Google Analytics: how to kill Referrer Spam bots

Sep 21, 2015

Recently almost all Google Analytics accounts got infected by a “virus” called “Referrer Spam”. You can find a lot of information online. In short - your Google Analytics data are corrupted and do not portray an accurate view of your website traffic.

Not only can this affect your analysis of traffic and conversion, but it will most likely induce other problems such as website speed, technical incidents, increased web hosting costs as well as potential penalties for SEO rankings..

Why should I worry about Referrer Spam bots on Google Analytics?

There are many valid reasons why you should take the problem of Referrer Spam bots quite seriously, but here are the three main ones:

  1. Once corrupted by Referrer Spam, your Google Analytics account accuracu is compromised as you cannot trust website traffic stats and performance data. In some cases, this spam can amount to more than 80% of your overall web traffic!
  2. Referrer Spam bots induce important and counter-productive overloading on your web servers, with many negative side-effects: website slowdown for legit users, technical incidents during purchases, and of course unnecessary additional hosting costs.
  3. Regarding SEO and search rankings, Referrer Spam can result in coercive actions from major search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc., and induce very negative consequences on your overall online business and return on investment.

How do I know if my Google Analytics account is infected?

Just because you did not receive any alert from Google Analytics or Google Webmaster Tools does not mean your accounts is free of "Referrer Spam". To check if your Google Analytics account is affected by this major problem, follow the following procedure:

The very first thing to do is to review website traffic from within you Google Analytics account. If your find « références » such as semalt.com, buttons-for-website.com, darodar.com and other irrelevant domains, it unfortunately means that your Google Analytics is the target of Referrer Spam.

In the example below, all top sources (even google.fr!) are not real referrals but Referrer Spam (they have invalid hostnames)..

Here is a partial list of known spamming domains and sites to look for:

You can find a more exhaustive list of websites and domains who have been identified as Referrer Spam bots right here : http://perishablepress.com/blacklist/ultimate-referrer-blacklist.txt.

How do Referrer Spam bots infect my website?

There are two types of Referrer spam - Ghost Referrer spam and Crawler Referrer spam..

Crawler spambots are actually visiting your website, but they do not refer to it.

Ghosts spam bots hit directly your Google Analytics account without even visiting your website via Measurement Protocol.

Have Spam bots access to my Google Analytics account?

NO, they do not. cTo send the data to Google Analytics account via Measurement protocol, spammers need to know only GA Tracking IDs. Most probably, they randomly generate GA tracking IDs by rotating the numbers (e.g., UA-63152138-1).

This is the very same “brute force” technique being used to hack regular online accounts (like email accounts) but only exploiting confidential informations (such as security questions) combined with insufficiently secured passwords (those that are too simple, like date of birth or pet names) could eventually lead to actual account hacking.

It’s important to note that Referrer Spam bots don’t care and don’t need to hack your Google Analytics account, so the probability of such piracy acts is extremely low, all the more if you observe basic security measures for you passwords and logins as recommended by search engines and email providers..

So why do Referrer Spam bots do what they do?

It’s very simple: these spamming bots just want to get traffic to their websites, traffic which is coming from curious webmasters and website owners who want to know what kind of web resource is referring to them.

Is there a definite solution to eliminate “Referrer spam” once and for all?

YES. While at the moment there are hundreds of spamming websites corrupting GA data. We’ve analyzed several dozens of accounts with high traffic and defined the list of spammers general for all accounts, the good news is that there are solutions to eradicate this problem for your Google Analytics account.

If your website is currently hosted by SeoSamba, rest assured that we already blocked spam crawlers at the server level. Unfortunately, we cannot block Ghost spam at the server side because Ghosts do not visit your website - they hit your Google Analytics account directly.

To get rid of Ghost spam, there is a great working solution which we tested on our websites. This solutions explains how to clean your Google Analytics account from future Ghost spam by applying 2 filters and how to check spam-free historical data by creating Segments: http://www.ohow.co/what-is-referrer-spam-how-stop-it-guide/.

We strongly recommend you to apply this solution to your Google Analytics account as soon as possible.

Can you take care of this “Referrer spam” problem for me?

OF COURSE! If you do not feel like doing this on your own, SeoSamba team can certainly help you clean your Google Analytics data.*

Based on your data we will filter future referrer spam by applying two filters and we will create segments so you can get an accurate view of your historical data.

To order services, get more information or ask us any question regarding online website security, please email us at support@seosamba.com.


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About the author

Michel Leconte
Michel Leconte

Omnivorous mammal & SEO Samba CEO, I'm a regular speaker at search engine marketing conferences around the world, including Search Engine Strategies London & New York, and a contributor to a number of publications, including Website Magazine, and Feedfront Magazine. I enjoy strategy, coaching, and motivating both customers & staff.

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