How to Stop Ghost Spam in your Google Analytics, Part 2

Last week, we discussed the occurrence of ‘ghosts’ in the Google Analytics machine. Did you go through your reports? Did you find any of these fake referrals in your reports? In this post, we’ll discuss the easiest way to stop these spam bots from skewing your data.

But first, let’s figure out WHY these sites spam you in the first place. Black-hat SEOs use this type of spam to trick you. When webmasters find these unfamiliar (spam) referrals in their Analytics reports, they click through to see where it leads.

Arriving on the spammer’s site, they may spend time poking around trying to establish if they have any legitimate dealings with the ‘business.’  The visit and the time spent on their site counts towards THEIR Analytics. They’re basically spoofing your Analytics to trick you into visiting their site and boosting their Analytics. I bet you agree that it’s a total waste of everyone’s time.

NOTE: If you ever visit any of these spam referrals, be wary about clicking any links. They have been known to install malware on visitor’s computers.

Now that you know the Why, let’s get to the How of kicking them out.

Let’s get one thing straight, it won’t happen overnight. This is because the filter you set up now will only affect any new traffic visiting your site. But given time, your bounce rate will drop as the correct data is recorded.

The easiest method available is by setting up a Host Name filter, as outlined below:

  1. Log into your Analytics dashboard and click on the Reporting tab. Click on AudienceTechnologyNetwork.
  2. Further down the page, click on the Primary Dimension tab → Host Name. This gives a list of host names that are sending referral traffic to your site. You’ll often find a number  of sites you can’t identify.
  3. Look for the sites you control, where you have installed your Google Analytics code and copy the host name(s). if you have more than one site, paste them all in here, but seperate them with the pipe symbol (|)
  4. Go back to AdminAll FiltersCreate a New Filter.
  5. Fill in the required information i.e. Filter Name, Filter Type (Custom) and check the Exclude button. Select Host Name from the drop-down as this is the value you want the program to exclude.
  6. In the Filter Pattern, paste the host name from Step 3 in this field. This signifies the site(s) you want to exclude.
  7. Scroll down the page and to apply the filter to all views, click on All Website Data in the section on your left. Then Click Add.

This applies the filter to ALL the website traffic from your website. Hit Save and you’re done.

Another method some webmasters use is the Referral Exclude filter. It works like the Host name filter, but according to Google, it should only be used to “…to exclude traffic from a third-party shopping cart to prevent customers from being counted in new session and as a referral…

Sounds like it should exclude the visit from being reported, but what happens is the filter only  removes the referral information, so Google still counts it as a new visit. Instead of removing ghosts, you’d only be inflating your own traffic numbers. Plus there is the disadvantage of not knowing where they are now coming from.

Using the Host Name filter has two major advantages over other methods:

  1. It’s a real set-and-forget solution; once you’ve set the list of all valid host names to track, everything else is filtered out and ignored.
  2. The filter also stops all forms of ghost spam whether it’s referral, organic or direct.

While it seems like this should be a problem for Google to address, the truth is they can only do so much. They released a statement saying they were ‘working on it’, but webmasters should also work on protecting their online assets.

If you’re not sure if certain referrals are spam sites, a Google search will fetch dozens of sites where the most common ones are listed. Cross-check with the ‘ghosts’ in your machine, and start filtering away!

These solutions are easy when you have a relatively small site, say 2 to 30 pages. What happens if you have many more pages or your business just seems to attract more spam? Isn’t it time to kick those pesky ghosts out of your Google Analytics reports?

Contact Search and More today and let’s do a bit of ‘GhostBusting’ on your site. We’ll find your ghost referrals, block them and even clean up your historical data. Contact us now.

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