Have you noticed a significant decrease in your referral traffic or a massive increase in your website’s bounce rate when reviewing your Google Analytics? Before you become alarmed, find out if you’re a victim of ghost spamming.
What is Ghost Spamming?
One of the latest examples of Google Analytics referral spam is ghost spamming. It gets its name because this type of spamming in particular bypasses your server and targets Google Analytics directly, unlike spam that comes from bots that actually visit your site and execute the Google Analytics script.
Dissimilar to other bot spam, ghost traffic appears ONLY in Google Analytics. While this might sound really bad, and if your referral numbers are incredibly off you might be worried right about now, but don’t get too upset, because according to www.analytics-toolkit.com, this type of spam is said to have “NO EFFECT ON GOOGLE RANKINGS, WHATSOEVER.” Deep breath. Exhale.
How Do You Recognize Ghost Spam?
When reviewing this month’s referral traffic compared to last month’s in Google Analytics, sift through the referral sites to see where the discrepancy lies. If you notice any of the following sites, first of all, DON’T CLICK ON THEM! Second, rest assured that your skewed numbers are at least somewhat a result of Ghost Spamming.
If you’re seeing traffic from any of the above domains, or domains similar to these, then your Google Analytics account has been a victim of spammers. What you will probably see is a decline in the visits from these referral sites, from the fake, inflated number of times they appear to have visited your site last month, to zero, causing the massive decline in your referral and thus overall traffic to your site for the month. Don’t worry, you didn’t do anything wrong…everyone is susceptible to this kind of spam.
What Harm Can Ghost Spamming Cause?
When you click on any of the spamming domains, you will be taken to a one-page website that offers social share buttons to increase traffic to your website, among other offers. One major red flag…in many cases, each of the spamming URL’s takes you to the exact same landing page, featuring copy-able embed codes to put on your website for increased website traffic tools. DON’T TAKE THE BAIT!
The final purpose of ghost spammers varies among the spammers; some will want to get your email or promote a page while others will offer you SEO services; they can even redirect you to known online stores. Whatever their purpose may be, it is important that you don’t click on the links, don’t offer any personal information, and DON’T place the embed codes on your website.
How Do You Get Rid of Ghost Spam?
Finally, to get rid of the ghost spam that has already affected your Google Analytics account, begin by understanding a few key points:
- DON’T: One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to block Ghost Spam from the .htaccess file, which allows and denies access to your website. As we know, Ghost Spam never actually tries to access your site, so adding them here won’t make any difference and will only clutter up your .htaccess file with useless information.
- DON’T: Another no-no is using the referral exclusion list to stop the Ghost Spam, which will negatively affect your accurate tracking of your direct visits in Google Analytics. Referral exclusion lists are for excluding traffic from the referral list of visitors who, for example, purchase something from your e-commerce website, get re-directed to a third party vendor, and then get back to your site. This is not to be used to block spam, as it will only remove the referral record, but the spam will still exist, potentially altering your direct visits list.
- DO: Because the majority of Ghost Spam functions by targeting Google Analytics’ random tracking-IDs, (meaning the spammer doesn’t actually know who it is they are targeting) the hostname will not be set or the spammers will use a fake one. This sets the spam apart from valid traffic, as a credible site will always use a real hostname. As a result of this, we can make a filter that will include only hits that use real hostnames. This will automatically block all hits from ghost spam from showing up in your tracking, whether it be in referral traffic, pageviews, keywords, and even in direct traffic as well.
To create the hostname filter, begin by finding a report of your hostnames:
First, in Google Analytics, to go to the Reporting tab at the top>choose Audience in the lefthand panel>Expand Technology>Select Network>and Click Hostname (found to the right of Service Provider).
Here you will find a list of all hostnames, including both the valid ones and the fake ones the spammers are using. Make a list of all of the legit ones you come across.
Next, create a regular expression, make sure you have a view set up without filters, and then create a Custom Filter. Be sure that you select to Include Hostname on the filter field and then copy your expression into the Filter Pattern box.
Finally, verify the filter before saving it to ensure that everything is correct and then save it, applying it to all of the views that you want except for the view you created, or one that already exists, without the filters.
Paveya has detected and stopped ghost spammers for multiple clients before the problem caused any further data reporting trouble. For more information on Paveya’s SEO services, including site monitoring and reporting, contact us!