Your Google Analytics Reports Are Probably Wrong. Very Wrong.

If you use Google Analytics (and you should!), you’ll want to know that spammers have found yet another way to make our lives miserable— by posting enormous amounts of fake traffic to our Google Analytics reports, rendering them practically useless. And it’s getting worse. In this article, I’ll show you how to identify the problem and what you can do to alleviate it.

If you’re affected, you’ll probably see lots of traffic; high overall bounce rates; low average session times; and poor conversion rates.

Also, keep in mind that none of the solutions I’ve seen are retroactive— once your data is corrupt, there’s nothing you can do, except look forward to cleaner reports after you take the following actions. So don’t wait.

Identifying the Issue

One of my clients had far more traffic than I thought was possible, considering that I just launched their new site. At first glance, it would have been easy to conclude that the company’s promotional efforts, or lack thereof, were paying off in a big way.

Here’s how to check your site:

  1. Log into your Google Analytics account
  2. Go to Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Referrals
  3. Review “Source” column

Inflated Traffic

In this screenshot, you can see domains like “trafficmonetize.org”, which appear to be sending enormous amounts of traffic to my client’s site, while yielding terribly high bounce rates overall. If you see odd referrers such as these, do not visit these sites— they may be infected with malware.

Filtering Out “Ghost” Referrals

First, Let’s Create a New View In Google Analytics

It’s important that you create a NEW View within Google Analytics so that you will have at least one View with NO filters. That way you’ll always have an UNfiltered View in case you need to see ALL of your data at some point in the future. You can create up to 25 different Views.

  1. Go to Admin (primary nav bar)
  2. Go to “VIEW” column and select menu
  3. Select “Create new view” from dropdown menu
  4. Create Your new View

Google Analytics New View

Now We’ll Create a Hostname Exclusion Filter to Eliminate “Ghost Referrals”

A “ghost referral” is generated when spammers randomly hijack your Google Analytics Property ID (aka tracking ID) and use it on another site (e.g., trafficmonetize.org). No one is actually visiting your website. So, what we’re doing here is creating a filter that only tracks referral data when your Property ID is used on a valid domain— e.g., yourdomain.com.

  1. Choose “Filters” from same column
  2. Create a “NEW FILTER”
  3. Name Filter (e.g., “Hostname Exclusion”)
  4. Choose “Predefined” for “Filter Type”
  5. Choose “Include only”, “traffic to the hostname”, “that contain” from dropdown menus
  6. Add the name of your domain in the “Hostname” field

Google Analytics New Filter

This should take care of most of the spam referrals showing up in your Google Analytics reports. But yes, they have other ways to screw up your reports, without using your Property ID! So, you’ll also want to have the following taken care of…

Blocking Spammy Crawlers

These type of referrals are generated when a spambot actually visits your website. The best way to prevent this activity from appearing in your Google Analytics reports is to block them from your website entirely via your htaccess file (assuming you’re on an apache server). If you’ve never worked in an .htaccess file before, stop! Get someone else to help with this! Here’s a list to get you started:

# Block Referrer Spam
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*ilovevitaly\.com/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*ilovevitaly.\.ru/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*ilovevitaly\.org/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*ilovevitaly\.info/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*iloveitaly\.ru/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*econom\.co/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*savetubevideo\.com/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*kambasoft\.com/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*buttons\-for\-website\.com/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*semalt\.com/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*darodar\.com/ [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} semaltmedia\.com [NC,OR]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ – [F,L]

Other Thoughts

Another thing to consider is filtering out all traffic from foreign countries (within Google Analytics), if feasible. For example, I have a View that only tracks data from U.S. visitors (i.e., excludes all but U.S. traffic). This is another way to further cut down on all the noise and focus on improving conversion rates, tracking referral traffic, and improving the user experience.

Other Resources

Here are a few sites that I used for my research if you’d like to dive in a little deeper:

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Comments

  1. Mark Hayden

    Tommy,

    Can you shed some light on why these guys are doing this? What do they have to gain by generating artificial traffic?

    • Tommy Oddo

      Hey Mark,

      Thanks for the comment. In most cases, I would think it’s to generate a click and/or drop a cookie, for which they are compensated in some way. In other cases, it may be to inject malware and/or to redirect you to another site.

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