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The Ghost Spam of Christmas Present

Ghost spam isn't a new phenomena this holiday season; it's been haunting every website for some months now. However, I've been seeing some new referral sources pop up recently and thought it was time we irradiated these ghouls once and for all! 

But before I explain how to bust these ghosts, let's discuss what is exactly ghost spam. 

WHAT IS GHOST SPAM?

We call it "ghost spam" because no traffic actually accesses or interacts with your site. Spammers are able to send traffic directly to Google Analytics servers, which log a fake visit in your reporting. These show up in referral reports as social sharing buttons, adult sites and a variety of other sources. 

Ghost spam won't negatively impact your site's ranking or engagement in any way. The issue is rather with accuracy of reporting data. If half of your traffic is coming from ghost spam, and you make business decisions based on that data, you may be making the wrong decisions! 

HOW TO REMOVE GHOST SPAM

You can apply a few methods to remove ghost spam:

Source Filters

Create an exclusion filter for known referral sources and add new ones as they materialize out of thin air. Follow the steps below:

Step 1: Navigate to the "Admin" tab in Google Analytics.

Step 2: In the "View" column, click the drop down and create a new view. This will allow you to maintain a master view with all data. Name your new view.

Step 3: Select your new view, and click "Filters" section, then select "+ Add Filter."

Step 4: Select "Custom" filter. Name it, then select "Request URI" from the drop down.

Step 5: Enter in the URLs of the known spam. Some of the common sources are:

  • semalt.com
  • buttons-for-website.com
  • ilovevitaly.co
  • get-free-social-traffic.com
  • free-floating-buttons.com
  • floating-share-buttons.com

You can find an extensive list of spam sources here.

Step 6: Save your filter.

This method requires continuous ongoing management, but is effective for removing ghost spam. 

Country Filters

Smaller U.S.-based businesses are likely not receiving traffic from other countries. Therefore, they can add exclusion filters for international countries without removing legitimate traffic.

Follow the first 3 steps above. In Step 4, select "Country" from the drop down and add the regions you wish to exclude. 

Hostname Filters

Ghost spam either uses a fake hostname or doesn't have one set. This method will exclude ghost spam by including only real hostnames.

Follow the first 3 steps above. In Step 4, select "Hostname" from the drop down and add in legitimate sites, such as your main domain, subdomains and known referral sources. Again, this method is more manageable for smaller companies that have a good idea of who is linking to them, and thus where traffic might be coming from.

Unfortunately, we're already seeing the spammers getting smarter, using real host names and finding ways around filters. The best course is to check your referrals sources on a frequent basis and add in new filters as needed. You'll likely never exorcise all spammy spirits from Google Analytics reporting, but if you can keep the percentage low, you can be more confident in the business decisions you make based on analytics data.