Lenetek Blog

Is Google Analytics dead?

How ghost referral traffic destroys Google Analytics and what to do about it

Well, it is not totally dead, but it does require some resuscitation. If you are a webmaster and rely on Google Analytics as your tracking and SEO tool, the chances are high that most of your websites are subject to some faux traffic that distorts the real picture of the meaningful website traffic. This artificial traffic is called ghost referral traffic.

Why is it called Ghost Referral Traffic?

The name reflects the fact that this traffic never actually happens. It is not a real visit to your website by a person, by a bot or a spider. It’s a pure manipulation by unscrupulous spam websites of your Google Analytics counts. It is in fact an exploitation of a loophole in the Google Analytics Measurement Protocol.

Blocking websites from your hosting?

You can ban spammy or annoying websites from accessing your website on its hosting web server. This can be achieved via .htaccess file that resides in your hosting root directory. You would need to edit your .htaccess file by adding some code in it. For example, if you want to block alibestsale.com and chinese-amezon.com from accessing your website add the following to your .htaccess file:

rewriteengine on
rewritecond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http(s)?://(www\.)?alibestsale.com.*$ [NC,OR]
rewritecond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http(s)?://(www\.)?chinese-amezon.com.*$ [NC]
rewriterule .* - [F,L]

Would it help in addressing the ghost referral traffic problem? No, it would not, since these are not real traffic, those websites have never accessed your hosting server, and therefore banning their access does not eliminate the problem.

Why doesn’t Google address this problem?

Well, it does, sort of. Ideally, the solution from Google would be to eliminate this traffic altogether before you even see it in the Google Analytics reports. However, for some reason Google does not address this problem in its entirety.

Bots and Spiders filtering

This is a separate problem from the ghost referral traffic, but it does contribute to the distortion of your actual meaningful website traffic. Google does provide you with an option to exclude from your Google Analytics reporting known bots and spiders. In order to do that, you need to go to your Google Analytics account:

Google Analytics -> Admin -> View Settings

Under Bot Filtering, check "Exclude all hits from known bots and spiders" check box and click on Save button:

check Exclude all hits from known bots and spiders

That will remove the hits from known bots and spiders, but not those faux ghost counts.

Ghost Referral Traffic filtering

When you notice a new ghost referral in your Google Analytics report, you need to add it to your list of filters. Go to Admin → All Filters and click on the +ADD FILTER button:

Adding new filter in Google Analytics

Let’s say, you want to add the adf.ly domain to your filter. Here is what you need to do:

  • Copy & paste that adf.ly into the Filter Name field
  • Select Filter Type: Custom
  • Select Exclude, Filter Filed: Campaign Source
  • Copy & paste that adf.ly into the Filter Patern field

Provide Filter definition in Google Analytics

Then in the Apply Filter to Views box, select Available Views, click on Add button to move it to the Selected Views box on the right and finally click on the Save button:

Apply Filter to Views

Your new filter will appear in the list of your filters in the alphabetical order:

New filter added

Easy? Yes. Convenient? No.

Besides, you have to do this with every one of your websites separately. Plus, these filters do not apply retroactively, and in order to take an action applying these filters you will need first to observe and notice that ghost traffic, that is after the damage is already done to your Google Analytics report.

I am an optimist and still hope that Google will resolve this ghost referral problem by applying blanket filters either across all known ghost referrers or by modifying their traffic measurement protocols, or by some other way. Meanwhile, filter, filter, and filter.

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