If you’re finding unexpected referral traffic in your Google Analytics stats that links to spammy pages, it means you’re getting hit with Referrer Spam, which is also known as Ghost Traffic. This is a growing problem for website owners and digital marketing professionals, as it can have a negative effect on your Analytics data and is difficult to ignore.

Referrer Spam is hard to identify because it mixes in with your legitimate referral traffic

Referrer Spam mixes in with your legitimate referral traffic

What is Referrer Spam and Where Does It Come From?

Referrer Spam is created by bots and crawlers with the intention of getting you to visit the referral site in question. This is a type of spam indexing that targets your website’s analytics data and has been growing more and more popular in recent years.

A recent Referrer Spam URL is link.zhihu.com. Visiting a Referrer Spam URL like this results in you getting redirected to whatever page the spammer wants to promote. Oftentimes this will be done to promote malware or viruses, and you should be very careful when visiting suspicious links in Google Analytics. This is also a common tactic used by unscrupulous vendors offering cheap traffic.

While you may be thinking that Referrer Spam can still be positive, because it’s increasing traffic to your page, you’re wrong. The type of traffic generated by Refferer Spam is known as ghost traffic, and the hits you are receiving are not real. Nor, of course, will they convert or lead to any positive results for you, save for cluttering up your Google Analytics data. This type of traffic typically results in 100% bounce rates and zero time on site, negatively affecting your real stats. Modern search algorithms that use AI and machine learning like RankBrain will also not be fooled by this. Besides, Google has stated that they don’t pull data from inside Google Analytics to determine your SERP performance.

Using Refferer Spam is a blackhat SEO tactic, and is not an SEO strategy used by legitimate agencies and services. It also offers site owners zero benefit, and should be dealt with if it becomes regular, to keep your data as legitimate as possible.

By blocking Refferer Spam you can help clear up your Analytics data

Blocking Refferer Spam can help clear up your Analytics data

How to Block Referrer Spam in Google Analytics

You can block Refferer Spam from showing up in Google Analytics by setting up an exclude filter and blocking it at the source, and is the method that is recommended by Google. To create an exclude filter, use the following steps:

1. Go to the Admin tab in Google Analytics and click Filters (in the VIEW section)

2. Select the Add Filter button to start the wizard

3. Make the Filter Name link.zhihu.com or whatever Refferer Spam URL you are trying to exclude. You can also make a generic name if you want to block multiple URLs with one filter.

4. Select Custom Filter as the type

5. Select Campaign Source in the Filter Field. Add link.zhizhu.com in the Filter Pattern text box to exclude it. You can add multiple URLs to the filter, so instead of making URL-specific filters, you can make regional or global Referrer Spam Filters. Save your work, and the filter will be applied.

By setting up filters like this and being diligent, you can improve the quality and accuracy of your Analytics data, protect yourself and your staff from dodgy URLs, and help discourage the practice of Referrer Spam. The spammers who who deliver this referrer traffic are counting on you to notice this, and visit their websites, giving them an undeserved boost in SEO. Pay close attention to your Google Analytics data, and avoid investigating these types of links whenever possible. There is no shortage of on-page and off-page SEO best practices to follow, without resorting to black-hat tactics like referrer spam/ghost traffic. Legitimate site owners should avoid these tactics, as well as agencies and freelancers who promote them.

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