Ghost Referrals

UPDATE 9 FEBRUARY 2016: There is a strong rumour that Google has now put in place a method to exclude ghost referrals from Google Analytics. I have not seen any ghost spam for 2 weeks on the accounts that I monitor so it is looking good .....

UPDATE 4 MAY 2015: There are more and more ghost referrers appearing and now they are morphing into Organic Search Traffic, Direct Traffic and Events. It is becoming very important to filter out all but genuine hostnames to exclude all of this ghost traffic.

This article focuses on ghost referrals from the likes of "darodar" and "priceg". 

Ghost Referrals

NOT REAL VISITS

Recently a new type of referrer has appeared. These aren't actually real visits to your website, they are generating fake Google Analytics pageviews using random Google tracking IDs and yours may be one of the tracking IDs that has been chosen. Because there is no real visit to the website, then there are no server or client-side methods that you can use to block them. These types of referrals are being called ghost referrals.

The lower your total of traffic to your website, the more effect that the ghost referrals will have. For a website that we look after that was only recently launched, every referral so far in 2015 is either a ghost referral or a spam referral and referrals make up 40% of total web traffic.

There is a method to determine which of your referrals are genuine and which ones are ghost referrals. From the Acquisition/All Traffic/Referrals report, add a Secondary Dimension of Hostname. The ghost referrals will have Hostnames such as "apple.com" or "co.lumb.co" while genuine referrals (that is referrals from real visits to your website) will have the Hostname of your own website or a website from which you expect to generate web traffic (such as domain aliases).

You can filter ghost referrals in the same way that you filter spam referrals but the difficulty is that there are so many of them and new ones are being created every day. You will spend a lot of your time monitoring your referrers report and amending your referrals filter.

DETERMINE GENUINE HOSTNAMES

A method to exclude all of the ghost traffic now and into the future is to apply a filter that only includes genuine Hostnames. The risk with this method is that a mistake with configuring the filter could result in some or all of your genuine traffic not being recorded. For this reason, it makes sense to set the filter on a "test" profile first before committing it to your live profile.

In order to build the filter, you need to know all of the genuine hostnames that generate traffic for your Google Analytics. Firstly set the date range to go from a year or more in the past up to today. Then go to Acquisition/All Traffic/Channels and add a Secondary Dimension of Hostname. Look for all the valid hostnames in your Hostname list and make sure all of them are added to the filter.

Ghost Referrals

FILTER TO INCLUDE ONLY GENUINE HOSTNAMES

So let's create a filter that will exclude ghost referrals

1. Go into the Admin panel of the Google Analytics account.

Ghost Referrals

2. For the View, select Filters and create a New Filter.

Some description

3. Choose the following settings for the Filter. 

Ghost Referrals

You need to build a regular expression (regex) to match all of your required hostnames. As regex is complex and deserving of a series of articles on its own, use this as a simple example to build your filter. It is the filter that would be created for our own website based on the list of hostnames above.

.*cucumber\.co\.nz|.*cucumbersoftware\.com|.*cucumberdigital\.com|.*googleusercontent\.com|.*archive\.org

This will include visits to www.cucumber.co.nz as well as cucumber.co.nz

Click on "Verify this filter" before saving the new filter as this should confirm that only your ghost referrals will be excluded - if you see valid traffic being filtered then revisit the regex.

Ghost Referrals

Be aware that once this filter is active, you will need to remember to update the filter when changes are needed - for example, if Cucumber was to switch to the new domain www.cucumber.nz, then the regex above would block all that traffic.

SUMMARY

In summary, this hostname filter should only be created if the ghost referrals are majorly disrupting your Analytics data. Keep a unfiltered profile in your Google Analytics account so that you can periodically check that your filter is not blocking legal traffic.

For a full and detailed article on all methods of preventing spam traffic, this Ohow Article is excellent.