I’m sure you’re familiar with this quote, or some form of it: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin is credited with this idiom, and I agree. However, Franklin lived in pre-internet times and didn’t have to deal with referral spam on websites.
I’m quite positive Franklin would modify his popular idiom if he had to fight spammers constantly. As a digital marketer, spam bots are the bane of my existence some days. Am I being dramatic? Maybe. But spam can wreak havoc on analytics data, making it much harder to distinguish between legitimate and bogus traffic.
Below is a quick way you can use filters to start getting rid of spam referral traffic. (I know there are many different ways of dealing with different types of spam.) As mentioned, this post specifically addresses REFERRAL spam.
To reduce referral spam, the absolute first thing you should do before making any changes in your Analytics account is create a new view to which you’ll add filters.
Once you filter something out, you can’t get it back (which is obviously the point). Even so, it’s smart to always have a raw data set as a back up.
- Go to the Admin section at the top of your account.
- In the View column, select Create New View from the dropdown.
- Name this new view whatever makes sense for you, maybe something like Filters Applied or Filter Bots, and set the appropriate time zone. (For the purposes of this blog post, we’re talking about tracking website data view, not mobile app.)
Note: a new view will only begin tracking from creation date forward and does not include historical data from any other view.
Once your new view is available, select the Filters option and click +Add Filter.
- Enter a Filter Name. The name is arbitrary, so you can go with something like Spam Filter or Spam Referrals.
- Change Filter Type to Custom.
- You want to use the Exclude option, which should already be selected.
- In the Filter Field drop-down, choose Referral.The Filter Pattern field is where you’ll type in the sites you want to filter out of reporting. Look at your Referral Traffic report (found under Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals) to identify bogus sources. It’s usually pretty easy to tell which sources are spam. They might end in .xyz, include terms about money like “cash” or “profit,” or include terms like “best-seo” or “top-seo.” If you’re questioning a source, don’t exclude it without doing a little research.
- Type in your sources using a regular expression (In layman’s terms, add a backslash in front of the period “\.” of the source.) To exclude multiple sources, separate them with a pipe “|” symbol, with no spaces before or after.Example: traffic2money\.com|e-buy-easy\.com|best-seo-software\.xyz
- Use the Filter Verification option to check your work. It shows you how your new filter would affect data from the previous 7 days.Note: Be mindful that if the spam referrals you’re excluding visited more than 7 days ago, you’ll get a message that says the filter would not have changed your data. This is true because they didn’t visit your site during that time anyway. However if you get the error message and your Referral Traffic report did record visits in the past 7 days, you need to review the filter’s configuration.
- Once verified, save your filter. You can go back in and add more sources to your list when needed. (You will need to because referral spam is perpetual.) Just keep following the pattern by separating with a | symbol. You’ll run into a character limit eventually, so simply create a similar filter and start adding sources to that one.
One other quick to-do: While still in the Admin section of your new filtered view, open the View Settings section. Check the box that says “Exclude all hits from known bots and spiders.” I’m not sure this actually does anything (other articles question the box’s effectiveness, too), but it doesn’t hurt to set it up.
For more information and further learning, check out these articles: