Anyone who has had to work with Google Analytics for an extended period of time will know the pain of referral spam. Google understand this, which is why they have promised solutions to this issue before, such as Adam Singer’s 2015 announcement at Mozcon. Despite this, Analytics users have still had to rely on workarounds to get the spam out of their results for the past year, but it seems the issue has finally been dealt with by the tech wizards at Mountain View.
Referral spam is a nuisance that gains traffic by goading site owners into clicking through their referral links in order to see what it was that brought a visitor to their site. Unfortunately there was no visitor, and the link just takes you to whatever obscure and/or malware–infested part of the web that the spammers are plugging. This method of drawing ill–gotten traffic to a site has been especially effective in recent years as webmasters become savvier about their audiences, and are more likely to click on an unknown referral link to see who is sending views their way. Is this an under–served part of their audience? Do they even want this part of the market? These are the questions that referral spam preys on. Until now, Google hasn’t been able to distinguish between these kinds of referrals and the real deal.
In the past week, however, referral spam has been conspicuously and thankfully absent from my Analytics reports. Strangely this change seems to be both non–retroactive and non–real time. The spam from January is still there, implying that whatever solution Google have arrived at has not been applied to previous reports. However, referral spam still shows up on real time results, implying that the solution is applied after the fact rather than on the fly. Still, it’s better than nothing, and I had to dig back through January’s acquisition logs to find an instance of referral spam, so Google’s fix is both effective and has been working for a few weeks now.
For the first time in a long time, site owners using Google Analytics will be able to sift through their reports and logs without having to worry about referral spam. It’s true that some site owners may get something of a nasty shock when they see that large portions of their reported traffic were, in fact, spam referrals, and have now gone. That being said, this kind of traffic isn’t really traffic at all, and as much as it might sting to find your high numbers aren’t really that high, it has to be better than living in ignorance, in this case at least.