Fiona and I were trying to work out when we first noticed the start of referrer spam, it must have been early last year with the Semalt crawler. We saw it as an annoyance, but no real issue to remove with a filter or segment, if only we’d realised the deluge of spam heading to Google Analytics.
Now, some 18 months later there’s numerous articles around the topic of how to block referrer spam and lists are being maintained of the offending sites. The list I follow is Piwik’s and with over 280 sites it makes for depressing reading when we’re updating the Regex filters and segments across multiple GA properties and views.
What really frustrates me is the impact this has on website owners.
Some of our friends and colleagues work in smaller organisations and who are trying to improve their digital marketing knowledge while at the same time run their business. The first issue is that referrer spam, be it ghost or crawler, injects inaccurate data into the GA reports, messing with referrals, event tracking, and even (via Mozilla add-ons of all things) the keywords shown in the organic search channel. So before reports are reviewed the question of “is this data infected with spam” has to be answered.
The second big issue with this (for me) are the methods to block the spam from reaching the Google Analytics account:
- it requires continual maintenance to catch new spam sources
- as soon as one possible solution is described, the spammers gain a workaround or another site to use as the referral source
- the manual fixes involve .htaccess or adding filters, both of these have negative implications if actioned incorrectly
For those juggling running a business while becoming more “digitally aware”, this feels like being set up for failure. However, while we wait for Google to provide a resolution, automatic solutions are becoming available which reduce the risk of website owners causing damage to GA data processing with incorrect filters or causing an internal server browser error by adding incorrect syntax to the .htaccess file.
What are the Options?
Enough of my ranting, let’s take a look at the infographic below!
There’s been an overuse of infographics in recent years so we tend to only include those providing helpful resources and not already being shared all over the place. The team at AdWordsRobot reached out to us with this compilation of information and resources on stopping referrer spam and many of the references were ones we’d spotted while reading up on how to block it. AdWordsRobot are also keen to get the word out about the new Referrer Spam Removal Tool they have created which automatically inserts filters to block the spam and to provide a balanced infographic they have included information on two other providers for you to review.
Please note that as the tool needs to do a number of write operations to add filters it needs to have edit access to your Analytics accounts. There are instructions on the tool page showing you how to remove this authorisation once you’ve finished using the tool.