Cartoon of Bob Marley with Jamaican flag

Hotlinking: AKA Hey Bob Marley, Stop Stealing My Bandwidth

The amazing thing about owning a business is that sometimes the problems you run into are super interesting. Let me tell you such a tale and, in the process, teach you about a nefarious practice called “hotlinking.”

About a month ago, I received an overage bill for traffic to a site that we host. I resell hosting from another provider. That provider was basically saying, “you pay for 100,000 people to visit your site, last month, you had 130,000. Pay us more.”

Being such an awesome steward of my financial health, I didn’t really look into it. When I got a similar bill last week, this time for even more of an overage, I started to get a bit curious. My first stop, as always, was Google Analytics. The visitor numbers I was seeing for the client were FAR lower.

While it isn’t odd to have those numbers differ, what was weird was that while our month-over-month numbers on Google Analytics were staying consistent, the numbers the hosting company was seeing were growing substantially every month.

After digging into it, I determined that another website, was “hotlinking” to our “Share on Twitter” image.

What Is Hotlinking?

Hotlinking is the act of stealing someone’s bandwidth by linking directly to their website’s assets, such as images or videos. When you put a URL into your browser, that URL brings up a page that likely includes a bunch of images. The images are brought up by URLs on the page. The site you are pulling up, isn’t necessarily hosting that image. So basically, this website was pulling up our “Share on Twitter” button every time someone visited the website. Therefore, we were being charged for the traffic that was generated, even though my client didn’t actually receive any additional real visitors to their website.

What Can I Do About Hotlinking?

Now, don’t you worry about a thing. Every little thing will be alright. (I couldn’t resist.) Hotlinking is a problem that is easily fixed if you know what you’re doing.

In this case, we were able to resolve this issue by putting some code on the site that prevents websites from “hotlinking” to any of our images. Websites that attempt to do this will simply have a broken image on their site.

So that is how it came to pass that a musical legend who has been dead for almost 40 years was responsible for stealing bandwidth from my client’s site. (Or, at least, the far less awesome-than-us web strategy firm his legacy foundation hired.) Are you facing a similar issue with your website that you’d like an expert to help you solve? We’ve got you. Reach out to Spring Insight, and let’s get the conversation started.