5 tips for Spotting Google Analytics Ghost Spam & How to Deal with it
Google Analytics spam, also known as ghost spam or referrer spam, started to become a real issue around 2014 and it is continuing to be a thorn in the sides of digital marketers. These bursts of spam occur more or less once a year and marketers continue to have to create roadblocks to prevent this from happening. As the years pass and the technology advances, the spam is trickier to block as they constantly come up with new ways and new names to approach your data with. The vast majority of this type of spam doesn’t even reach your website but succeeds in obscuring the data we digital marketers look at on a daily basis.
Web developers embed tracking codes so that visitor numbers can be monitored via Google Analytics. Unfortunately spammers have managed to exploit a way to send fake data via your Google Analytics tracking code, by trying millions of random UA tracking codes until they find working ones that accept their stream of fake events and data. For instance, you might think you are getting some great visitor numbers but look a bit closer and you will realise that sadly some of that traffic never actually happened.
Our top 5 tips – identifying Google Analytics Spam in your reports
If you aren’t sure if you are getting Google Analytics referral spam, simply check out your Google Analytics report. Look for the Source/Medium under the Acquisition section and look out for the following tell-tale signs:
1. Check for sources that appear to come from referrals from hostnames ending .xyz for example:
• Share-buttons.xyz / referral
• Compliance-fred.xyz /referral
2. Check for sources from unusual sounding websites for example:
• Buttons-for-website.com / referral
• Sharebutton.to / referral
• Free-share-buttons.top / referral
3. Look for sources with 0% bounce rate which skew your data to show a more favourable bounce rate overall
4. Look for sources with unusual average session duration
5. Look out for unusual patterns in your data – be suspicious
If you suspect a source is spam, don’t visit the URL as this could cause you more problems. Instead try a Google search and you will soon find out if there is documentation referring to them as spam. The advice is not to add filters, create referral exclusion lists, block certain geographical regions responsible for the problem or exclude traffic on the server as these have all found to be ineffectual or can sometimes block good traffic.
Is there a quick fix?
Well not really - take a deep breath digital marketers! Google have been promising to fix this issue for over two years but there is little from Google online to explain when and how this is going to happen. There are plenty of forums discussing the issue. There are also plenty of ‘fixes’ suggested online, but these can be time consuming to review (beware of out-of-date advice) and even more time consuming to implement. They are often temporary solutions and at worst can even do more harm. If you do want to investigate these options further our recommended articles include:
Are there any other options out there?
Yes there are alternatives to Google Analytics reports. These also have the added bonus of giving you real time data and allow you to keep your data private from Google.
Using Log Analysers to analyse your own data
One option is to bypass Google Analytics altogether and go back to your own server data and use log analysers to review it. There are tools out there such as AWStats which can create similar reports to Google Analytics – a dummy report shows the level of information you can access. These reports might not be quite as rich as Google Analytics, but they will be accurate and may be enough to meet your needs. Some of the providers have free versions as well as ‘paid for’ add on services, which offer more in-depth data should you need it.
Alternative Analytics – what else is out there?
There are also plenty of alternatives to Google Analytics and there is a great Sitepoint article which sums them up nicely. Most of these have demo options which you can trial and the favourite, depending on your needs, comes out to be Piwik. This package comes with some great free features and even comes with a mobile app which is well reviewed.
Our take on the situation . . .
In summary for dealing with Google Analytics referral spam, our best advice is that Google Analytics is a powerful tool and still the ‘go to’ option for the digital marketing industry. Just be aware that you do need to keep careful watch on your GA reports and clean them up as often and as best as you can. Don’t be fooled by companies who can promise you miracle cures because, until Google comes up with a dramatic fix, the problem is here to stay. And, should you wish to ‘jump ship’, there are other credible solutions out there that may be worth investigating.
If you are looking for further advice on your website data, why not speak to our friendly Digital Marketing team on +44 (0)20 305 17 305 to find out more! We undertake data analysis for clients on a regular basis and we can help you find the best solution for you.
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