Long gone are the days when spam only went to your email. Now it seems like spam is everywhere – including your website. Spam on your website, called referral spam or sometimes ghost referral spam, is a very sneaky thing and had web developers everywhere baffled – until now.
What Is Referral Spam?
Referral spam poses as your friendly neighborhood host referrer link. In reality, referral spam consists of bots that crawl your website and skew your website statistics. Ghost referral spam is even worse than regular referral spam because the bots never actually visit your website, making them harder to track and block.
Referral spam has affected almost everyone. A good way to see how referral spam has affected you would be to look at your website statistics. 4 telltale signs of referral spam are:
- More traffic: With thousands of bots, the number of visits to your website has most likely skyrocketed!
- More sessions: Each bot is unique, making the number of new sessions on your website almost 100%
- Low site time: These bots only need to stay long enough to record a hit, and then they’re out of there. You may notice a site time as low as 0 seconds.
- High bounce rate: Your content isn’t that boring, the bots just want to hit one page though
What Is The Point Of Referral Spam?
Unlike e-mail spam, website spam is not looking to give you a virus. They are looking to get your attention. Referral spammers want you to know that they are the ones directing people to your website – more than any other source!
Their hope is that you, being the good business owner you are, look at your Google Analytics and investigate the mystery site that has been giving you so many hits recently. They will then encourage you to sign up for their services for a low monthly fee so that you can continue to keep all that wonderful traffic.
How Do You Block the Spam?
There are different ways to block or at least filter out spam, with some methods more effective than others. You could start by blacklisting all the major referral sites. You could also go about filtering out selected foreign countries. For example, as cute as the shoes are at Susie’s Shoe Store, we doubt that they have a large following in the Ukraine.
Although creating a blacklist is great at filtering out the big names, spammers switch it up quickly and often. New sites appear every day, so it would be impossible to blacklist every spammer that came across your site.
Next you could try whitelisting websites. Whitelisting is probably the least practical way because you would only track traffic from sources you approved. While you could be almost 100% sure spammers would not skew your website statistics, you would also be missing out on valuable information about new, non-spam users.
The best solution so far is the cookie method.
The Cookie Method
A cookie is much like a password needed to enter your website. It is not a password in the sense of 5 upper case letters, 4 lower case letters, 3 numbers, 2 special characters, and a partridge in a pear tree. Cookies are more like a simple “open sesame.”
The easiest way to create cookies is through Google Tag Manager. It is our preferred method as it keeps everything in one spot, making it simple to manage. Google Tag Manager has also become more user-friendly over the past year. They have even added a Google Tag Assistant, so do not worry if tag management is not on your list of top three strengths.
To begin, we suggest doing all this in your test view of Google Analytics before you copy it over to your main view. Remember, once you change a filter, you cannot go back and get past statistics.
Once you are ready to go in your test view, use Google Tag Assistant to write down what tags you currently have. That way at the end of it all, you can double check and make sure you did not break your website in the process of trying to filter out spam. Then, add Google Tag Manager to your website. Add the type of tag, “First Party Cookie” then give that cookie a value (any name will do).
Once you’ve added the tag to your website, use the extension to make sure everything is working properly, and of course, that you do not see the spammers anymore. If everything looks okay, copy the cookie over to your main view, and you will be all set!
The Downside To Cookies
There is no downside to a delicious cookie, but using cookies as a way to weed out referral spam is not fool proof. Most bots, as smart as they are, are not currently accepting cookies; however, the more sophisticated cookies cannot be blocked. Also, cookies do not block referrals from social media.
Lastly, if you are dealing with more privacy conscious folks who block cookies, their data will not appear on your website. Cookie blockers are most likely only 5% of your traffic, so the cookie method still the go-to method for web developers.
Why Is Google Not Filtering Out The Spam?