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Screengrab Reporting Spam

Google Analytics Referrer Spam

By John Woods  |  September 15, 2015

This is a public service announcement for B2B marketers using Google Analytics.

I don’t plan to blog here very often about purely technical issues, but this is an important one.

Sadly, there is a new type of spammer at large. And it’s a type that will be particularly annoying for you if you are using Google Analytics to analyse B2B marketing. It can even put you and your colleagues at risk from malware.

It’s called referrer spam (or sometimes referral spam) and it appears in your Google Analytics reports. Here’s an example:

Google Analytics Referrer Spam

Referrer Spam in Google Analytics

Those are real spam URLs by the way. Please don’t visit any of them! (Hard to believe that How To Earn Quick Money dot com isn’t legit, eh?)

All spam is annoying. But this sort of referrer spam is particularly annoying for niche B2B marketers because it can distort our stats enough to cause us to draw incorrect conclusions. And it’s particularly dangerous for B2B marketers because it is more likely to be effective on a low-volume B2B site than a high-volume B2C site.

What’s going on?

Spammers have discovered a way to put spam URLs into Google Analytics reports. Their hope is that analysts will see the URLs, get curious and visit the site. Their goal is, at best, to promote semi-legitimate marketing services. At worst, they are trying to lead people to malware sites. DON’T FOLLOW THESE LINKS!

Why does it happen to my site?

You haven’t been singled out. The spammers are going after everyone. Every Google Analytics profile I’ve seen in the last few months is infected by this sort of spam.

Why is this particularly bad for B2B websites?

On a mass market B2C site there might be millions of visitors every day, so the impact of the spammers isn’t very significant. But in B2B we are often dealing with niche audiences. A specialist landing page on a B2B website might only get a few legitimate visitors each day. A hundred page requests from referrer spammers can swamp the signal from legitimate visitors and make the statistics impossible to interpret.

Why don’t Google stop this?

Good question. Hopefully they will fix this at its root cause soon.

What can I do about referrer spam?

Three things.

First, DON’T VISIT THE LINKS! And make sure that anyone else in your organisation who uses Google Analytics is aware of the danger.

Secondly, add filters to your Google Analytics views to filter out any future referrer spam. Tom Capper at Distilled found a simple approach which I find works well. (Caveat: spammers are constantly evolving their approaches. This filter works well today, but might not work as well in the future. Stay alert.)

This filter will stop most referrer spam in the future, but it doesn’t remove existing referrer spam. (This type of view filter in Google Analytics isn’t retroactive.) So there’s one more thing you need to do: add a segment to your Google Analytics view that applies the same filtering rules to existing data. This is a real pain – you can’t remove the spam, you can only segment it away. If you have a lot of custom reports set up you’ll have to change them. But it’s the only solution I know of. (If you know of something better please mention it in the comments.)

Ready to find out more? Please call on 0118 9485 766.

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