Google’s GAS Problem and How To Avoid It
You know how gas always has a distinct odor?
Doesn't matter if it's natural gas, or laughing gas, or a bad case of intestinal gas.
It's just whiffy. Or as my friend Ron would say: "It smells funky!"
The GAS I’m talking about today is no laughing matter.
In fact it got me quite annoyed.
Let me share my angry story.
What is this GAS problem?
One day, as you do, I was checking my site stats. I’m new to the game; I’m looking for trends; I’m looking for milestones.
Imagine my elation when I hit the jackpot – BINGO!
100 visitors in a day! Yes, look at that spike in traffic! Look at that trend! Whoopee!!!
Where the hell did that come from? What did I do to attract so many visitors? Which stunning piece of content had drawn in those hungry wolves?
I quickly scrolled down the page to check the referral source for this traffic spike.
'Buttons-for-websites'…what the heck is that?
'Human rights'…why are they interested in my content?
And then I looked to the right on my screen and saw the super high 100% bounce rate.
Shit! Am I being hacked? Is this some brute force attack?
No. It can’t be. Wordfence would have warned me.
What is it? What is the source of this traffic surge?
When in doubt – Google it!
So I did.
My elation turned to deflation.
And my moment of glory evaporated into the ether...
The 'buttons' and 'human rights' were no more than Spam bots.
I hate SPAM!
So, my content was not that good. I hadn’t found the secret elixir. The SPAMMERS had found me instead.
<PAUSE…Brain cogs tick round…>
Whoa! Hold on a minute…
Google doesn’t like SPAM. They’ve got a special anti-SPAM team. They’ve released several notable updates – Penguins, Pandas, etc. – to make the web a better place without SPAM!
They want good wholesome content on the Internet.
On the one hand…
Google has gone to great lengths to make its search engine algorithms penalise websites that are considered spammy.
But, on the other hand…
Google has left the door open for any Tom, Darodar and Semalt to send spam directly to its own Analytics. Go figure!
Sorry, I can’t go with that.
That is just two-faced.
You can’t rid the Internet of everyone else's spam, and then leave your own back door wide open!
No. Not having it.
That is hypocritical.
I was fuming!
I had to email my friend just for a sanity check!
He confirmed I was right, and wished me well on my journey to rid the world of GAS.
GAS: Google Analytics Spam.
It’s definitely a smelly gas.
It’s definitely leaking.
And it’s left an unpleasant stench hanging around...
Read on to discover more about my research mission on GAS…
I started this website in 2014 and soon after I installed the Google Analytics ‘code’ and linked my account to the Google Analytics dashboard.
I think these are the reasons we ALL install Google Analytics:
- It’s FREE
- Everyone else has it – follow the crowd
- It’s packed full of features and functionality – most of which we’ll never understand or use
When I visit sites on the web I nearly always hit my SpyBar button to check out what tools they are using. I don’t think I’ve come across a site yet that doesn’t have Google Analytics listed.
When was the last time you checked your Google Analytics dashboard?
I mean, really checked.
Not that front overview screen that everyone uses in their Monthly Income Report. I mean really dug deep into your traffic sources.
I have to question how many of those Monthly Reports actually include inflated figures of Spam sessions.
We’ll see later how to filter that out...
What did I do when I found Spam?
Well, apart from blow my lid at the two-faced hypocrisy, I decided to research the topic.
And of course, ironically, I used good old Google to do just that.
Over a period of time I read and consumed a number of articles. In fact, I had to read some over and again just to get my head round it.
Google Analytics Spam
What transpired from my research is that there are essentially two types of Spam that affect your Google Analytics: Spammy Web Crawlers and Ghost Referral Traffic.
Spammy Web Crawlers
There are good web crawlers out there that help index content on the web. However, there are also bad web crawlers (like Semalt) that hide themselves as robots and end up in your Analytics with 100% bounce rate and zero-second duration.
The worst offenders (darodar.com and many, many, many more) are what are called “Ghost Referrals” because they never actually visit your site. Using some software magic, they post fake pageviews to Google’s tracking service using a random series of tracking IDs. When they pick a series that includes your tracking ID, Google records a referral visit from their source in your reports.
How can you avoid Google Analytics Spam?
The best article I found on the subject was this one from December 2014 by Michael Sullivan on Analytics Edge.
The big plus is that there’s an accompanying Infographic that I have pinned on Pinterest.
In fact, I would heartily recommend you take a look around Analytics Edge, as there is a wealth of information provided by Michael.
If you prefer a video tutorial, then try this one by Gael from Authority Hacker.
I’m just going to list a few high level points here, but be sure to check out the infographic above for a clearer illustration.
1. Always keep one view of your Google Analytics that is unfiltered
If you don’t have one, make one now.
- Keep the default ‘All Web Site Data’ view as your unfiltered view; i.e. it contains the spam and good data.
- Create a TEST view where you can test new filters.
- Create a LIVE view with the filtered data.
2. Do not use the built-in ‘Bot Filtering’ option in Google Analytics
According to Michael: “While it may remove some of the annoying entries in your referral report, it may actually change the session to a direct visit and it continues to appear in your reports.”
3. Filter out Ghost Referrals
Ghost Referrals can be filtered out by the hostname they use, or more appropriately, because they don’t use your hostname. Using an Include Filter with valid hostnames will greatly reduce the maintenance effort, but it must be maintained or it might exclude valid traffic from a new hostname in the future.
4. Filter out Spammy Web Crawlers
Spammy Web Crawlers can be filtered out with another view. But you also need to use it conjunction with step 5…
5. Edit your .htaccess file or install a plugin
Although the filter in step 4 removes the information from your Analytics reports it doesn’t stop the Spam Bots actually visiting your website. You can read in some places about changing your ‘.htaccess’ file to stop them visiting. However, I prefer to use a plugin so that I don’t have to mess with the files. Try this “Semalt Blocker” plugin.
What are the alternatives to Google Analytics?
Just because Google Analytics is FREE and everyone uses it doesn’t mean you have to follow suit!
I’ve been running the free version of Clicky alongside Google Analytics since I started the site. And to be honest, I find it a lot easier to understand and follow than Google Analytics.
I installed the Yoast WordPress plugin for Clicky and found the setup and integration to be a lot simpler than Google Analytics.
In its simplest form Clicky provides a very quick dashboard of all the measures you would want to see at a high level. (Note some of the measures and terminology are slightly different to Google Analytics).
And guess what – it doesn’t have any spam at all. No need to add filters and plugins to keep the pesky spammers away. Clicky does all that for you at their server level.
Now why can’t Google do that?
- Check out this article from the Clicky forum.
As I said, I’m using the free version of Clicky, which means some options are unavailable.
I’ve not used any other web analytics tools, but there are plenty on the market.
I think it's well worth the read, not only to see what the alternatives are, but also to evaluate what you really want out of your Analytics.
Like I said earlier, I think most people install it and forget it.
In his conclusion Shane writes:
“For many businesses and new websites, it makes a lot of sense to use a simpler alternative like Clicky, Heap or one of the other candidates here. Even if they technically don't do much that Google Analytics can't do, there is enormous value in having a tool that's easy to work with and gives you immediate data you can take action on.”
So, there you have it.
Google, in my opinion, is letting itself and its customers down when it comes to Analytics.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big Google fan. They have given us a shed load of brilliant applications: Search, Mail, Docs, Chrome, Drive, Maps, Webmaster Tools, etc.
So why have they allowed a pile of crap into their Analytics tool?
If Clicky can stop the Spam, why can’t Google?
Frankly, it stinks! It’s sloppy! And it’s not what I expect from them.
Over to you
Lets hear your thoughts and comments on this:
- Do you use Google Analytics and/or another tool?
- Do you have filters in place to remove the Referral Spam?
- Do you actually check your analytics or is it ignored once installed?