Referral spam/ghost traffic: how to stop damage to your online business

Ghost traffic (or referral spam) is false traffic that can appear in Google Analytics reporting without actual, corresponding visits to your site.

Of the Google Analytics accounts we work with, 95% have been affected by referral spam. It can make reporting very misleading. For some smaller websites, referral spam makes up the majority of traffic – meaning that up to two-thirds of reported visits did not occur. The amount of visitors to larger websites can mask its effect but we’ve seen upwards of 4,000 spam referral visits a month, making up almost one-fifth of total traffic. As its presence is not immediately obvious to the site owner, these polluted data can cause perplexing anomalies and poor strategic decisions further down the line.


How does referral spam occur?

How does referral spam occur

A malicious program submits requests to Google Analytics using either random account numbers or actual account numbers gathered by a bot crawling the net.


Is my site affected?

There are three ways to determine whether you’ve been affected by ghost traffic/referral spam.


Check referral traffic

Check for unexpected referrers, including**:


**Please note over time even the domains listed above may be used for genuine reasons.

Google Analytics > Acquisition > Referrals

Referring domain spam

Check for unexpected events

To date, we’ve only seen event tracking injected by or the event category “[name]-MON” (e.g. pageview-MON, user-MON, videoAd-MON) but there is nothing to prevent others from doing the same.

Google Analytics > Acquisition > Referrals



Check unexpected organic keywords

Organic keyword spam is less common and as such not as identifiable – if it does occur it is frequently made up of the domain names that appear in the referrer report appearing as an organic search keyword referral.

The following image show examples of spam organic keyword referrals.

Organic Keyword Spam


Can I get rid of referral spam?

The most common method is by maintaining numerous filters to block certain domains or campaigns. You can do it yourself but it’ll require research and a significant, ongoing time investment, as new spam referral domains are identified and filtered out.

However, we have multi tired solution that in the short term should block 100% spam referrals. While it’s important to remember that the internet is an evolving environment, and that you should consult regularly to keep your site free of spamming problems, our fix works now and for the foreseeable future.

fix spam referral at sumobaby

With luck, Google Analytics will begin to filter out these spammers automatically before they’re able to game our solution. In the mean time we will continue to adapt our already robust solution for great protection.

Don’t let spam referrals derail your business strategy.

Contact us today to see if we can help you get back on track

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