Google’s analytics tool is among the best tracking services in the world. This means that if you intend to monitor any form of statistics on your site, it is highly recommended for you to use their service.
However, just like every good thing attracts shadowy characters, spammers have found a novel way of driving traffic to their own site using Google’s analytics tool. And if you are a seasoned SEO expert, you already know that the new way spammers are using to get traffic to their site is through referrer spam.
Semalt expert, Alexander Peresunko, explains what referral spam is and how to get rid of it.
Referral spam a unique way of spamming accounts that website administrators can see via their analytics dashboard. Normally, it shows up as a direct visit or fake traffic referral and is designed to work quite ingeniously.
The referrer is a link or name shared through the HTTP header when a browser is navigating from page to page. The data is tracked by the analytics platform and gives a wide range of data about visitors to the site including their geographical location. Spammers have cunningly found a way to replace the referrer with a link or name. They accomplish this by changing the data they seek to promote and sending many requests to your website. Since the analytics tool is tracking the data, the information is visible in your reports. This consistent manipulation of your reports is what is commonly known as referrer spam.
Reasons for spamming
There is a simple explanation why shadowy characters spam your account. Normally, web administrators check their logs or reports regularly. If a web admin notices a consistent referrer, they are likely to visit the domain or get on the link to satisfy their curiosity. And that is exactly what spammers want. Some ingenious spammers even go a step further and trick you to follow an affiliate link which carries the potential of installing a cookie. They do this in the hope that they will get a commission when you buy something from the affiliate site.
By now, you are probably wondering if spamming your account with the hope of getting a commission is worth the spammer’s efforts. These spammers are not doing this to one person but to thousands of web admin accounts. While one person visiting the affiliate link does not translate to any meaningful revenue, thousands of users doing the same within a short period is likely to give them a decent amount.
What is the effect of spamming?
Spamming is not only extremely annoying, but it also affects your analytics information. Normally, the effect of spamming depends on the size of the site. While a site such as Amazon is not bothered by a thousand hits, a small business is likely to get worried by a high number of illegitimate hits. Why? Because it can interfere with marketing analysis and distort real traffic reports.
To make it worse, repeated requests from spammers can cause server overload. This has the effect of giving genuine users a less than optimal user experience due to sluggish loading. When users perceive your site as sluggish, they are likely to bounce off the site which affects your SEO rankings negatively.
On the other hand, every web master knows that spammers cannot be trusted as they may have ulterior motives for visiting your site. There is always a possibility that they are trying to identify weaknesses which they can use to get into your site.
How to stop referrer spam
The easiest method of stopping these spammers is through blocking the offending URLs via the .htaccess file found in your domain’s root directory. While this is the most basic approach, it is not always an effective method because most of the spam bots are not necessarily visiting your website. Essentially, there are two types of these spam bots: Crawler referrer spam and Ghost spam.
Crawler spam is less common compared to Ghost spam. The bot uses a web crawler just like an ordinary search engine crawls your site. These are the types of bots you can block using the .htaccess file. Ghost spam bots use Google’s analytics measurement protocol which enables them to give their data to the search engine’s analytics serves directly while bypassing your website. This is what makes blocking the URL in your domain’s .htaccess ineffective against such bots.
The only way you can stop Ghost bots from hitting your analytics account is by using filters. Since filters can only be made and managed by a site admin, if you do not have the required privileges, you have to get the necessary admin privileges or hire somebody to set up the necessary filters.
Ultimately, while you generally like to avoid all forms of spamming, anything that affects your analytics is a no-go zone. Now that you understand what referrer spam is and how to set up your dashboard to prevent these attack, you are on the way to eliminating spammers and protecting your site against incorrect analytics reports as well as unwanted visitors.