Social Media Traffic Thieves

SMS Text

This article is not about a hacker adding a piece of code to your site to divert traffic from your site to his own affiliate program. The post is not about spamming the social media sites to “generate traffic” to your own site. This information is about what some social media sites are actually doing to your content, and how they want to repay your good faith and your contribution to their businesses.

Think of your content and the work you put into it as a work of art. Now imagine someone walking into your studio and walking out with your painting. This is what some social networks are doing, right now, under your unsuspecting eye.

The truth is that every time you submit a story to Digg, StumbleUpon, reddit,, Twitter and so on, you are actually contributing to their sites. Your gain (traffic and some links, sometimes “nofollow”) is smaller than theirs: your contribution improves their content database, and your very presence on the site boosts user metrics, site usage, traffic, search engine rankings and ultimately helps these “free” social networks get venture capital and other financial gains.

So, instead of being thrilled to have such active and generous users like yourself, some social media networks want to exploit the users even more, to gain even more by virtually stealing content and traffic from other publishers. Digg and Facebook are desperate to sell: as popular as they are, they hardly manage to generate the revenue to justify their current VC or other investments. They had to find a way to prove their sites “worthy” of funding, and sadly they found one of the most repulsive of all: hijacking other websites.

Digg hosts your content in its frame and steals traffic by redirecting users to Digg instead of to your site.

Digg hosts your content in its frame and steals traffic by redirecting users to Digg instead of to your site.

The buzz started a few days ago, shortly after Digg announced the DiggBar, a new tool created – as Digg would like us to believe – to improve user experience.

What caught my attention from the start was the first point on the bulleted list describing DiggBar’s features and benefits:

Digg directly on the destination site: No more awkward toggling between the story page and Digg.

In free translation, Digg is actually announcing to us that instead of going to the story page, the “diggers” will never leave Digg. For the multitude of Digg enthusiasts this is a dream come true. But, for a content publisher, the nightmare is just beginning. Having a story make the first page at Digg becomes pointless without the traffic benefits: publishers who depend on traffic for profit are concerned that Digg is stealing not only traffic, but content as well, since the content is now hosted directly on Digg through this “ingenious” iframe system.

Back in the 90’s framing websites was a popular trend with content thieves who would use frames to trap visitors inside their sites, even while linking to external content. So, Digg is not doing anything new, but what worries me the most is that the rip off has found some advocates.

Some of these supporters try to put our minds at ease with the mention of the “share” buttons present in the DiggBar; buttons that allow users to share Digg links via Facebook, Twitter and mail. Apparently these buttons would help “improve” traffic to the publishers’ sites. The question is how, when what is being “shared” are Digg links?

The SEO community reacted vehemently against this new flagellum – Digg is not the first, nor the last to use a trapping toolbar. Other social media networks joined the party: Facebook, Hootsuite (for Twitter), Krumlr (Twitter again), and some blogger networks like TheGoodBlogs have as well.

Hootsuite - the ultimate Twitter toolbar wannabe.

The solution to stoping the rip off is quite simple: insert the following piece of code before the tag.

<script type=”text/javascript”>
if (top.location!= self.location) {
top.location = self.location.href

In conclusion, the best SEO practice in situations like these, is to not take everything at face value. Many claims are made by many companies, websites, blogs, social networks and so called experts. The key to protecting your content, data, and most of all investment, is to find sources of information that can be trusted, apart from services that need your work to thrive.

Think how much time you spend creating user profiles, creating a network of “friends” and for what? To find out, in the end, that the joke is on you, that the service you trusted so much is a double dealing pickpocket.

Mihaela Lica Butler
Mihaela Lica Butler is senior partner at Pamil Visions PR and editor at Everything PR. She is a widely cited authority on search engine optimization... Read Full Bio
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  • ma

    I’m not sure what the protocal is Mig so I’m just going to blurt it out. If need be, this information that I’m going to leave can always be deleted, k?

    I found a userscript that will manage the Diggbar thing. Anyone can grab it at the usual handy place:

    It works very nicely, too, I might add. :p~~~

  • netlatch

    We are not trapping anyone on Krumlr. Krumlr added the header to allow readers to easily retweet any page they click on from Twitter via a Krumlr post. If anything this is a boost to the content owner by making their pages more viral on Twitter. Krumlr is about making it as easy as possible for its users to share links on Twitter and that is all. If you don’t have an issue with Twitter then you shouldn’t with Krumlr. BTW if people didn’t share links most people would never find the content and revenue would go down not up. We can’t speak for intentions of Digg or Stumble Upon

  • GetFamous

    I don’t think I agree with your sentiment. I just saw a poll that ranked Digg as the social media network that drove the most traffic to people’s sites. They benefit both their users and the the sites that get Dugg greatly.

    Let me put it this way – would you be better off with no Digg, or with a Digg that uses a toolbar? If you answer no Digg then no problem, don’t submit to them and promote other ways.

    If not, then they are still helping you, not “stealing” your traffic. They’re just not helping you as much as you wish they would.

    Also, using an iframe does not mean the content is hosted on Digg. It’s hosted on your server and it’s being viewed through an iFrame. Big difference. You wouldn’t say that your site is hosted on Firefox would you?

  • Kevin

    Great job explaining why using iframes are effectively stealing content, traffic, and revenue from publishers. When I published that article I thought that I would catch a lot of heat from Digg users but surprisingly many found this move by Digg to be underhanded:

    I would only add that another important reason to not let site get away with adding frames is that it promotes others to adopt this strategy too. Thus it would ensure a return to the late 90’s when nearly every website looked like frames within frames. At that point the content becomes so unrecognizable and unusable that visitor traffic dwindles and the flurry of lawsuits begin.

    Sharing is great, but adding frames to someone else’s content is stealing. Especially if you are running ads in that frame.

    Digg was fine without the software toolbar. They could just as easily developed a browser toolbar. They are stealing traffic because the links redirect back to Digg not the publisher. So with your reasoning it would be okay for Microsoft to add a frame to Internet Explorer to log pageviews through and all the other browsers to do the same, right? That’s really bad reasoning. Do you not understand that at some point everyone will apply there own frame and the content will be gone?

  • Alex

    There is no discussion here, if you shows content in your site wich belongs to another site (and you didn’t ask for permision to do so) you are stealing.

    It doesn’t matter if Digg (or whoever) thinks is doing you a favor, this is stealing!!!

    Mihaela, great post!

  • Josh

    The amount of speculation in this post is astounding.

  • Alison

    That javascript can easily be turned off by the framing page in IE. Firefox is harder. I’m not installing the toolbar but someone who has may want to see if it works in IE.

  • maikeru76


    “… that the joke is on you, that the service you trusted so much is a double dealing pickpocket…”

    So your saying ditch Digg and other social media sites? Rereading this again =) Great contrarian view!

  • Gidseo

    Given the chance Digg always seem to take the option that will diminish their supporters/followers.
    The new way of linking to stories to deny them even a no-followed direct link is the last effort by Digg to give nothing back to the people who support it.
    There was a time when I looked at Digg every day… it’s over a month since I looked there; Digg must have lost out hugely to Twitter.
    Digg might not be dead but it’s decline is in full flow.

  • Mihaela Lica

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments and feedback.

    @MA: I don’t have the habit of deleting useful comments. I’ll try the tool you suggested. The first look at it didn’t answer the question: how does it disable the DiggBar. πŸ™‚ Must go “in-depth”

    @netlach, I do not have any issue with Krumlr, I have an issue with toolbars that add frames to sites. StumbleUpon does not do this. The toolbar is pretty similar to Google’s. Digg stole the “toolbar” idea, but they added the frames and now you see that nasty toolbar on all sites, whether you are logged in (Digg) or not. Take a look for yourself:

    @GetFamous you are right about the “hosted” issue. I stated that wrong. What I meant is “hidden” – your content is being hidden through the ingenious iframe system. The URLs, whether you like it or not, are automatically redirected to Digg’s domain. Kevin did a good job explaining how and why. I am serious: we are better off without Digg if they don’t stop this rip off.

    @Kevin: thank you for the support and for adding the extra information. πŸ™‚

    @Alex – that’s right! I don’t care why they do it, I don’t care how they “paint it” to the public. Fact is: they are stealing. Period.

    @Josh – if you call it speculation it would be more helpful to tell us exactly which parts are speculation, don’t you think? πŸ™‚

    @Alison you can turn the framing off in FF too. I am not using IE.

    @maikeru76 – yeah, that’s what I am saying. Ditch the buzzards πŸ˜‰ – let’s see how they feel if the users start migrating somewhere else.

    @Gidseo – I was always reticent when it came to using Digg and now more than ever. There were always issues with the system, from “hate brigades” to paid Diggers, from burying stories without reason to promoting Kevin Roses’ and his friends’ in the detriment of others.

  • Ash

    Very good insight on Digg and other Social Bookmarking sites. Yes, rather worrying about our data and content we keep on improving other big names and we get merely few backlinks.

    I am wondering what does this JavaScript code do? Please explain in detail.


  • Andrew Hallock

    Very sensationalist. If you don’t want your site framed, just include the JS snippet and move on. Digg never claimed your content as its own; your site is there, in its entirety, with a bar at the top for Digg meta-data. It’s only a promotional tool. It may not be perfect, but just like the whining news sites who think Google is ‘stealing’ their content, their traffic would dry up if they weren’t on Google.

    > Digg and Facebook are desperate to sell: as popular as they are, they hardly manage to generate the revenue to justify their current VC or other investments.

    Really? Why don’t you cite some sources for that statement. It’s pure speculation, as both are private companies.

  • Mihaela Lica

    Andrew, is BusinessWeek good enough for you as a source: ?

  • Michael Martinez

    This is much ado about nothing. still frames other people’s sites and folks have long since stopped whining about it.

    No one seems to complain about Google Image Search framing people’s sites, either.

    Why pick on DIGG?

  • Mihaela Lica

    I actually don’t like Google’s image search framing either, but face it, Digg is not Google. I am picking on Digg because the DiggBar actually affects SEO and Google rankings.

  • Social Man

    You are right about the frames and about Digg. Similarly with Wikipedia they are losing the plot when it comes to linking out.

    The frame is just so tacky that should go away as soon as they see usage drop.

    I am not digging any stuff until they fix this.

  • Nathalie Allard

    Great story, I went to check it out (about Digg using a frame, etc.) and gosh it’s true! I’m shocked! I’ve Twittered your link.

  • ehsanul

    Hi! You mentioned this in the comments:

    “I do not have any issue with Krumlr, I have an issue with toolbars that add frames to sites. StumbleUpon does not do this.”

    I’m not sure I understand the difference in what StumbleUpon is doing, besides that they started doing it much earlier. Could you please explain?

  • Mihaela Lica

    @eshanul: StumbleUpon does not frame pages as the DiggBar.

  • ehsanul

    Umm, have you not seen the extension-less stumbleupon bar that has been around forever?

    Check this url for example:

    Now if that isn’t framing, I don’t know what it is.

    Besides the diggbar, other sites, like reddit and stumbleupon, and krumblr as noted above, have used frames. This isn’t for purposes of content-stealing of course, just a matter of convenience to users.

  • Mihaela Lica

    Actually no, I haven’t seen that yet, ehsanul, and I’ve been a SU user forever. When do they actually use this kind of toolbar? It really makes no sense to have both a browser toolbar and a frame toolbar!

  • ehsanul

    Actually it does make sense, for a number of reasons. The browser toolbar gives you much more functionality I think. Atleast it avoids some annoyances of the frame toolbar. But you see, there are a lot of different browsers, some that don’t let you install plugins. So if you want to be available to everyone, you have to have a platform-independent toolbar. Hence the frames.

    Secondly, I think SU was not growing as fast as they wanted, because many people were not willing to install a plugin. Plugins spread very slowly, this is well known. They wanted to grow.

    So you see, it’s so weird that the diggbar is being criticized so much when stumbleupon has been doing this forever. Nobody complains about stumbleupon’s bar hurting them, because the benefit is obviously more. It’s the same with the diggbar.

  • Mihaela Lica

    trust me, if I knew about SU, I would have hammered them too! There is no benefit for the publisher with iframes! The only traffic that comes from SU is from the browser toolbar (I study my analytics religiously).

    SU is as desperate to grow as any of them social networks, and even more desperate to sell (eBay, the company behind it, will never get back their investment). Since SU does not deliver so much traffic any longer, many migrate to other social networks. For me personally SU is still fun to use, because of the browser toolbar. What I would like to see is a more refined search function. I am glad that you told me about the iframes toolbar. It’s time for SU to be hammered too. I still don’t get it how you find the iframed URLs though. I logged off my SU account and clicked on the links of the most popular entries on the SU homepage, and they still don’t open on a iframed page…

  • ehsanul

    Well, you can make the argument that SU (and digg as well) is the source of the traffic to publisher’s sites, albeit through iframes, so it isn’t as if it’s a huge injustice to not benefit the publisher in some other way too. Such benefit should really be counted as extra. It’s free advertising for publishers in the first place, and people have to start thinking about how these services will survive at all if all they do is serve publisher’s interests without thinking of their own.

  • Mihaela Lica

    There is no traffic advantage with iframes, and digg knows it. That’s why they make the Diggbar opt in now.

    After you told me that SU was doing the same thing I spent some time and checked how sites are getting that SU frame toolbar on some sites. The answer was simple: it only appears on Partner sites – like The Huffington Post for example. It was always an opt-in solution for the publishers.

    This is what I find now fair:

    “All anonymous users, those not logged into, will now be taken directly to the publishers content via a permanent redirect – no toolbar, no frames.”