And Why It’s Malicious
In the last few years, we’ve seen increased instances of referral spam when analyzing data in Google Analytics and Search Console. At the very least it’s annoying, as it skews website statistics. At its worst, it can cause Denial of Service outages. So what’s a Webmaster to do to keep the ghosts at bay?
A Type of Spamdexing
Referrer spam — also known as referrer bombing, ghost traffic, or referral spam — is a type of spamdexing caused when robots target search engines. It creates a fake referrer URL, confusing website traffic reporting systems. Some bots use automated programs that systematically search for way to infiltrate a website’s security. Sucuri talked about referrer spam way back in a July 2015 post. They explained that hackers program these bad bots to:
- Scrape a website content in order to plagiarize it
- Gain access to contact and payment transaction data
- Create click fraud against a competitors’ PPC ads
- Skew Analytics reports but inflating referral traffic numbers
- Trick Webmasters into visiting malicious websites found in referral reports
- Generate bogus backlinks
- Hide website or server attacks
The key to this tactic is scale. If you’re looking at your Analytics and see one strange backlink, you might click it, you might not. But if this backlink has been created on hundreds of thousands of sites then that could generate some worthwhile traffic to these malicious sites.
Is Your Website Affected by Referrer Spam?
Checking to see if your website is a victim of referrer spam is easy. Removing these spammy URLs takes a little work and requires ongoing review and maintenance. In Google Analytics, go to Acquisition, click on All Traffic and then Refferals for a list of a referring sites. If you have several pages, go to the bottom of the page so you can adjust how many rows are visible at one time. You can also export this information into a spreadsheet for further research and analysis.
As part of our Analytics reporting service, we regularly review referrer spam to make sure website traffic numbers aren’t artificially bloated. Here are some common URLs we’ve blocked:
After a while, you will begin to notice the URLs. Often they will allude to SEO, ‘free traffic’ or something similar. If you’re not sure, the quickest way to check is by clicking the link. Often the site won’t load, but those that do will be obvious spam.
Taking Out the Trash
To remove these referrer spam offenders you can follow this step by step guide. I think it’s important to remove bogus referring URLs from your Analytics reporting. It dilutes your data, masking real trends on how your website is actually performing. At a minimum, check your referral reports quarterly. Monthly would be better.
Want more geek info on this issue, check out Sucuri’s great article Spam Campaign Causes. It covers a type of mass spam infection which lead to an issue with Googlebot.
Is referral spam skewing your Analytics? What offenders are you seeing?
How can we help?
Analytics tracking data but you need strategic insights? Are you connecting the dots between visitor behaviors and lead generation?
We are The Spectrum Group Online, and we offer strategic and tactical consulting so you can monetize your online presence. Call us for a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss your website’s user experience and translate that into sales.