Google Analytics is a great service because it provides us with under the hood website data for free. Recently there has been a spike in what we call “Ghost Referrer Spam” and in this brief post I’m going to explain what it is, what effect it has, and what we can do about.
A referrer is any website that sends traffic to your website. Google.com is a referrer. ADA.org is a referrer. Generally speaking, any website that sends visitors to your website is a referrer.
The word spam is often used in the context of emails that we don’t want. However, we also use the word spam in reference to visits to a website from referrers (other websites) we don’t want. So while traffic from AGD.org to your website would be great, traffic from a random website such as “guardlink.org” is referrer spam because (a) we don’t want this traffic and (b) this extra traffic can skew our analytics numbers.
So putting it all together, Ghost Referrer Spam is unwanted traffic to a website that can skew your analytics data.
Combatting Referrer Spam
Referrer Spam has recently become more and more of a problem. Like email spam, it’s often necessary to mark each referring website as spam. In Google Analytics we call this a filter (in the same way we have spam filters in our email programs). So in the same way a water filter keeps water clean, a Google Analytics filter helps to keep your data clean.
Unfortunately there is no way to eliminate all referrer spam. Google is aware of the problem and maintains a database of websites that it has marked as spam referrers; fortunately, Google Analytics can be configured to use this Google-provided filter.
The specifics of how to setup this configuration are beyond the scope of this article, but the general idea is to create a working Google Analytics profile with which you apply the filter (remember: NEVER apply a filter to the raw data profile).
[box style=”2″]If you are a Short Hills Design maintenance, hosting or SEO client, we will implement this filter for you the next time we perform your routine website check. [/box]
The Bottom Line
At this time it would appear that the major harm that comes from referrer spam is that is skews your Google Analytics data and forces you to spend time making filters to remove the bad data. In extreme cases, heavy traffic volume can slow down a website or crash a web server, but we are not seeing that type of effect on dental and medical websites at this time.
We will keep you informed as we learn more. In the meantime, keep your eyes on your Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Referrals section in Google Analytics.