Feb

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2016

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Google Analytics Referral Spam

There is nothing worse than opening up a report of your Google Analytics and finding referral spam. Referral spam, which is the practice of sending phony referral traffic to a website using a fake referrer URL, is not only annoying. It can also be dangerous, and is quickly becoming a serious issue for webmasters. Here’s is everything you need to about Google Analytics spam attacks and what you need to do during the Google Analytics setup process to block referral spam sites.

What Are Google Analytics Spam Attacks?

Google Analytics spam attacks come in two different varieties: spam web crawlers and ghost referral traffic. Web crawlers crawl the web for search engines to index content, and legitimate web crawlers will identify themselves as such to web servers so that they are not included in analytics reports. Unlike legitimate web crawlers, spam web crawlers do not identify themselves to web servers. They show up in analytics reports as sessions with a 100-percent bounce rate and 0-second duration, which can seriously mess with your analytics.

Ghost referral traffic is arguably the worst kind of Google Analytics spam attacks. Basically, these spammers exploit the way in which Google Analytics transfers information directly to Google Analytics servers via HTTP requests by sending fake HTTP requests to different Google Analytics properties. Ghost referral traffic can be incredibly problematic, as it can distort organic search results and even send false events in your analytics reports.

What You Need to Know to Block Referral Spam Sites

The bottom line is that Google Analytics spam will mess with your web analytics data, distorting the accuracy of key metrics. Furthermore, spam makes effective SEO much more difficult and makes you more exposed to malware. So how can you block referral spam sites? Let’s take a look.

  • Exclude foreign host names and filter out any spam crawlers. The majority of ghost referrals have an inaccurate hostname attribution, so it is relatively easy to create a filter that will get rid of data with inaccurate hostnames. Keep in mind that while this strategy will remove ghost referral traffic, it won’t do anything for spam web crawlers, as these do actually report an accurate domain name. To get rid of these spam web crawlers, you will want to create a filter to get rid of the most popular web crawler offenders.
  • Use bot and spider filtering. Using the bot and spider filtering, you can exclude any sessions named in the IAB known bots and spiders list. However, keep in mind that this feature is relatively new, and many spam web crawlers are still able to make their way past this filter. Still, go ahead and check the box during the Google Analytics setup process. It is a good feature to use, and Google may very well improve its functionality down the line.
  • Make use of advanced segments for historical data. Filtering only works to prevent distortion of future data—it won’t do much for the data you already have if it has been affected by spam. If you need to, filter spam out from your analytics user advanced segments.

While it can be a pain, it is well worth you time to take measures to block spam sites during the Google Analytics setup process. If you do leave your website vulnerable to referral spam, it will distort the accuracy of your analytics—which could hurt the ROI of your SEO and digital marketing initiatives.

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