Since early 2014, the Google analytics information has been less accurate with the arrival of spambots or ghost referrers in websites analytics data.
While they don’t hurt your website, or affect your search rankings (as they have occurred globally) they skew Analytics data making it difficult to accurately see the overall picture of health on your site, particularity in reference to bounce rate and time on site.
There have been multiple methods created to address this issue, and you can see the majority of them at this definitive guide to remove analytics spam.
The methods listed here include:
- filters in the Analytics data
- htaccess rewrites
- identifying valid hostnames
- creating custom segments
- and others.
Generally, all of these methods work for a time, then the referrers update their methods, change their URL structure or their IP address and the work to clean the data starts all over again.
What does a ghost referrer look like?
In the example below, almost all of these referrals have 100% bounce rate, visited only the one page, and spent no time one site. With the exception of the Hulfingtonpost (note the mis-spelling), that somehow managed to visit 3 pages without registering any session time.
You can see quite easily that these are robots and not real people.
The Analytics update
Recently Google has made an update that reduces the visibility of these ghost referrers in your Analytics data. As far as we can tell, this is being applied as a filter after the visits have come to the site. We can see this as the real time data can still see the bots visits, but the referral traffic is now measuring traffic from real people more accurately, without showing the bots.
The Good: The data will now be clean and accurately reflect the traffic on your site
The Bad: It is not applied retroactively, so the old data comparing year on year will still be skewed, just in the other direction.
What this means for your site: You will see a drop in overall traffic as a result.
What this means for your business
There may be further impact, the bots may figure out a way around this filtration that Google has applied, and it may only be a temporary fix. For now, it’s working as intended.
If your site previously had a lot of visits from these referrers, your overall site traffic will drop. When you are checking your data to help make marketing decisions about how to drive customers to your site based on their previous interactions, be sure to take this into account.
If you want to chat to us about how your site has been affected, and if you can do anything further about it, feel free to get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.