How many of us have opened our Google Analytics (GA) reporting and found some really strange information in the data? Such as the Language field being populated with a crazy phrase supporting a political candidate? Or the Referral Traffic field containing a website you’ve never heard of before?
If so, then you’ve fallen victim to spam in your Google Analytics. And it’s quite common.
What’s the Point?
Why do spammers want to put data in Google Analytics? First of all, it’s because they are trying to get traffic to their own website. In the past several years, most spam has been in the Referral Traffic field. When you see a website name, and you’ve never heard of it, what do you do? Of course, you visit that website. In this scenario, the more people that see the ads on the spammer’s website, the more money they make. (Want to learn more about this? Do a search for “Google AdSense” for more details.)
The second reason that spammers put bad data into your Google Analytics is the hacker mentality. In the most recent cases, your data should say that the language is English, Spanish, and so on. What the hackers do is put some completely different data in that field. “Great big Google can’t stop me, I am a ‘super hacker’ and I got my message to show all over Google Analytics.” We may not understand it, but the hacker mentality plays a big role.
Since Google Analytics is a free tool, we have to find some ways to work around these challenges.
There are two broad categories you can use to deal with spam visits in Google Analytics. Much of it depends on whether you’re dealing with data from the past, or future data that’s going to be recorded in your Google Analytics.
First, let’s take a look at what I like to call my “quick and dirty” way to clean up your data. One important note – this method does not apply to websites that have customers from all over the world. This method works best with sites that get visitors from a specific region, like the USA, Canada, or even all of North America.
My “quick and dirty method” takes advantage of the power of advanced segments. With advanced segments, you can take any set of data in Google Analytics and show only that set.
For example, you can use advanced segments to only show traffic from mobile devices. When the advanced segment is set up, then no matter what area of GA you go into, it will ONLY show visits from mobile devices.
In a similar method, you can create an advanced segment that blocks out the country that the spam traffic is coming from. So you can exclude the visits from Russia, or China, or India, or any combination of countries. Advanced segments allow you to remove visits from your Google Analytics data so that you can run reports on historical data that are much more accurate.
More Advanced Methods – Using Regular Expressions and Filters in Google Analytics
Another more advanced and detailed way to clean up data is to use filters. A properly configured filter will help keep out spammy data for your reports in the future.
You can find filter setup in Google Analytics under ADMIN>VIEW>FILTERS. If you’re using this method, I highly recommend making a new view called “test” first. Filters are very powerful, but they are also challenging to set up. If you haven’t used filters before, you don’t want to use them in your main view as it might affect your Google Analytics data in the future. After you create your test view and filter I recommend to leave it running for a few days and look at the data. If the filter is working correctly, then you can create the filter in the main view of your Google Analytics account.
There are a lot of details in setting up filters – and I’ve barely scratched the surface of this advanced subject. Here are a few more articles about filters and spam I highly recommend reviewing.
Nothing Free is Ever Perfect
Google Analytics data is, unfortunately, not as clean as we would like it to be. However, the service is free and it’s still a great resource for measuring the effectiveness of your website.
We should always be looking for ways to make Google Analytics work better for us and eliminate spam, whether it’s from the data in the past or the data in the future.
Have you been a victim of Google Analytics spam? Share your story with us in the comments below.