If you use Google Analytics, you must watch out for this!

Let’s be honest. As a marketer you most likely use Google Analytics to measure the effectiveness of your website and rely on it to make decisions. So what you’re about to hear next may unsettle you a bit.


Ok. Not your fault but there’s something more nasty at work here that’s causing your data to get skewed.

We’ve seen a growing trend of referral spam & bots pop up in different Google analytics accounts – our own and those of our clients and every week, there seems to be newer bots thats skewing our numbers. If you make business decisions based on those numbers, you simply cannot ignore this.

What does it look like?

If you navigate to Acquisition > Referrals , you may notice random sites sending you traffic

Screen Shot on 2015-06-01 at 19-32-13

You can see here that event-tracking.com was apparently sending quite a lot of traffic to our client’s site (bear in mind, this client was in a completely unrelated, non-tech niche/market).

Examining other accounts, we saw the same pattern of rubbish referrals coming through.

This next screenshot is from our own data

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 19.35.50

Not just that, these bots were also injecting event tracking data into our analytics

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 19.38.17

Why are they doing this?

Some bots are meant to turn your attention to their website by flooding your analytics. This way you get curious enough to check their site out. Semalt for example touts itself to be an all-in-one SEO tool that is meant to help you track your rankings. This shady “growth hack” of theirs doesn’t inspire any confidence. Other bots direct you to affiliate links or worst case scenario to a site that would auto-download a nasty virus to your machine.

How do they do this?

There are 2 types of spam that can mess up the integrity of your analytics data. These are Bots & Ghost Referrals.

Whenever a bot crawls your site eg. The Google search spider, it would identify itself as a bot and follow the rules your website has set. Other bots that don’t play by the rules, ignore any rules and don’t identify themselves as a bot. This causes them to show up in your analytics reports .

Ghost referrals are the worst of the two. In this case, they don’t even visit your site. The spammers exploit the fact that GA can send information information via HTTP requests directly to it’s servers, meaning they can “spoof” a session. They do this by using programs that send fake HTTP requests aimed at multiple GA properties (possibly a random generated list of UA- numbers.  This way, they don’t even even hit your site but are able to spoof organic search results and send false events (like in the examples above.

How do you get rid of it?

There are a few different ways that you could try to get rid of bots and referral spam.

1) In Google analytics –

a) Under Admin > View > View Settings

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 23.43.25

This will allow GA to ignore any hits coming from known bots and spiders. However, that list changes frequently. We see new “referrers” on a fairly consistent basis.

NOTE : Any changes made here will not reflect on retrospective reports. The changes will only be active from the moment you set it up.


b) Create filters in your view

Update: This is actually a very tedious task and it also means you need to keep updating it daily. However, we found a resource that can do this for you

http://referrer-spam.help/ is a resource we found that hooks up to your analytics and creates, as well as updates those filters for you.

You can see that it has created multiple filters for all the spam bots out there.

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 23.49.36

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2) Use your .htaccess file to block known bots

If you know how to , and even then proceed with the utmost caution, you can write rules in your htaccess file to prevent these bots from hitting the server.

Here’s an example below

#Block spambots
RewriteEngine on 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*ilovevitaly.\.ru/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*semalt\.com/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*darodar\.com/ [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*econom\.co/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*kambasoft\.com/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*buttons\-for\-website\.com/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://.*savetubevideo\.com/ [NC,OR]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ – [F,L]

Again, I must stress, make sure you make a backup of your .htaccess file in case you make an error.

The bottom line

Your analytics data is precious. You need that to be as accurate as possible because ultimately you will use it to make decisions for your online marketing, your advertising and the general performance of your business online. These spambots aren’t going away anytime soon so you have to be proactive in making sure your accounts are protected.

Were you aware you had referral spam? Have you seen a spike in referral spam and bots in your analytics account?

Discuss in the comments below

  • marion kalb

    Use audience data when creating custom visitor segments.