A few months back, we began seeing a sizeable spike in referral traffic across our customers’ Analytics accounts. As we began to dig deeper, we saw that most of the referral traffic was not authentic referral traffic but rather, a form of spam known as ‘ghost referral’ traffic. So what is ‘ghost referral’ spam, and how does it affect you? We’ll get to all of that, but first, let’s cover the basics of what normal referral traffic is and how it works.
Referral traffic to your website is the segment of traffic that arrives at your website through another source, through a link on another domain. In our industry, common sources of referral traffic include websites like Facebook, Angie’s List, Yelp, and local newspaper websites. Google likes links back to your website from credible sources, so authentic referral traffic is a good thing.
Contrary to referral traffic, this ‘ghost’ referral traffic is phony traffic from robots, which impersonate a legitimate referral URL, but never actually land on your website. How exactly does it work? These ‘ghost’ visits are actually targeting your Google Analytics account specifically, and never actually landing on your website. The purpose of these fake (or ghost) visits is for the user of Analytics to click the URL that appears as the referral traffic source.
1. The offending spammer infiltrates thousands of Google Analytics accounts across the Internet with their fake referring URL.
2. The website manager notices a sudden spike in referral traffic and, assuming it’s legitimate traffic, visits the fake URL to check it out.
3. This drums up a whole lot of traffic to the spam source, which is the spammer’s ultimate goal.
Simply put, these visits skew the analytic data concerning your website traffic. Since the referral spam visits always yield a 100% bounce rate and extremely low time on site, these visits can misrepresent the data used to analyze the performance of your website. You can see how this data appears in Google Analytics in the screen shot below from The Raven Blog.
There are a number of ways we can combat and control referral spam traffic. Through Google Analytics, our team is able to set up data filters to prevent spam traffic from showing up during our marketing analysis. For you, this means that we can still properly diagnose the health and performance of your website, regardless of any spam visits that might distort your overall data.
Below we’ve listed out some of the most popular referral spam domains. If you happen to see them on your next report, it’ll be helpful for you to know what they are.
If you have any questions at all, or would like more information on referral spam traffic, please feel free to contact our Marketing Services Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.