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How to stop spam referrals ruining your web analytics

A surge in visitors isn’t always what it seems and it may be that you have become the latest victim of those pesky spammers.

Image of a can of spam

As an agency, getting more traffic to a site is what we are here for. It’s what we do and the reason that we get up in the morning.

But digging a little deeper will often uncover some disappointing results when it comes to the REAL reason you’re seeing more visitors.

Referral traffic, or ghost traffic, can be a real problem when it is sent from spammers, and although you might want to take the credit for this rise in popularity, it can often be bad news for a site and its analytics.

So here are a few things you need to know if you’re seeing a suspicious increase in web traffic that just seems too good to be true.

What have you got to worry about?

Well, corrupt analytics for a start.

Okay, a few hits here and there might not make a big difference to a site that is getting plenty of traffic, but if your site only receives a handful of visitors a day, then a huge influx of spam will more than likely swamp the genuine traffic and make analysing site data something of a frustrating business.

Also, there’s the little matter of security. If these spanners are crawling your site who knows what else they could be doing that you aren’t aware of?

Then, of course, you have the issue of an overloaded server. A higher number of visits use server resources, so an overloaded server means slower load times, causing higher bounce rates and ultimately lower rankings.

Why are they targeting you?

The most common question asked by those who have been victims of traffic spam is usually; “Why me?”

Well there’s no one answer to this question I’m afraid, and it can often be a number of reasons if the truth be told.

Some companies use spam as a form of lead generation. Some direct affiliate traffic to shopping sites such as ebay (though they usually won’t pay out to the affiliate unless the traffic results in a purchase.)

Then there are the ones like Semalt.com, which is more of an SEO tool, designed to give on and off page analysis like keyword usage and link metrics.

screenshot of semalt
Semalt claim to be a  “professional webmaster analytics tool that opens the door to new opportunities for market monitoring.”

What can you do to stop it?

One way to prevent referrers from accessing your site at all is to block them in your .htaccess file via the root directory of your site domain.

But this will only limit the damage and will only protect you from future sessions. It won’t have any impact on the sessions that have already happened.

You could of course set up filters in analytics to remove the historical data.

You can do this by targeting the various parts of the world that you are seeing most of your spam referrals originating from. But remember. This isn’t a good idea if you receive a lot of genuine traffic from these countries as you could be overlooking valued visitors and ultimately customers.

Screenshot of Google Analytics Filter
Applying a filter in  Google Analytics can mean you no longer see “ghost traffic,” but it won’t make it go away.

Probably the most effective and easiest option if you’re using a WordPress site is to install a plugin.

One such plugin is Wp-Ban, which makes it easy to block unwanted visitors and gives you the ability to ban users by IP, IP range, host name, user agent and referrer URL from visiting your blog all from within the admin panel.

This is probably your best option if you don’t want to edit your .htaccess file or don’t feel comfortable setting up complicated filters in Google Analytics.

What method works best?

In truth, there’s no failsafe method and it can be a case of trial and error before you get the desired results in terms of ridding your website of spammers and all the problems they bring with them.

Need our help to make your digital marketing successful? Why not give us a call on 0845 163 1616.