Event Website & Creative Agency

02 Sep 2015

At last! A neat three filter solution to referral spam

Sophie Brown

The team at Distilled have written a neat three filter solution to reduce referral spam and event marketers need to know about it…

Referral spam has been bothering me for a while now, turning up at parties unannounced, double-dipping with the chips and insisting on playing their own playlist…

Or mainly just making Google Analytics a bit of a mess.

If it’s not been bothering you, maybe you’re not making as much use of your analytics as you could do.  Or maybe you are just a bit more Zen than me.

So what’s my beef with referral spam?

If you have access to analytics accounts for any event websites, you might have given yourself a quick high five recently because your traffic has really been increasing.  Well done – it’s probably that great ticket mailout you did, or your beautiful creative, or kickass social media presence.

And you know what it probably is – the only problem is, with referral spam lounging around all over your data, it’s very difficult to tell what it is that’s working.

Referral spam is a fairly new phenomenon, and one that Google has yet to find an adequate solution for. My non-tech understanding is that it’s some pretty shoddy companies trying to get traffic to their own websites by bombarding genuine websites with thousands of hits from ghost “users” that don’t really exist.  Often these are not even real visits – just enough to show up in your analytics.  If you are interested in knowing more about referral spam, this blog from Viget is more comprehensive (but quite technical) 

When you then go into your reports you will see these domains, and just maybe, out of curiosity, click through.  Like the mystical Nigerian Prince, maybe the odd person actually signs up for something when they get there.  Like any spam, referral spam works on very very large numbers to find a few chumps.

Have a glance at your referral traffic – if you’ve got words like free, seo, button or share popping up in your referring domains, you’re being hit by spam traffic – potentially thousands of times a day.

This is the referral traffic for without any filters - you can see there is as much spam traffic from the likes of traffic2money as genuine sites like our clients CarFest.

List of referrer spam on asp website

So why should you care?

Although it might have some impact on your site speed, referral spam isn’t much to worry about, apart from the fact it makes it very difficult to get good data.  And without good clean data from your analytics, is very hard to determine how your other online and offline marketing strategies are performing.

It’s very difficult to see through this deluge of ghost traffic to what is really going on with your site.

So what can you do?

I’d put some solutions in place previously which involved creating filters in Google Analytics to exclude the spammers from my data (this doesn’t actually stop the referral spam – it just cleans your reports up a bit) But as you have to create a new filter for each pesky new spammer, by the time I got to 19 filters for one event website, I started to hunt for a better solution.

List of referral spam filters

Step forwards the guys at the Distilled blog.  They’ve written a very neat three filter solution to referral spam, for which I will be eternally grateful (and you should be too).

They’ve looked at the common spammy factors of the spammers and devised just three filters that should keep your Google Analytics data free of referral spam without needing to be constantly updated.

  1. Referral spam typically has an invalid hostname
  2. Referral spammers don’t have a screen resolution set
  3. The domains of referral spammers tend to have spammy words in them like cheap, free, seo and buttons.

The info in their blog is really easy to follow, with screen shots, so head over to Distilled and have a look.  My only point to add would be – where they’ve put the text yourdomain.tld you have to put in, well your website name…

And if you’ve never had to set up a filter in your Google Analytics – look for the Admin tab at the top of the page – you’ll find them here.

Setting up filters in Google Analytics

These three filters may not eliminate 100% of your referral spam, but they should take out enough that your Google Analytics data becomes useable again – but remember the filters only apply to data going forwards so if you do any comparison work against historic data remember to account for this – see the Viget blog for help.

And if you never find the time to go into your Google Analytics account – there’s good news.  We’ve linked our new SHOWOFF CMS to Google Analytics, so you can see your topline performance whenever you log in to edit your site.  This just makes it a bit easier to see what “normal” looks like so you can quickly spot something new, like the arrival of a sluice of referral spam traffic, or of course the impact of your amazing marketing campaign.

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