The Holy Bible mentioned ten plagues. But for many website owners there’s a new scourge in town. If your website’s traffic in Google Analytics shows spikes or has increased recently, chances are that your analytics has been polluted by referral spammers, pointing to websites such as “buttons-for-your-websites.com”, “4webmasters.org” or “semalt.com”. From my 30+ of client’s sites I’m managing, none has been spared.
According to Wikipedia,
Referrer spam (also known as log spam or referrer bombing) is a kind of spamdexing (spamming aimed at search engines). The technique involves making repeated web site requests using a fake referer URL to the site the spammer wishes to advertise. Sites that publish their access logs, including referer statistics, will then inadvertently link back to the spammer’s site. These links will be indexed by search engines as they crawl the access logs. This benefits the spammer because the free link improves the spammer site’s search engine ranking owing to link-counting algorithms that search engines use.
Referrer spam may be blocked by updating your .htaccess file. But this method only works for old-school spambots visiting your website, the so called “Crawler Referrer Spam”. The majority of spammers are using so called “Ghost referrals”. They never access your site, so there is no interaction with any of your pages. They are sending HTTP requests to send raw user interaction data directly to your Google Analytics server, so blocking them by .htaccess won’t work.
Setting up a custom filter in Google Analytics seems to be more effective. One of the obvious problems of these method is to keep this blacklist up-to-date as referral spammers change their hostnames frequently – actually they are using fake hostnames. This is can keep you busy if you had to keep an eye on many client’s accounts.
Will Google help?
Other analytics vendors such as Piwik do maintain a central blacklist to keep the referral spammers at bay:
If you use an analytics tool that does not exclude Referrer spam, we recommend to contact the vendor and ask them to implement a mechanism to remove these referrer spammers. As of today many analytics vendors still have not mitigated this issue.
Such a good idea. Google has to find a global solution as Google Analytics reports are on the brink to become useless for average users otherwise it’s a lost fight against referrer spam.
+++ Update +++
Actually there is a checkbox in the View Settings of the Google Analytics account called “Bot Filtering”, but it doesn’t seem to keep the mass of new bots and spiders at bay.