Semalt Expertise: Removing Referral Spam From Google Analytic Reports

Sometimes Google Analytics may depict a strange influx of referral traffic to a site without any special promotions or outstanding content. It gets difficult to explain how this happened and why it did. To get the correct information, one should be getting rid of the referral spam permanently.

Lisa Mitchell, the Customer Success Manager of Semalt, explains how to fix the problem of influx and unwanted spam.

Referral Spam

Referral spam occurs when a website receives referral traffic from spam bots or programs. The information appears in Google Analytics account reports which mess with the data contained there and breeds issues with reporting. They are easy to spot and may have sources from all over the world. Other times, it gets more covert, but referral traffic with 100% bounce rates is most probably a referral spam.

If one is still not sure, with a good malware program at hand, they can visit the site personally to view if the traffic has any impact. The technique used with referral spams is that recurring website requests rake referral URLs to the target website. A Ghost spam is that which receives does not need a spammer to visit the site they wish to target.

Fixing Referral Spam

Some people claim that one can exclude referral spam. The information is not entirely right, and it is vital that one refrain from using the list of referral exclusions found in Google Analytics. The reason is that it is used to exclude traffic from a third-party shopping cart. It prevents customers from counting as traffic if they return to opt out of the site. Google Analytics attempts to connect the returning visitors to a prior source, or medium, thus excluding it as part of referral traffic. So, by excluding these referrals, the bad referral traffic will redirect to a different medium/source, and thus still skew in the analytics.

Removing Spam the Way

The exclusion list is not the best way to fix the issue of referral spam. The method filters, but not exclude spam traffic. Therefore, the traffic from each view has to be filtered off using the referral exclusion option. The following methods help to achieve this:

1. Create a new filter form called "Referrer Spam" at the view level

2. Set the option type to "custom"

3. In the field option, set "campaign source"

4. The pattern field filter should contain the referral spam domain as follows

5. Save

The method deletes the specific traffic from these views. It is crucial that users keep a copy of this in a text file for future use. Some of the best practices include having a web developer check the regular expression, making sure that they check the option for filtering known bots and spiders. The filters take 24 hours from implementation to take effect.

Create a Custom Segment

Custom segments help keep spam data off the Google Analytic reports. They are a bit unpredictable which is why users should abide by the following:

1. Open the reporting view in GA and Add Segment, select New Segment (No Spam), then Advanced conditions

2. Indicate "sessions" and "exclude" in the options used to filter

3. Select "matches regex" and "source"

4. Paste the regular expression saved previously

After this, then save and then apply. It removes all ghost spam from the reports leaving clean data.

Referral traffic needs to be regularly monitored to make sure that all ghost data does not appear in the GA reports. The likely scenario here is that when one removes a single spam website, hundreds, if not thousands more, crop up. It means that the basic cleansing used will not hold for long. However, whether one takes on a technical, or non-technical approach, it is possible to get rid of referral spam from the Google Analytics data.

Referral spam presents skewed analytics which results in false reports. Reports need accurate representations of data and traffic rates. Skewed data cannot be relied on to show what works and does not for the website.