Are Ghost Referrals and Spam Web Crawlers Haunting your Google Analytics Account?

When was the last time you looked at your website’s Google Analytics account? If it has been a month or more, you might be in for a scare when you log in. Ghost referrals and ultimately, inaccurate website traffic data are the problem. Boo!

Ghost referrals and spam crawler bots are automated software programs that trigger sessions in the data reported in Google Analytics even though this traffic is not from real website users. Google Analytics data can be heavily skewed by these “fake” sessions, resulting in data that is no longer accurate or useful for analysis. The problem is magnified if they account for a large proportion of your overall website sessions.

Evaluation

The first step is to identify if your Google Analytics account is affected by ghost referrals and other spam traffic. There are a couple quick ways to determine if your account is affected.

  1. Login to your Google Analytics account and select the last 6 months in the date range. Navigate to Audience > Technology > Network. Select the Hostname as your primary dimension. Review the hostnames in the table. If you see a lot of results that do not look similar to your website’s domain or you see a result classified as (not set), you are likely affected by ghost referrals.
  2. Navigate to Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals. Review the referral sites to see if there are any sites that are sending a high number of sessions, but have a 100% bounce rate or 0 new users. These are likely sessions from spam web crawlers.
  3. In the same referrals section, see if you find any of the following sites (or similar):
    1. semalt.com
    2. buttons-for-websites.com
    3. social-buttons.com
    4. best-seo-offers.com
    5. free-share-buttons.com

    These are a handful of the more prominent spam sources.

If you see ghost referrals are affecting your Google Analytics data, what do you do?

Solution

The bad news is, there is currently no long-term preventative solution for dealing with ghost referral and spam web crawlers.

The good news, however, is there is a way to revive your website data so that it is still useful for analysis.

A detailed guide about how to filter out referral spam can be found at http://viget.com/advance/removing-referral-spam-from-google-analytics.

Note, the spam sites listed in the post is not exhaustive, so it is important to review your own website data to identify and add any additional spam sites affecting your data.

It is impossible to prevent spam data from appearing in your Google Analytics data because it is impossible to anticipate all the new spam sites that pop up daily. This is why we also recommend updating and applying advanced segments to remove spam from your historical data, each time, before analyzing your data.

If you have any questions about your Google Analytics account, we are available to help you ensure your Google Analytics data is producing the most accurate and highest quality data.

Photo credit: creepyhalloweenimages