NEWS FROM THE LAB - Monday, August 23, 2010

What's the success rate of Facebook spam? Posted by Sean @ 20:09 GMT

Facebook spam (erroneously called scams) has been making headlines recently…

And with all the attention on "virally spreading" links, we wondered, just how effective is it? What's the conversion rate? Links spread virally — but so what? That's only one step in the process. How many people actually fill out the CPA surveys that make the money?

Here's one recent example of spam attempting to use English football player Peter Crouch as bait.

Facebook spam

Only 269 "likes" — doesn't seem that interesting…

But wait, what's that in the bottom right hand corner? A counter of some sort?

Indeed, this particular spammer is using a statistics site called http://whos.amung.us.

Here's the dashboard view for the football spam:

Facebook spam

The most action that this spam managed was 208 hits in one hour.

Here's another, more popular spam about an unlucky McDonald's Happy Meal:

Facebook spam

This spam uses bit.ly links to spread itself on Facebook.

Facebook spam

Facebook spam

The links lead to http://happytruthblog.co.cc and there are just over 32,000 clicks. The stats also show the number of likes. Clicks to likes, what's the conversion rate? One link has around 40% and the other about 48%.

The dashboard reflects the successful traffic.

Facebook spam

40% is an excellent conversion rate, much better than e-mail spam.

However, the 32,000 clicks is far less than similar spam from just two months ago when we saw several examples of viral links that yielded hundreds of thousands of clicks.

Returns are diminishing as people are exposed, develop a resistance, and recognize Facebook spam for what it is.

In fact, the spammers themselves seem to know this and are working harder to convince people.

This version of the Happy Meal spam promises "no need to complete surveys."

Facebook spam

And the initial likes and the site's dashboard stats reflect well on that promise.

Facebook spam

But it's the same old spammer lie.

This page has an anti-spam bot "test", which is just a survey by another name.

Facebook spam

Let's close the page. Wait, what's this?

Facebook spam

Please take one minute to complete a spam-free market research survey?!?


Screw the spammers! Let's take a look at what they're trying to cover up with their JavaScript.

Here's the page source for the spam page:

Facebook spam

Rather than "like" the page and then "share" it with our friends on Facebook, let's skip to "step 3" and open /reveal.html.

Hmm, that reveals a reference to widget.php.

Facebook spam

And widget.php's page source gives us the final result:

Facebook spam

What? Really? The Happy Meal story is from November 2007? Cripes…

If that's the type of "free content" that these bonehead spammers are pushing, it's no wonder that there's a diminishing return on their efforts. What a joke.

A couple of other examples that we examined today used video bait (video.php). Those spam pages eventually linked to YouTube videos, and those view statistics only showed tens of views from the embedded sources.

That's good news. Examination of the data demonstrates that fewer and fewer people actually continue on to "step 3", which is filling out the survey. The vast majority of people bail out of the process after simply liking the page, or after sharing the link.

But here's the bad news.

Social networking spammers don't need to dupe very many people in order to be rewarded for their efforts. Many of the surveys lead to SMS subscriptions (particularly outside of the USA) and there's good money to be made. And because the conversion rates are better than e-mail spam, you can be certain that it won't be going away any time soon.