What is Referral Spam and How Can You Stop it?

Referral Spam refers to when your website is the target of a spam robot which sends traffic to your site, which isn’t ‘real’.  However, your site will interpret this information and convert it into your Google Analytics account which will result in incorrect, and inefficient data.

There are two different types of spammy visitors that you may have to your site. Let’s look at these…

The most common is called ‘Ghost Spam’ which sends traffic over but it never actually enters your site. The other is referred to as ‘Crawlers’, which is the opposite of Ghost, crawls on your site. They appear to be more real as they use real data and indicate a more valid visit to the site.

It’s possible for both type of spam to be removed and blocked to prevent them spamming your site again, but you must ensure to this in the correct way to avoid any further targeted attacks.

What is referral spam?

When a website is bombarded with incorrect statistics and information on site visits that has been caused as a result of spambots.  As a result of this, you are unable to find out precise data about how well your company’s site has performed in terms of how many people have visited the site, the average time that has been spent on the site, or pages, the device in which it has been accessed and the bounce rate.

And to top it off, referral spam has the potential to cause damage to your ranking in search engines such as Google.

If you are on Google Analytics, and it appears you have an usual peak in traffic which was unexpected, find out who these visitors are to the site and where they have come from. A sudden increase in traffic might not be what is seems, and chances are you’ve been spammed.

It is quite easy to identify spammy referrals, and is easy to locate this from analytics (have a look in your referral traffic).

Should you worry about referral spam?

Referral spam does not hold a long lasting threat to your website but it can have a huge impact on it in terms of having incorrect, and almost invaluable data.

When reporting on your results at the end of the month, you might find that the information you have been left is not the true representation of the work and visits which the site has encountered during the period in which it’s been spammed.

Sadly, smaller and medium businesses may feel the effect of this more so than larger businesses, as they are often managed in house and do not have the knowledge or experience of analyst to look at this problem further.

That’s not to say that larger sites will not be affected by this, but the impact won’t be as big as that on a smaller website in reports.

Common mistakes people make when trying to remove referral spam

When companies realise that they’ve been hit with spammy referrals, they try and think of different ways in which they can quickly fix the error which has occurred. However, there have been a number of different issues that have been endured when trying to do so. Here are a few examples of different techniques which have been used when facing the problem of referral spam that have proved unsuccessful.

Attempting to block Ghost Spam via the .htaccess file

As ghost spam never really visits your site, adding them onto the above file will not have any effect, and will simply only add useless lines to your file. This type of spamming tends to show up now and again, and people may think they’ve effectively blocked it but chances are, it was timing and it will return.

Plugins in WordPress

This plugin uses a blacklist that is able to filter sites that are visiting your site and can block sites which is might regard as spammy.  However, this is not a long term prevention of preventing be the target of spam, it can work for a short period but it will never fully fix the issue.

Filtering in Google Analytics

Site owners attempt to prevent referral spam by applying filters within their Google Analytics account. They use it to exclude certain domains and IP addresses which are sending spam traffic and creating incorrect statistics for the site. However, doing this is not actually preventing the robots from visiting the site but it’s excluding them from appearing in your analytics, but the good news is by doing this it will importune the reliability of your data.

How to prevent referral spam?

It is possible to reduce the impact of referral spam on your website through your Google Analytics account, and a combination of two filters within it.

One of the filters is called a “Valid Hostname Filter” which allows you to prevent the site being attacked by ghost spam, whether through organic or referral spam.

The other filter is the Campaign Source Filter, which works particularly well if you have details of the currently known crawlers.  But this method is only as effective as the sources you add, and how often they are updated.

Both of these will be able to prevent spam bots interfering with your traffic and stop having an effect on future reports and data that you collect.

There is also another feature which can be used in Google Analytics which excludes visits from all known spam bots and ‘spiders’. This means all the sites that try and enter your site which are recognised as non-human will be excluded from the traffic that’s visited the site.

It’s important to ensure to keep on top of your Analytics account and be checking it to make sure you have traffic that appears genuine, and don’t have usually high peaks of traffic from untrustworthy sites. Otherwise, you may be under the influence incorrect data.


There are a number of different ways in which a website is able to identify when they are being targeted by referral spam, and a different techniques which can be used to prevent your site being a target of it.

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