Is referral spam ruining your analytics data?

Seeing your website traffic increase is a good thing, right? Well not always.

While on the surface increased traffic may look positive, if you notice a significant spike in your web traffic you may be the target of referral spam.

What is referral spam?

Referral spam occurs when your website gets fake referral traffic from spam bots (website crawlers). This unique type of spam is visible through your Google analytics dashboard showing up as either a fake traffic referral, a search term, or a direct visit.

A referrer is a name or link that is shared via the HTTP header when a web browser navigates from one page to another.  This information can be replaced with any name or link. Some spammers will change this information to a site they want to promote, and then they send multiple requests to your website.

These spam bots use various methods to disguise themselves when they crawl your website, so that they can’t be easily detected by security measures. However, it will show up within your Google Analytics reports, skewing your data.

Traffic is usually considered as one of the most valuable factors when evaluating a site’s performance as it is a key indicator to determine the true value of your marketing efforts. When you get hit by referral spam, it can be difficult to get a true measure of how your website is performing.

Why do spammers do this?

Their purpose is often one of two things. On one hand, they may try to harvest email addresses, scrape website contents or spread malware.

Or alternatively, they will try to get you to follow a link or visit the domain name. The reason this is viable to spammers is because they do the same thing to thousands of Google Analytics account users and it’s therefore likely a significant percentage of these people will clink onto the link out of curiosity to find out who the ‘referrer’ is.

How will I know if I’ve been affected?

The easiest way to see whether you’ve become a target for referral spam is to follow these 3 quick steps.

Step 1: Go into the Referrals report in Google Analytics and sort the report by bounce rate.

Step 2: Look for referrers with 100% or 0% bounce rate and 10 or more sessions, as these are more likely to be spam.

Step 3: If you don’t recognise the identity of the referrer, check whether they’re included in this list:

If they are included on the blacklist then it is highly likely you have been affected by spam bots.

How can I remove referral spam?

Apart from skewing your data, referral spam can cause other problems if left undetected.

Repeated requests can cause your server to become overloaded, leading to visitors experiencing sluggish load times. Slow page loading times can negatively impact your SEO rankings as well as causing a bad user experience.

It’s also possible that referral spammers are trying to find vulnerabilities within your website, which could potentially open you up to a whole host of problems.

There are several ways in which you can attempt to remove referral spam, such as blocking the IP addressed used by the spam bot, but this involves accessing your .htaccess file and adding in code.

We wouldn’t recommend attempting to do this yourself unless you are confident with coding.

Alternatively, you can contact WP Tech Support to check if you’ve been targeted and we will carry out the necessary steps to remove any spam detected from your site. We will also advise you of any further security measures we believe you should take to keep your WordPress website safe from any potential hacking attempts.

Keeping your WordPress website secure can become a time consuming and complicated process, which is why managed WordPress hosting might just be the solution you’re looking for. Take a look at our monthly payment plans to see how our highly experienced developers can take care of your website’s security and performance on your behalf.

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