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Google Analytics & fixing referral spam

We’re big believers in the power of website data, and understand the importance and value it has in driving your business decisions. So what do you do when there’s problems with the quality of your website data?

What Is Google Analytics Referral Spam?

Recently, there has been significant increases in the volume of referral spam within Google Analytics. While Google Analytics does a fairly good job at determining whether visits are from bots or real users, there are always going to be cases where some slip through the cracks. It is important to keep an eye on the quality of your referral visits to ensure your website’s data isn’t skewed with inaccurate information.

In some cases, Google Analytics may be reporting substantial increases in your website’s referral traffic, but in reality none of these visits involve potential customers, or even real people visiting your website.

If you’ve been watching your referral traffic in recent months, you may have seen an increase in various sources (e.g. and The Google Analytics referral spam is a result of automated bots sending fake traffic data to your website – all in an attempt to trick you into visiting websites filled with scams, spam or even malware.

Referral Spam & Search Engine Performance

While the referral spam definitely causes quality issues for your website’s data, it in no way affects your website’s search ranking (as confirmed by Google). When addressing referral spam to your website, there are basically two types of referrals to consider: ghost referrals and crawler referrals.

The ghost referrals will trigger fake pageviews to your Google Analytics tracking without actually visiting your website – simply by sending hits to randomly generated Google Analytics ID’s. The crawler referrals refer to website crawlers that fail to identify themselves at bots, and visit your website for various purposes (e.g. to scrape website information).

So how do we determine whether traffic is the result of referral spam?

Identifying Referral Spam

There are a number of questions you need to ask when identifying referral spam. The most obvious questions to ask is “does this referral make sense for my website”. Take a look at your other referral sources, natural referrals can include social media websites, local directory listings, or even supplier websites. The quality of the referral traffic can often be determined just by looking at the domain address, for instance:

  • Does the domain contain an irrelevant country code (e.g. ‘.ru’)
  • Does the domain spam-rich keywords (e.g. ‘’)

If you’re not sure about whether a domain needs to be filtered from your website traffic, there are several other metrics you can check to help make your decision:

  • Is the referral traffic listed as an ‘inbound link’ within Webmaster Tools?
  • Is the referral traffic all coming from a single city?
  • Is the referral traffic only sending pageviews to the homepage?
  • Is the bounce rate for the referral traffic 100%?

How Important Is Removing Referral Spam?

This depends entirely on the volume of traffic your website receives. If your website receives tens of thousands of visits per day, then it’s not going to be a crucial issue for your website. However, if your website receives tens of visits per day, then it’s likely that the referral spam is skewing your data.

The referral spam in Google Analytics isn’t only messing up your website’s visit data, it’s going to be significantly affecting your website’s engagement data. Because these spam visits to your website involve high bounce-rates, low session duration and low pages-per-visit, they can significantly decrease your website’s visitor engagement statistics.


Removing Google Analytics Referral Spam

The best way for you to ensure data quality within Google Analytics is to create a duplicate view of your data and filter out the relevant spam. It is important to periodically check your website referral data to identify any new referral domains that may start showing up.

By regularly checking the data and reflecting the necessary domains in your filtered list, you can keep your data as spam-free as possible.

While some would recommend you add the domain to your referral exclusion list, this is a practice that should be avoided. Adding domains to your referral exclusion list will often reallocate the visits to direct traffic – which only adds to the frustrations in addressing data quality.

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