Recently, I was looking through my website’s Google Analytics and I saw something that made me pause. Under referrals, there was a new kid in town delivering 8% of my website referral traffic. The kid’s name was Quality Market Zone, and what this kid was providing my website was anything but quality. What this and similar spammers do is called referral spam.
For marketers, referral spam is a problem because, unless you become aware of it and remove it, you run the risk of misreporting data to your clients. If you are a business owner, you think your traffic is healthier than it really is (in my case, 8% healthier!) or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, you may think your bounce rate is much higher than it is.
Other, potentially more serious, issues include referral spammers using your site to create back links to their spam sites and/or Google downgrading your site if spammers link to it too often (see below). The harm is usually fairly easy to reverse, but it’s still a time-consuming addition to your to-do list. Although it’s a fact of modern marketing, any way you look at it, referral spam is an imposition.
So, what can you do?
What to Do About Referral Spam
The first thing you need to do is export your referral traffic into a spreadsheet and identify all spam sites. Then, you’ll set filters to exclude these domains, and their traffic, from your analytics. Follow this link for a full set of instructions on how to stop referral spam.
The result of these actions is cleaner data, but the spam sites are still hitting your server. Read on to discover why spammers hitting your server is a problem.
Referral Spam for Black Hat SEO
According to Optimize Smart:
When your website receive[s] an HTTP request from a spam bot with [a] fake referrer header, it is immediately recorded in your server log. If your server log is publicly accessible, i.e. it can be crawled and indexed by Google, then Google treats the referrer value in your server log as a backlink, thus influencing the search engine ranking of the website being promoted by spammers.
Attention all hardworking, honest digital marketers and white hat SEOs! Raise your hands if you want spammers to use your sites (or your clients’ sites) for their own backlinking. Anybody?
I thought so.
Will Referral Spam Downgrade Your Site?
If you find that spammers are placing links to your website from their own spam sites, you’ll need to take care of this right away. Google will downgrade your site if you have too many spam links pointing to it. Fortunately, Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) can come to your rescue with its disavow links tool if there are actual links to your site on the spam websites.
If you’re not sure about your website’s spam rating, paid tools like Moz will show you.
How to Block Referral Spam
Cleaning your Google Analytics data (see above) using Google Search Console [Aside: Why does Google have two separate sites for these functions? Why can’t we have one account that does both? Let’s file it under “More Google Mysteries.”] is important. Ultimately, though, you’re going to want to block spammers from your server. Like an icky ex, you don’t want spammers to have the keys to your digital home or office.
Because blocking spammers from your server requires accessing your website’s .htaccess file, I’m not going to recommend the DIY approach. Instead, follow this link to learn how to block referral spam and then ask your webmaster (or hire a programmer) to do the fix.
Clean Up Time
I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news and add to your to-do list, but, since this problem came onto my own radar, I wanted to make you aware of it, too. Accurate data provides better insights, and better insights means you can take the right marketing actions. A spam-free server protects your website—your primary digital asset.
My job is to build and protect brands for small, local, and mission-driven businesses. If you need help cleaning up your data and scraping spammers off your servers, reach out to Colibri Digital Marketing for a complimentary digital marketing session.
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