By Ryan Shenefelt / Guest Column
Businesses across the Corridor are experiencing strange traffic when they dive into their Google Analytics referrals. Spam companies attempting to promote their web-based products have found a unique way to get in front of a company’s web team: by carpeting their referral traffic with illegitimate visits for “top of mind” advertising.
Imagine briefly skimming your website analytics to see you have a 300 percent increase in referral traffic. (Referral traffic comes from websites that send links – and in turn, traffic – to your website.) After investigating deeper, you realize it’s traffic from websites like “Get-more-website-visitors.com” or “silver-bullet-to-marketing.com.” While you may be flattered they have found your website and are linking through to it, this is sadly spam intended to introduce you to their product, visit their website and convert.
While these traffic spikes of a few hundred spam visits per month may not affect large scale businesses, they can certainly gum up the marketing analytics of small- to medium-sized businesses with upwards of 75 percent of traffic being spam.
How to filter your traffic
- Sign in to Google Analytics and choose “Admin”
- In the “Account” column, click “All Filters”
- Click “+ New Filter” (you’ll need “Edit Permissions” to make this change)
- Set the Filter Type to “Custom” and “Exclude”
- Set your Filter field to “Campaign Source” and enter the websites you would like to filter out
- It’s a good idea to keep an “Unfiltered” version of your analytics in case you’re curious about spam traffic.
We’ve all fallen for the vanity metrics of page view spikes and referral bumps, but it’s always a best practice to dig into those analytics so that you understand your traffic. When analytics users focus primarily on top-level details like users, sessions, bounce rates and traffic channels, they are more prone to ignore or miss that their site has fallen victim to spam traffic. Dig deeper into your referral traffic to see specifically where your traffic is coming from each month. If a new site needs to be filtered out, you can filter and instantly see your “real” traffic.
Spam referrals can be misattributed to direct web traffic if you are anxiously awaiting a boost in site visits from a recent marketing push. Remember that a time correlation does not mean causation. Request more information (such as location and time) from your analytics report or review the dashboard yourself to ensure that you aren’t increasing advertising spends to replicate spam traffic that is in no way attributed to your efforts.
If you are looking for a way to establish some solid ROI on your marketing efforts, use landing pages specific to your marketing channels that mirror the messaging and design of the marketing piece you are trying to measure. Steer clear of sending traffic to your homepage or generic services page – if you are going to invest the time and money in a marketing piece, factor in some time for a landing page with specific calls to action. If applicable, attribute more of your website’s success to goals and conversions rather than views.
Once you start creating filters, resist the urge to filter out all of your website’s traffic. Analytics can serve as a way to monitor your website’s traffic from all over the world, including anyone who is looking for vulnerabilities in your site. Filtering traffic from analytics won’t actually block the traffic from coming to your site, meaning you may be missing potential attacks or concerning behavior (consider .htaccess to block that kind of traffic). While your website should have security precautions in place, your analytics dashboard is only one tool in the toolbox of protection.
Insights from Google Analytics quickly become a marketer’s go-to justification for spending, market expansions and product insight. It’s important to remember, however, that Google Analytics can be wrong and data can easily be construed to tell multiple stories.
Ryan Shenefelt is a digital strategist with de Novo Marketing in Cedar Rapids.