Lately, around the office we’ve been experiencing an increasing number of referrals in both our client websites and our own. Our initial reaction? ALL SMILES, CHEERS AND RAINBOWS!! One of our clients monthly visits increased by nearly 400 visits in a month. Whatever marketing strategy we put in place surely was a golden ticket!
Then we looked closer at the numbers, it didn’t take more than a few moments to realize that something in our Google Analytics reports wasn’t quite right. Bounce rates had increased to over 75% and our average visit duration plummeted from 2 and a half minutes to only 30 seconds.
With so many new visitors, how can this be?
What was causing these crazy numbers?
Two words… Referral Spam.
Referral spam is the practice of sending bogus referral traffic to a website. Referral Spam is a type of spamming that makes repeated website requests using a fake referrer URL to the site the spammer wishes to advertise to.
What does this do?
Being spammed by these bots causes the information in Google analytics to be corrupted. Because the spammer has made numerous requests to your website, even though they did not actually visit, they up show up in the analytics reports as sessions with a 100% bounce rate and 0 second duration. This changes the averages in our reports, an increase in number of visits , initially looks great, until you look deeper. By comparing the months stats with those of previous months, you will see the numbers have been skewed. Now it is not possible to accurately compare how many people came to your site and how long they stayed because the averages have been altered by fake visits.
Why would anyone do this?
The most obvious reason is traffic; people are curious by nature, and they want to know what is going on their websites, so they go to the referral URL to check it. These spammers hit thousands of Google Analytics accounts so you can imagine the amount of traffic they are getting with this method. Sometimes to promote a page and sometimes they will redirect you to an online store where they will get a cut if someone buys anything. Additionally these spammers are able to trick google into ranking their website higher in a search. These website owners will use this data to sell their directory services.
What can we do about it?
There are a few ways you can combat these types of bad referrals, by taking care of them and setting up filters inside your Google Analytics, your reports will go back to the accurate representation of your website you had prior to being attacked.
Below are a couple of strategies you can use to combat referral spam:
- Set up a filter by Country (if you mainly work locally or nationally, then remove any international countries from your analytics reports)
- Set up a filter to remove specific referral URLs
In the meantime…
You can still get some accurate data from your Google Analytics, it will just take a little extra work on your end.
If you’re looking for your Audience overview stats (Number of sessions, Pageviews, Pages per session, Average Session Duration, and Bounce Rate)… you view by geographical location.
- In the left hand side of your GA dashboard, under the ‘Audience’ tab, click the ‘Geo’ drop down.
- Click ‘Location’
This will sort your visitors into which country they have come from.
Here you can look into your specific target audience’s statistics – say you are a small business in Canada, and you do only work within Canada. Pay no attention to the other countries, and look at the statistics for Canadian visitors.
You can even narrow it further, by organizing by Cities within countries…
- Click which country.
- Select ‘City’ from Primate Dimension:
This will show you statistics on specific cities that may be part of your target demographic.
Pesky referral spam is an annoying termite within the Google Analytics application – but don’t let them get you down. As you can see, you can still acquire important information from your Google Analytics reports, even without setting up Filters for Referral Spam.
What other techniques have you used to combat referral spam for your website?