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By Samantha Russell Outreach

Google Analytics Referral Spam – What You Need To Know

8 minute read
Google Analytics Referral Spam – What You Need To Know Featured Image

Google Analytics is by far one of the most popular free analytics services available to marketers today. In fact, estimates suggest that as many as 30-50 million websites use Google Analytics across hundreds of countries. If your not using this tool on your advisor website you’re missing out on a great deal of insightful statistics including visitor demographics, how people are landing on your site, performance of your pages and blog posts, and more!

So unlocking all of this data is great, right? Right! But what about when the data is skewed by spam? Well then it’s not so great. Didn’t know Google Analytics spam was a thing? Believe it. Today we’re covering the basics of Google Analytics referral spam, the different types, what to be aware of and how to combat it.

What is Google Analytics Referral Spam?

Seeing spam in your Google Analytics account is quite a common occurrence and it has been frustrating marketers and website owners alike for a while now. We typically see spam come in two different forms:

  1. Bot referral spam
  2. Ghost referral spam

Both bot and ghost referral spam will appear in your Google Analytics reports however they act in different ways. A bot referral spam actually visits your website therefore Google Analytics counts them as a referral visit to your site. On the other hand, ghost referral spam does exactly what it says – it “ghosts.” Meaning, they bypass actually visiting your site but still hit the Google servers counting the session and page views in your analytics report.

The following screenshot is an example from Twenty Over Ten’s Google Analytics report and highlights a few ghost referral spam sites. We know they are ghost because the average session duration is 00:00:00 with a 100% bounce rate.

ghost spam in google analytics

Can Referral Spam Hurt My Site?

First things first, right? This is the main question our team at Twenty Over Ten gets asked a lot regarding website referral spam is “Does referral spam hurt my website?” In short, the answer is NO.

Referral spam is not harmful to your site or site visitors in that it does not install a virus or malware to your computer. However, if you are not aware of it, it can greatly distort your view of your website’s performance and the actual number of site visitors. Referral spammers have one main goal: to make you click the links to their site (or copy/paste it in your browser). Then they’ll typically offer some service or you’ll end up on a malware-infested page, which is why it’s best NOT to visit spammer sites.

Common Referral Spam Websites

Unsure if the sites you’re seeing in your Google Analytics reports are spam? Here are a few common indicators that the referrer domain is spammy:

  • A zero or 100% bounce rate, with at least 15-20 sessions
  • Check your list against this trusted Ultimate Referral List (a 128 domain strong list of referral spammers)
  • As mentioned previously, never click on the site from your analytics report as it may be malicious and full of viruses. Instead, consider Googling the site to see what other people are saying about it.

These fake hits show up as legitimate visitors, which in turn skew your site’s numbers. This problem is affecting ALL websites across the internet, regardless of industry, company size, and average number of site visitors. The following screenshot is an example from Twenty Over Ten’s Google Analytics report and highlights a few spam referral sites.

google analytics referral spam website examples

What Is Google Doing to Fix the Referral Spam Problem?

That is the million dollar question. In the latest Google+ hangout with John Mueller, John said he is aware of it but it is not part of his team. He works with search quality, this issue is on the Google Analytics team. He did say: “I think there are some options in analytics that you can use to clean this (referral spam) up itself, but I imagine it makes sense to have a more general solution on our (Google’s) side for some of these things.”

So, Google is aware of the problem, but currently without a resolution. See this article for more on Google’s response. For now, your best bet is to filter out the spam, and check back monthly to see which new spammy sites have popped up, and filter those out as well (I’d suggest doing this once a month for now).

How to Remove Referral Spam from Google Analytics

Since the spammer never actually visits your site, you cannot really block them from continuting to do so (think of the spammer visits as “ghosts” who never actually visit your website, they only leaves a digital footprint in your Google Analytics data that mess everything up).

So, the best way to remove the spam is to simply filter it out of your Google Analytics data, giving you a more accurate view of your actual site visitors and behavior. I suggest following these step-by-step instructions for removing the referral spam. As you will see, the process can be a bit time-consuming, and since there are so many referral spam sites to filer (and new ones pop up each day), filtering the spam from your analytics is simply a short-term fix to a long-term problem.

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