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Fighting Off Fake Traffic: Ghost Referrals

By Benjamin Hong | December 06, 2016

In Google Analytics, you might have noticed lately a surge in sessions. At first glance you may attribute the increase to holiday traffic. However, before you go shouting the good news from the rooftops, you want to make sure you know what is causing the increase - the results may not be what you think they are.

referral-traffic

If you take a deep dive into the data you’ll see that the source of the increase stems from referral traffic. While this definitely is not a bad thing, it’s not the full truth. An even deeper dive will reveal that the referral traffic is actually ghost spam (not actual visits to the website). The following screen shot reveals the whole story.

ghost-spam

When you drill down the left side navigation in Google Analytics (Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium), you’ll see that there are referrals from sources like lifehacker.com, reddit.com, and others. When you apply a secondary dimension for language, you’ll see that it’s not actual traffic but rather ghost spam.

Since this isn’t real traffic to the site, it doesn’t impact anything other than your Google Analytics data. For websites that generally have low daily sessions to the site. This will definitely skew performance data. As shown in the screen shot, a site that averages 50 to 60 sessions a day suddenly jumping to over 300 sessions per day makes the data for that time period irrelevant.

How to deal with ghost referrals

The easiest way to deal with the ‘Vote for Trump!’ ghost spam is to apply a View level filter.  You’ll want to go to the Admin tab at the top of Google Analytics. Select the View you want to apply the filter to. Then select Filters and add a new filter. Lastly, name the filter whatever makes sense for you and for the Filter Pattern enter the following:

.{12,}|\s[^s]*\s|\.|,|\!|\/ 

Then click save.

One thing to note is that filters are not retroactive so any sessions that Google Analytics has already recorded will still be available. But moving forward you won’t have to worry about seeing the ‘Vote for Trump!’ ghost referral language spam any longer.

Benjamin Hong

Benjamin is an Enterprise Account Manager at Logical Position. He grew up just outside of Chicago. He enjoys lifting weights, hiking, and loves learning about nutrition.

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