If you’re like thousands of other webmasters on the internet that have had their Google analytic reports turned upside down by fake, ghost traffic, then you’re not alone. Seriously, I was at a point where I wanted to tear my hair out. Spending so much time manually counting visits and determining what was real and figuring out which was fake, man what a pain in the ass.
I’m not lying when I say that I was spending at least an additional few hours per week trying to estimate my client’s traffic and researching how to block the spam traffic from hitting our clients. You would read blogs from people telling you how to implement different types of filter blocks within the admin area of analytics. You would other articles about creating htaccess files containing lists of each ghost website that’s sending fake referral traffic. Issuing other blocks on different countries that the traffic may be originating from, such as Russia and China. Seriously, this was becoming a real headache.
After much research I executed a lot of what I read on blocking these spam websites or at least trying to filter out the traffic so it wouldn’t effect our bounce rates anymore, especially our clients data. When you have a client that usually has a 30% bounce rate with an average visitor time on site around three minutes, then it falls to 56 seconds on spent on site and bounce rate sky rockets to 90%, you can see how annoying this fake traffic becomes.
My ultimate suggestion would be to eliminate Google Analytics all together. It’s my opinion that the ghost sites and their fake traffic have specifically been targeting websites with GA tracking code installed within their source code. If this is the case then why not eliminate the issue, in this case, Google’s tracking code. We decided to start using Clicky Analytics. So far, just 5 days into this we are experiencing real, accurate traffic estimates and sources. We can even track the behavior our clients website visitors and see which areas of their sites people are spending a majority of their time on. This will come in handy down the road when making changes to their sites and implementing better conversion or call-to-action plans on these pages.
One thing, a very important factor, in why I am loving Clicky so much, they are already on top of analytic spam traffic and have placed blocks on all the top ghost violators which has prevented then from even hitting their customers websites. What a relief to have this garbage automatically excluded from my clients websites, as well as ours.
An example of what these websites and their fake traffic look like:
Now, for those Google Analytic loyalists, and I say that respectfully. I love Google, however, it doesn’t seem like they’ve rallied the troops over their at Google headquarters and jumped on this spam traffic issue. With all the brilliance they have over there working for them you would think they would have created a tool to place within their analytic platform that blocks all spam traffic before it hits their customers websites? Until this happens I will not use their platform anymore. Anyway, back to the Google loyalist! If you don’t want to change platforms you can attempt to do the following tips below if you’ve been experiencing ghost traffic to your site. You’ll know that you have this issue id you’ve experienced higher bounce rates and referral and direct traffic spikes. Also worth mention, I don’t think filter blocks will work well for those sites who have already been under fake traffic attack for several months now. If you’re catching ti early these blocks may work well.
All ghost spam uses an Invalid Hostname. If you check the spam you will see either a fake hostname or one that states “not set”.
The most important part of this solution is to get a list of all VALID HOSTNAMES so you don’t exclude any legit traffic sources.
As a best practice, you should always have a view without filters no matter what the filters are for, so if you don’t have one yet I recommend you create one.
To create this filter first you need to get a list of your hostnames
1. Go to the Reporting tab on GA and Select a wide Timeframe on the calendar.
2. In the lateral bar select Audience.
3. Expand Technology and Select Network.
4. At the top of the report make sure you select Hostname because by default you Service Provider is selected.
5. Once there, you will see a table like this. Find and Copy all the valid hostnames.
Mainly your hostnames will include all the places where you put the tracking code (UA-XXXXXX-1) of Google Analytics www.yourdomain.com, yourdomain.com, blog.yourdomain.com
You may have services in which you also add your tracking ID, like your shopping cart, these are also valid hostnames – yourshopingcart.com. If your site has visitors from many countries and they use a translation service on your pages then those will appear as a valid hostname, translateservice.com.
6. Once you gather all your valid hostnames, you should create an Expression that match all of them.
7. Go to the Admin tab and select the View where you want to apply the filter.
8. Select “Filters”
9. Select “New Filter”
10. Select “Create New Filter” and enter Valid hostname filter as a name.
11. In Filter Type select “Custom”.
12. Make sure you choose Include and select Hostname from the dropdown menu.
13. Finally, paste the REGEX that you build with your valid hostnames into the Filter Pattern.
Another way to add a slightly different filter block in Admin (This is the most widely recommended way to stop referrer spam in Google analytics)
1. Go to your Google Analytics account and select Admin tab.
2. Under View Column select “Filters”.
3. Click on “New Filter”.
4. Enter Spam filter as a name
5. Select Filter Type Custom. In Filter Field, find and select Campaign Source.
6. After you set everything Save. You can repeat this process for all the other spam.
With all the hackers and other shady characters on the internet these days you can never be too safe. Fortunately, in regards to fake traffic, I have not seen this stuff having any effect on organic search rankings. As I stated above, Google hasn’t done much to combat this from ruining people’s website analytics and I believe if your site has already been under attack for a while, I would switch analytic platforms. But if you must stay with GA, and your site is just now experiencing fake referral and direct traffic, implementing these Admin Filter Blocks might help.
Stay tuned next week when I discuss the highly sensitive htaccess file and how to create ghost traffic blocks within it. Take care!!!!