The “Referral Traffic” stat in Google Analytics is a great way of seeing which websites have been sending visitors to your websites. I check the page every couple of weeks to see if an article of mine has been referenced in a forum or blog post. If an article of mine has been linked, I drop by and say “Thanks for the mention” and then contribute to the discussion.
You will sometimes see strange results in the Google Analytics referral traffic page. Look at the referral traffic below for this blog. You may be surprised by the results that are displayed at the top.
It should be no surprise to see Twitter (t.co), Facebook, Google Images, or my internet marketing community Rise Forums listed there. IMDB is listed because some people have referenced some movie related blog posts of mine in the IMDB message boards.
The three referrals that may surprise you are Rank Checker Online, Monetizationking.net, and DuckDuckGo.
DuckDuckGo is a popular search engine that does not track you. It has grown in popularity over the last few years due to the rise in privacy concerns.
Do not be concerned about DuckDuckGo as it is a legitimate search engine. It is only listed in your referral traffic page as the default list of search engines used by Google Analytics is quite short and does not currently include DuckDuckGo.
To add DuckDuckGo as a search engine, I recommend following Antezeta's great guide “Track DuckDuckGo as a search engine in Google Universal Analytics“.
What about Rank Checker Online and Monetizationking.net?
Those websites are listed as my number one and number three referrers of traffic so they must be important, right?
Unfortunately, they are not.
Those websites are what are known as referral spam.
What are Referral Spam Such as Rank Checker Online and Monetizationking.net Trying to Achieve?
The purpose of referral spam is simple. They want to get high on the list of the referral traffic page so that website owners will see their referral tracker listed, they will search for them online and then visit their website.
Even if only a small percentage of website owners visit their website, they can make money. Some referral spammers promote products and services, others embed malware onto your website that can infect your computer.
Regardless of whether website owners visit the spammer's website or not, referral spam can cause website owners a major headache.
These companies are using a blackhat SEO tactic that send bots to your website to inflate your stats. The bots never actually visit your website. They simply spam Google Analytics codes. Due to this, the bounce rate from referral spam websites is almost 100% and the time on your website is zero seconds.
The situation could get so bad that you would have to stop using Google Analytics as the traffic stats being provided would be useless.
I encourage you to check your Google Analytics account to see if any referral spammers are messing up your stats.
In addition to Rank Checker Online and Monetizationking.net, other referral spammers you may come across include:
A more comprehensive list of referrer spammers can be found on Ohow's Historical Spam List.
How to Stop Referrer Spam in Google Analytics Using Filters
One of the most common ways of stopping referrer spam in Google Analytics is to set up filters in your Google Analytics account.
There are many good tutorials on how to do this online. One of the ones I recommend checking out is “How to block referrer spam” by Sean Doyle from Botcrawl. I followed his guide to set up filters to block rank-checker.online and monetizationking.net.
The first thing I had to do was click on the admin tab of Google Analytics and then select “All Filters” under the account column.
Next you need to click the “New Filter” button.
Call the filter name the referrer spam URL you are trying to block e.g. rank-checker.online, and then change the filter type from predefined to custom.
Next, change the filter field to “Campaign Source” and enter the referrer spam URL as the filter pattern.
You can add your filter to one of your websites or to all of them. I recommend adding the filter to all of your websites so that you do not need to apply the same filter again.
Repeat the above steps for each referral spam URL you want to block.
Once you have completed this process, your Google Analytics filters page will list all of the referrer spammers you have filtered.
When you return to one of your Google Analytics statistic pages, you will see a message reminding you that a filter has been applied and that stats may not be entirely accurate.
Do not be concerned above the filtering message. All it is doing is reminding you that a filter has been applied.
A More Efficient Way of Stopping Referrer Spam
I started blocking rank-checker.online and monetizationking.net on the 16th and 17th of June 2016 using the technique explained above. Since I applied these filters, I have not seen any referral traffic for either of these referral spammers.
Carlos Escalera from from Ohow.co states that filtering using excludes is not the most efficient way of stopping referring spam.
In his article about stopping rank-checker.online referrals he noted that exclude filters does not work long-term for three reasons.
- These filters will become useless after a few days when the spammer changes the name
- You will have to update your filters constantly if you want to keep the spam away, and there is a lot
- By the time you create/update the filter some of the spam will already have passed
Instead of using exclude filters, Carlos advises filtering by hostnames instead. Spammers do not know the hostname of your websites so when they send a bot to your website they either use a fake name or leave the field blank. By setting up a filter that only allows valid hostnames, you can eliminate referral spam altogether.
Carlos explains exactly how you can block referral spam in his detailed guide “Ultimate Guide to Removing Google Analytics Spam and Other Junk Traffic“.
I highly recommend checking the article out. He stresses that server side solutions such as WordPress plugins and .htaccess are not advisable.
The process of filtering by hostnames is a little longer. It is not difficult to follow, but there are a lot more steps that you have to complete.
So far I have eliminated all of the referral spam this blog was receiving by using exclude filters.
It has been three weeks since I applied those filters to my Google Analytics account so there is a chance that the spammers will change their name again in the future and the filters I applied will no longer work. If that happens, I will refer to the fantastic tutorial that Carlos published.
Which process should you follow?
In the long-term, it appears that the more detailed steps that Carlos suggests is better. You may therefore be better going down that route to save yourself hassle in the long run.
There is no denying, however, that using exclude filters is a faster and easier solution to stopping referral spam. The only downside is that if the spammers change the names, you will need to repeat the process again each time they change.
Referral spam can be a big problem for website owners. It can give you a false impression about how much traffic you are receiving and what your bounce rates are. This can lead you to making bad business decisions.
Unfortunately, Google does not appear to be doing anything to prevent spammers from distorting your stats. That is why blocking them using techniques such as exclude filters is so important.
Business owners who want to ensure that their stats are correct may want to check out the service Analytics Toolkit as they have an auto-spam filters tool that automatically blocks most referral spam. The service also provides a number of other analytical and SEO tools. Prices start from $15 per month.
I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial on stopping referral spam in Google Analytics. If you have any questions about the process, or if you have any advice for fellow website owners about stopping referral spam, please leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading.