What referrer spam is and how to stop it

Google Analytics is a free web analytics service that tracks and reports site traffic and provides analytical tools for search engine optimisation and marketing purposes. It’s currently one of the most reliable and powerful tracking services. Unfortunately, not long ago spammers came up with a new shady way to draw traffic to their sites. If you are somehow involved with digital, you might have already come across it. What I refer to here is the so-called ‘referrer spam’, also known as referral spam, log spam or referrer bombing.

Traffic is usually considered as one of the most valuable factors when evaluating a site’s performance. The more valuable traffic a website receives, the more opportunities there are to encourage more conversions and revenue, as well as to improve ranking. There are many factors that influence the quality of the traffic that comes to your site. However, in order to determine the value of your site traffic, the first thing you need to know is whether this traffic is real or not…

Fake traffic and what it represents?

Fake traffic is generated by bots, whereas real traffic comes from human interaction. In the context of Google Analytics, fake traffic represents fake hits that are sent to your Google Analytics property. A spammer can easily fake ‘hits’ which appear as events, page views, screen views, keywords, transactions, and more — and they only need your Google Analytics property ID to do so.

Bots and what they do

A bot is software designed to perform repetitive tasks with high levels of accuracy and speed. In recent years, bots have become more common and even more difficult to detect. Regardless of the size of your site, there is the chance it can be visited by bots.

Depending on the purpose, there are legitimate and malicious bots. The former ones keep the web running smoothly, ensuring higher quality content is seen. An example is the ‘Googlebot’, that crawls site pages in order to determine ranking in SERPs, ultimately assisting the growth and development of the site. The latter, however, do exactly the opposite. They are non-human programs designed by spammers or hackers that generate fake ads to trick users into downloading malware, spread spam, and steal information. Legitimate bots can usually be blocked by the robots.txt directive. For those not familiar with the term, our friends from Moz have explained in detail all you need to know about robots.txt files. Sadly, spam bots can’t be blocked. They tend to disguise themselves by pretending to be a web browser or traffic coming from a legitimate site so that your security system fails to recognise them.

Referrer spam and how it affects your Google Analytics account

Referrer spam can seriously mess up your Google Analytics data. How big its impact is going to be depends on the size of your site. Needless to say, the bigger the business and the site, the less noticeable the traffic from referrer spam is going to be, but the danger is that it can easily mislead marketing analysis by masking legitimate traffic reports. Not only that, but the repeated requests can cause a higher server load which can result in an increase in the bounce rate and decrease in SEO rankings. In extreme cases, spammers might be trying to find vulnerabilities and other ways to break your site’s security.

In Google Analytics there are three types of referrer spam bots:

1. Spambots that visit your website, known as Crawler Referrer Spam

2. Spambots that don’t visit your website, known as the Ghost Referrer Spam

3. The new type of spambots, known as Language Spam

To find out what the difference between these three types of spam is and how to get rid of each of them, head this way to read the full article.

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