Seen a spike in referral traffic or an influx from unusual places like Russia? Site engagement figures a little out of whack? Chances are you’re suffering from what many of us are – pesky little referral spam bots!
In this article I’ll outline exactly what this means and how you can beat it.
What is Referral Spam?
In the past few months you may have seen some weird traffic coming through to your site in Analytics, particularly under referral sources. Other giveaway clues include spikes in traffic coming from Russia, Germany & Brazil which is particularly evident for small sites (less than 1000 visitors a month).
The first time I saw this issue was around 6 months ago with referral traffic from the domain semalt.com. Since then I’ve seen more and more examples pop up from the likes of buttons-for-website.com, www.event-tracking.com, erot.co and more (scroll to the end of this article for more examples).
These “ghost referrals” are spam bots masquerading as real visitors coming from the above sites in an effort to get webmasters to investigate, and thus visit these sites. This Moz article outlines in more detail why some of these sites are using
…And why should I care?
Why is this a problem you ask? Well chiefly it throws your Analytics reports out of kilter with real data being diluted in a sea of fake traffic which bring down your engagement metrics, bury real (and useful) referral sites and generally just wastes your time. On top of that, these bots are crawling your site and thus using up your server’s resources which could be increasing load speed for real visitors.
OK, how do I get rid of it?
The good news is this problem is easily solved by one of two ways;
- By blocking specific bots in your .htaccess file. Use this method if you are comfortable editing this file but understand that some bot traffic will still get through. This article by RavenTools outlines how to block spam bots.
- As usual, if you have a WordPress site there is a Plugin for that! I’ve researched available plugins and this one seems to be the most trusted.
- By activating a few filters in your Analytics account. This is a quick fix which won’t stop the bots accessing your site but will filter them out of your data. I’ll show you how…
1. In Analytics, under the Acquisition tab click All Traffic > Referrals to find all of the sites sending referral traffic to you.
2. You should be able to tell which ones are referral spam by some of the following clues;
- Bounce rate is 100% (not always)
- Pages / Session is 1.00 (not always)
- Session duration is 00:00:00
- URL is often a website service (e.g. event tracking, free social buttons, server problems)
- When you click into it, the referring page is the homepage
- Traffic numbers starts and stops abruptly
3. Take note of suspicious URLs which we’ll now filter out. Click the Admin tab at the top, then Filters > New Filter
4. Give your filter a sensible name so you’ll know what it is for long after you’ve forgotten implementing it. You’ll have to add filters for each individual site so something along the lines of “Referral Spam Site – semalt.com” may be appropriate
5. In the drop-downs you want to select (1) Exclude (2) traffic from the ISP domain (3) that contain and then add the URL in the text box below.
6. You’ll end up with a pretty long list like the below.
Note: These filters will only fix the problem from this point on – historic spam traffic will not be eradicated. Also bear in mind that these spam bots tend to come and go. They are likely being shut down and others are springing up in their place which means you’ll have to be vigilant and proactive in filtering out new bots as this problem isn’t going away any time soon.
List of Referral Spam Bots
The following list is those that have affected my site. Scroll to the end for a more extensive crowd-sourced list.
- ilovevitaly.co (and sub-domains)
- social-buttons.com (and sub-domains)
- howtostopreferralspam.eu (ironically)
- free-share-buttons.com (and sub-domains)
- aliexpress.com (and sub-domains)
- More: Extensive Referrer Spam Blacklist (277 and counting!)
Now Read These:
- Moz identifies Vitaly Popov’s network of websites as the biggest contributor of referral spam
- Free Auto Spam Filter tool by Analytics-Toolkit.com
- Google Analytics is working on a global solution to referral spam – more info to come
- Segment to Eliminate Spam Referrals (Google Analytics Solutions Gallery)