Referrer spam (also known as referral spam) is becoming more prevalent as time progresses. In this article, we’ll take a look at what referrer spam is and how to fight it to keep your Google Analytics data clean.
What Is Referrer Spam?
Referrer traffic is traffic that arrives at your website through another source, like a link that lives on another website. Referrer spam is a type of traffic where the spammer sends phantom visitors to your Google Analytics account. The reason spammers do this is to get the attention of webmasters in order to tempt them to investigate the fraudulent links. By investigating the links (visiting the URLs), you’re furthering the spammers’ malicious intentions.
Why Should You Care?
Google Analytics is a great tool. But before you can start to analyze data trends in hopes to optimize your online efforts, you have to make sure your data represents real traffic to your web properties. Referrer spam makes it very difficult to optimize a website because the data will always be skewed. Sessions, Users, Pageviews, Pages per Session, Average Session Duration, Bounce Rate – everything is affected.
Not only is it important to keep your data clean, it’s also important to not further the spammers’ malicious intentions. Explaining these intentions in more detail is outside the scope of this article, but it varies. It can be anything from wanting to push people to a malicious URL or to boost the relevancy of fake user accounts on real sites like Reddit.
How Do You Fight It?
Fighting referrer spam is done through the use of filters – both include and exclude filters.
The include filters you’ll want to create will be for your hostnames. Most spam uses undefined or fake hostnames, so if you create an include filter that only allows valid hostnames, you will exclude most if not all of your phantom traffic. As long as you include all valid hostnames, you will not lose any real data.
Sometimes the include filters are not enough as the spammers’ tactics evolve over time. This is where exclude filters come into play. For exclude filters, you’re going to want to exclude the exact campaign source of referrer spam coming from valid hostnames. For example, you would not want to exclude all traffic from reddit.com, but you would want to exclude all traffic for a particular malicious post on reddit. To do so, you would use an exclude filter.
Feel free to contact us if you need assistance sorting out your Analytics data. We’re more than happy to help.
Thanks for reading.