Google Analytics is the most used tracking tool in the world. It’s used on almost half of the top 1,000,000 websites (as currently ranked by Alexa).
As a Digital Marketer or webmaster, it can be incredibly frustrating to open your Google Analytics reports and see huge increases in traffic to your site only to have to put the champagne on ice after you’ve dug a little deeper.
Realising that a load of the new referral traffic you have been receiving has come from spambots and not, in fact, genuine sites linking to you is both heartbreaking and incredibly frustrating!
WHAT IS REFERRAL SPAM/ REFERRER SPAM/ GHOST REFERRALS?
Referral spam is the fake referral traffic that you get from ‘bots’ that crawl your website and perform a variety of repetitive tasks for a multitude of malicious reasons.
Not all bots out there are bad, take Google’s very own ‘Googlebot’ for example. Googlebot crawls the web to index websites and pages so they can accurately present them in their search engine results pages (SERPs).
Google’s Googlebot is good. It even has flowers.
However, you are going to want to stop the not-so-friendly bots from crawling your site and appearing in your Analytics data.
Not sure which ones I mean? Well I’ll come onto how you can spot the spammy sites that you need to block soon, but as a starter for 10, if you recognise any of these then I have bad news for you:
But do not fear, the majority of websites today are receiving referral spam on a regular basis and it’s a trend that has increased rapidly over the last couple of years. In fact, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, has admitted that Google know all about referral spam but have yet figured out a working solution!
WHY IS REFERRAL SPAM DANGEROUS?
The initial frustration you may have with referral spam is that it skews your, otherwise mostly reliable, Google Analytics data making any conclusions you take from the tracking software redundant.
Metrics based on sessions such as bounce rate and conversion rate will be hit and gleaning any valuable information becomes tricky. Although some of the less complex bots that crawl your site won’t affect your GA stats, they can still negatively impact on site performance.
WHY DO PEOPLE PROGRAM REFERRAL SPAMBOTS TO DO THESE THINGS!?
I know right. Where has the humanity gone? Well, there are a variety of reasons they do it, and here’s just a few:
- Boosting traffic stats – Advertisers will pay more money to sites that have a large number of regular visitors. These crawler programs can falsely inflate these numbers.
- Click fraud – when a person or program clicks a PPC ad with the sole attention of wasting the advertiser’s budget rather than purchasing the advertised product or service.
- Harvesting emails – to then sell on to 3rd parties for bulk email campaigns.
- Scraping web content – to repurpose or feign as their own content.
- Spreading viruses – many of the sites that appear in your reports are loaded with malware and when you unwittingly visit them your device will get infected.
- Lead generation – unbelievably, some companies do it for lead generation although why anyone would purchase from such an unethical business is beyond me!
HELP ME! HOW CAN I STOP REFERRAL SPAM?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, there is no definitive solution to referral spam but there are effective workarounds. Whilst Google themselves tell you to use the ‘Referral Exclusion List’ to block the spam, this is not the ideal technique; and here’s why:
Using the Referral Exclusion List to attempt to block spammy websites coming up as referrals in your Google Analytics reports is dangerous as it merely records the traffic as direct rather than excluding it completely.
What we and many other reputable sources recommend is using ‘custom filters’. Here’s how:
1. Head over to Google Analytics and sort your ‘Referral Traffic’ by ‘Bounce Rate’. It’s fairly safe to assume that any site that has 0% or 100% bounce rate, with at least 15-20 sessions, is spam.
2. If you’re unsure then check it against our ‘Ultimate Referral List’ at the bottom of this page.
3. Can’t find it in our list? consider searching the site in a search engine to see what other people are saying about it. Remember to be incredibly cautious when choosing whether or not to visit the site as we already know that a lot of these sites are harmful.
4. Now you have your final list, block them with ‘custom filters’
When you’ve selected the account you desire, click the ‘Admin’ tab
Select ‘All Filters’
Click the big red ‘+ Add Filter’ button
Enter the spammy URL’s as you see them entered in this example, select ‘All Website Data’ from the ‘Available Views’ box and click ‘Save’.
Bear in mind that there’s a 255 character limit for each filter so you will only manage to get 10 or so spam domains in each one. Although it can be time-consuming to keep adding to your
filters, this currently the best fix and is definitely worth doing.
The Current 128 Domain Strong Referral Spam List