Have you checked your Google Analytics traffic sats recently and noticed a bit of traffic from some unlikely sources?
When checking your referrers (which sites have sent you traffic) have you spotted sites such as www.forex-ninjas.com and secret.google.com?
If so, then you have had some referrer spam. This traffic is no good at all to you and isn’t actually the result of them visiting your site at all. Confused?
What is referrer spam?
When you add Google Analytics (or indeed any public-facing analytics code) to your website you are placing a small script on your web pages. When someone visits your pages the script tells Google about the visit and Google then shows it on your Analytics report.
However, as the script is visible in your page source (try navigating to your web page, then click ‘View Source’ in your web browser tools and find ‘analytics’) it can be used in a bad way too. Here’s what happens…
If I had a website whose traffic I wanted to artificially boost, I would copy the analytics code from your web page and paste it (along with the code from thousands of other websites) into my own web page. Then I would navigate to my web page. This would immediately execute all of the analytics code scripts on the page, making it appear to Google that I had visited each of these pages.
That’s rubbish, I hear you say. Why would I want to waste my time doing that?
What benefit does referrer spam have for the perpetrator?
Well. When you see these sites appear in your Google Analytics reports what do you do?
I have actually visited a few to see where my link appears on their site.
So, if I have visited their sites to have a look, then I’m sure that you have too. That’s what they are after – traffic, which delivers impressions for their advertisers, and which looks good to site owners if they have employed a rather shady web company to help build their traffic.
Can I do anything about it?
I’m guessing that Google will eventually get on top of this and stop these referrals from appearing in your analytics reports, but unfortunately, as soon as one route is shut down another will open up.
You could play around with the filters on your analytics profile (excluding specific domains), but that’s probably a little too much effort – especially if you have multiple sites and lots of different spam referrers.
Is Referrer Spam a risk to me?
Probably not if you ignore it.
However, if the site was malicious in some way (for example, by automatically downloading something nasty to the computers of anyone who visited it), that might be different.
It distorts your Google Analytics stats too, making it difficult to see real traffic progress.
So, my recommendation is not to visit any of these sites at all – even if you have spam and virus protection running on your computer or built into your web browsers.
Can referrer spam represent real visits to my site too?
Yes. I have described a way that spammers can trick Google Analytics users into thinking that they have had a visit, but of course, they can pay real visits to your site too. This may have the added complication if you display a list of referrers on your site – some people do, and this can give good search engine link juice to the spamming site!