google Analytics Screen Shot #2 - 'Vote for Trump!' traffic appears only during election period

The 3rd Google Analytics screen shot is a chart with Language " You are invited! Enter only with this tick URL. Vote for Trump!" and Region. 

  • All of this traffic comes from Russia. Naturally Saint Petersburg, is logical source of most of the traffic spike since Russia connects to the West through a cross-border terrestrial fiber-optical cables to Helsinki, Finland. 

Google Analytics Screen Shot #3 - traffic confirmed from Russia 

The 4th screen shot is of Google Adwords KeyPlanner of a hypothetical campaign to promote "Trump" keywords or ad group on for 1 day.
To secure 1st position in Google search results page for would require and estimated 
$4,500 USD ($5, 980 CDN) a day.
#4 Google Adwords Key Planner for "Trump" - Prices in CDN.

Conclusion: This traffic was a planned activity to influence the election for Trump worth roughly about $1B dollars worth* of advertising spend worldwide.

*Based on following assumption, if approximately 1.1B websites world wide were indexed in a similar manner. 

 Have you checked your site traffic for 'Vote for Trump', please share in comments below.

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