Google Analytics Referral Spam Domains

6 August, 2015

If you regularly use Google Analytics to assess your website’s performance you might be aware of the recent increase in spam referrals that are reducing the accuracy of referral reports.

When viewing referral data in Google Analytics (websites that send you traffic) it is common to see spam referrers: websites that aren’t actually sending you traffic, but are appearing in your referral reports.

These referrals can have a huge impact on the accuracy of referral reports for small to medium websites. If you are unaware of this issue, your website’s traffic data is probably inaccurate, which can make analysis of promotional activities difficult.

Referral spammers have different motives for using this tactic:

Some spammers do it for lead generation purposes. For example, you notice a referring URL and paste it into your browser’s address bar to see who is sending you the referral only to realise it was a ploy to get you to visit the spammer’s website. A common example of this is free-social-buttons.com.

Some spammers do it to drive affiliate traffic. For example, pasting the referring URL into your browser’s address bar redirects you to a shopping site where the spammer can make commission from sales that are generated. A common example of this is a referring URL iloveitaly.com that redirects you to aliexpress.com, a shopping portal.

This type of spam is known as “ghost spam”, the spammers don’t access your website and their websites don’t send your website any traffic, but they manipulate your referral data by sending fake data directly to Google Analytics’ servers.

There’s no need to panic as this isn’t a security issue and there is an easy solution to this problem. Referral spammers don’t tend to use hostnames, or use fake hostnames that are easy to spot; genuine referrers will always use a valid hostname. Therefore, it’s possible to only show referrers with genuine hostnames.

You can do this by creating a filter:

  1. Log into your Google Analytics profile
  2. Click on the “Reporting” tab (top menu)
  3. In the vertical menu on the left-hand-side, select “Audience”
  4. Expand the “Technology” dropdown and choose “Network”
  5. Click on ‘Hostname” at the top of the report


You should then be able to view all of the hostnames. Make a list of the all of the valid hostnames. For example: yourwebsite.com, yourwebsitesotherdomain.com, webcache.googleusercontent.com, translate.googleusercontent.com etc.

You can now create a regular expression to only display valid hostnames, it should look something like this: yourwebsite\.com| yourwebsitesotherdomain.\com| webcache.googleusercontent\.com| translate.googleusercontent.\com

You can then create a custom filter. To create a filter at the view level:

  1. Select the “Admin” tab from the horizontal menu at the top of the page and navigate to the appropriate view
  2. Click “Filters” in the “View” Column
  3. Click on the red “New Filter” button
  4. Select “Create New Filter”
  5. Enter a descriptive name for the filter
  6. Select “Custom Filter”
  7. Search for “Hostname” in the filter field
  8. In the “Filter Pattern” field enter your regular expression
  9. Click on “Verify This Filter” to test how it would affect your current data.
  10. If you are happy the filter is working correctly, select “Save”


This filter should now remove all non-verified hostnames from your referral reports.

Written by Neil

Neil’s highly-analytical mindset is perfect for the digital world. Having joined the Evoluted team back in 2015, he’s since grown to lead our marketing unit. With considerable in-house and agency experience, he spends his days improving internal processes and applying his knowledge across PPC and SEO campaigns.

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1 Comment

Kristy
16th October 2017 at 9:16am

I was so frustrated with it when I saw in my analytic there is huge traffic in a day. Thanks for sharing moz blog link I have modified my .htaccess and got rid from these fake referells.

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