Having a blog or a website means Google analytics will become a way of life for you at some point. That also means watching referrers and casting out referrer spam too. We all like to know where our traffic is coming from and we all have our eyes on sites where we’d love to get loads of referral traffic from too. However, there are times when those referrers can come from places that we’d rather not be connected to at all. That statement brings us into the world of referral spam that invades and toxifies our Google analytics.
However, the reality is that referrer spam isn’t going to harm our blogs or websites, but what stinks about this kind of spam is that it bloats Google analytics with inaccurate data and drives up your blogs bounce rate.
In another post where I’ve addressed bounce rate, you want a low bounce rate and referrer spam is intentionally going to drive it up, up and up some more which is awful. For a blog, the typical bounce rate is going to place you in the neighborhood of 70-98 percent. This isn’t unusual, but let’s be honest, the higher the bounce rate is a bad sign in Google’s eyes that visitors aren’t sticking around very long because the content on the page your visitor is landing on isn’t compelling them to read any other content you may have on your blog.
With that said, beyond referral spam driving up your bounce rate and toxifying your Google analytics data, you may be wondering.. well what does referral spam look like.
Well we all know that most people are very familiar with these traditional domains: .com, .edu, .gov and.net. However there are many subdomains and spammier looking domains that are rising to the surface as well. You’ll see what I’m talking about in this screenshot of my Google analytics.
Now at the time of writing this post, I had noticed some new blog traffic that I’d been getting from Russia. Well that didn’t make a lot of sense to me since I hadn’t received anything beyond a “trickle” of Russian traffic before so that was the red flag for me to look into the analytics data.
As you can see in the image, nothing really looks out of order other than the abc.xyz / referral right ? Well after doing some further digging, I came to find out that the lifehacker.com referral was not genuine either. As you can see from the screenshot, the “k” isn’t really a k. It’s more like a lopped off letter k which isn’t from the genuine lifehacker.com website. With that being the case, that is also a referral that is just taking up space in my analytics data.
I bet you noticed the reddit.com referral. It turns out that one is bogus too. Now I’ve seen referral traffic from Reddit, but not in the amount that it was saying I was getting. My analytics report was showing that reddit.com accounted for 20% of my overall traffic. Well as much as I would love for that to be the truth, the simple fact is I’m not that popular with Reddit “yet”.
It goes without saying that if something just doesn’t seem right about your traffic, you should investigate it. I look at my traffic daily. I would say borderline obsessive about it, but even if you don’t look at your website traffic as often as I do, the reality is that if you’re checking even once or twice a week, you should be able to spot changes that deviate from what is considered normal for your blog or website just as I did.
Nevertheless, I had performed a Google search about referrer spam specifically highlighting the lifehacker website and came across other people that were experiencing the same thing. Apparently, whomever this vagabond is has been likely preying on various websites online for some time now.
With that said, I want to readdress the traffic I was getting from Reddit. Let’s face it, we all know by now that Reddit is one of the most legit websites online with a massive following. So how can this kind of referrer spam get into my analytics data and actually look like it’s coming from Reddit when it isn’t ? Ghost traffic is the answer to that.
Ghost traffic is a “type” of referrer spam. In fact it’s one of the most common types. The interesting thing is that ghost traffic never actually visits your blog or website. That alone is enough to make you scratch your head in bewilderment because the visits data is still showing up in your Google analytics. The short of it is that the spammer is sending data to Google servers with a tracking code saying that they visited your blog without actually having visited it at all. Still not satisfied with that, then look no further than their spamming weapon of choice to accomplish this feat as seen in the screenshot below.
As seen in the image, by the bullet points that this tool was not intended to be used as a spamming tool but as stated before, building a tool like this can be done to fake visits and ultimately create referrer spam as well. We can facetiously thank Google for that one.
Nevertheless, you can filter out this kind of traffic. All you need to do is create a filter through your Google analytics account. If you haven’t done it before, no need to worry, it’s not that difficult.
In your Google Analytics dashboard, you’ll see at the very top left that there are 4 menu items:
(1) Home (2) Reporting (3) Customization (4) Admin
Click on Reporting.
Once you’ve done that, now you need to click on Audience.
Then you’ll need to click on Technology, then go to Network. The image below highlights the steps I’ve just asked you to take.
At this point, you need to find the hostname and click on it. If you haven’t looked for the hostname before, this may not stand out to you. The screenshot below should be helpful in helping you to find it.
NOTE: (Just click on the image to enlarge it. This applies to every image).
In this window, you’ll see a bunch of hostnames that should also include your blog or websites host name too with some others added to the list.
In order for you to add a filter, go to the admin panel as seen in the following screenshot and then click on “add filter”.
Once you click on add filter, you’ll see another window where you’ll be adding additional information and setting options too as seen in the image screenshot below.
Click on “custom”. Exclude will be checked automatically, but you should be sure to click on “include” instead.
Click on your filter field and click on “hostname”. Once you’ve done that, make sure that your filter pattern is your domain. It should read yourdomain\.com|anyotherdomains or subdomains in your hostname list. Where I’ve stated “yourdomain” this should be the website address of your domain without the http:// in it. For the illustrative purposes as seen in the image below I just stated my main domain.
Make sure you add the [all web site data] in the bottom window where it says “available view” to selected views box and then click save.
Voila, now you have created a filter for your referrer spam which if all went well should stop all the toxification coming from fake visits and traffic ruining your Google analytics data.
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