Spam vs. True Traffic: How to get the most out of Google Analytics

Congratulations, you just launched a new, beautiful, and responsive website for your business. It’s fresh, modern and has all the bells and whistles including this great visitor tracking tool called Google Analytics. You can’t wait to start evaluating your visitor data and start showing off how awesome your new website is performing.

You login to your Google Analytics account and find that the data is not what you were expecting. Bounce rate is extremely high and visitor duration is low! Why would so many people visit my site and leave right away? Well, you may be a victim of referrer spam traffic skewing your data.


What is referrer spam traffic?

To put it simply, referrer spam traffic is a technique that involves making repeated web site requests using a fake referrer URL to the site the spammer wishes to advertise. These requests trigger your Google Analytics code and the data tracked is completely useless.


How do I find referrer spam traffic?

Referrer spam can be found by navigating to Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals from the left toolbar. Below the graph will display all of your referrer traffic grouped by the source URL.


How do I identify good referrer traffic vs spam referrer traffic?

Here are a few of the top indicators that can be used to determine if it is referrer spam traffic:

  • 100% bounce rate
  • Avg session duration is 0:00
  • Pages/session are 2 or less
  • The source URL doesn’t exist
  • Google search says it’s spam


I have referrer spam! How do I get rid of it?

To remove referrer spam traffic from your reports simply apply a filter blocking the URL of the spam referrer. Before you start creating filters and adjusting your analytics data it is recommended to create a new view in the analytics admin. Once a filter is applied to a view you can not recover any lost traffic the filter blocks. Maintaining an unfiltered view and filtered views will ensure no data loss can happen if a filter isn’t applied correctly.


Follow these steps to filter out spam referrals.

  1. Set your reporting date range to display the last year of data.
  2. From the reporting dashboard, navigate to Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals and make note of all spam referral URLs.
  3. Once you have all the spam URLs, list them on a single line of text separating each hostname with the OR character, “|”, and adding a backslash, “\”, before each period. This will create a regular expression similar to this: semalt\.com|buttons-for-website\.com|www\.spammers\.com
  4. Navigate to the admin, click the filters link from the view menu, and click the new filter button. Click the custom button. Then select the radio button next to exclude and select campaign source from the drop-down menu. Copy & paste your regular expression, listing your spam URLs, into the filter name field. Save the filter and you are all set.

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 2.41.40 PM

Periodically checking your referrals report and updating your regular expression will help maintain an up-to-date list of spam referrals to exclude. Remember, filters will not affect historical data. Only future data will be spam referral free.

Pro tip: Creating a segment excluding your regular expression will filter historical data.New Call-to-action