Skip to content

What is Ghost Referral Spam in Google Analytics?

Ghost Referral Spam

If you have looked at your Google Analytics recently and gotten excited about a spike in referral traffic, you might be celebrating too early. Once you investigate deeper, you may notice that the traffic is spam from sources you don’t recognize. For a small business with relatively low traffic, having a high percentage from spammers can skew analytics data and make web marketing more complicated. Beyond impacting your traffic data, referral spam impacts other metrics including bounce rates and session times.

You might be wondering why you receive spam traffic in the first place. Unlike harmless bots like the Googlebot, which crawls pages to discover new and updated ones to add to the Google index, spam bots are ones that crawl numerous websites daily for purposes including black hat SEO. Spammers may want to accumulate backlinks that will improve their search engine rankings or drive traffic to their sites. Others aim to expose visitors who click on the links to malware. Since spammers can set a referrer page to be any web address, you can’t even be sure that the owner of a particular address is responsible for the spam traffic.

The latest spam to affect your data may be coming from traffic that doesn’t even visit your site, however. A simple program sends out fake HTTP requests, and Google Analytics transfers this information directly to your analytics. This ghost referral spam leaves a digital mark without ever crawling your site so it can’t be blocked with the usual methods that protect you from spam bots. It won’t cause any harm to your site, but it needs to be blocked to ensure that your analytics are accurate.

Identifying spam in your analytics is a simple process. Whether you have noticed a spike in traffic recently or not, it is worthwhile to investigate whether you are receiving legitimate traffic. You don’t want to make web marketing decisions based on inaccurate data. In your account, navigate to Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium, and you will see a list of sites that referred to yours. If you notice any domain names that seem strange or you don’t recognize, they likely are spam. You can check by typing them into Google and taking a look at the search results. Some common offenders include 4webmasters, trafficmonetize, buttons-for-your-website, and buy-cheap-online.

After you have identified the names of the sources you want to block, navigate to Admin and then view All Filters. Add a new filter and select Custom as the filter type. In the Filter Field, select Campaign Source and then list all of the names in the Filter Pattern field, separating each with a vertical bar. Verify that your filter is working, and make sure to update it as you notice new spam traffic in your analytics.

As spammers come up with new methods to send referral traffic, best practices for blocking spam will continue to change. A review of traffic sources for anything that seems suspicious should be done regularly. If you happen to notice a spike in traffic or a noticeable change in any other site metrics, remember to check again. For more information on Ghost Referral Spam, contact our experts at Premiere Creative! Call (973) 346-8100!