Ghost spam is sometimes called referrer spam or referral spam. It alters your google analytics numbers, but not your site rankings. It can drive up the rankings for the bad guys by bouncing traffic from your site to theirs so Google thinks they’re getting a lot of referrals from you. Overall it’s not a real problem for you, unless you actually use your analytics numbers. For those businesses who care about how potential clients are using their site, Ghost Spam can create turmoil and losses that are very real.
How does Ghost Spam work?
Spam programmers create programs or bots that break into your Google Analytics account. They bump up your referrals numbers without ever actually going to your website. Usually, the referrals are from websites that are clearly designed to sell you SEO or guarantee you a higher place in the search rankings. They can also be from sites selling a variety of products, including shady stuff and pornography. They can also create false referral links that make it look like your website is referring traffic to them, driving up their place in the search engine rankings without changing your rankings. Their goal is to use your site to either draw sales to them or to inccrease their search rankings and thus improve their sales.
The Big Let-Down
Outside of the obvious, that you don’t want to let other people use you to cheat the system for their own benefit, there are a lot of reasons why you want to put an end to Ghost Spam on yourr website. First off, those skewed numbers can make it look like you’re getting a lot more traffic to your website than you actually are. Most of us are working to increase traffic to our sitees, so watching the numbers climb can feel terrific. It’s good to see all the work you’ve been putting into building and promoting your site are beginning ot pay off…until you take a closer look at where your traffic is coming from. When you realize half or more of the visits you thought you had in a given time period turn out to be from odd sites and you realize they’re just Ghost Spam, that can be a real let down.
Bad Data Leads to Bad Business Decisions
That alone can stymie your momentum, which will in turn undermine the good attention you actually have been getting. Ghost Spam can truly build a false sense of accomplishment, and when the reality finally presents itself to you, it can feel like a serious set back. They can also cause you to question why you’re not showing up higher in the search rankings–if you see your overall traffic is growing seadily but your place on in the rankings list hasn’t improved, you may well start to wonder what you’re doing wrong. Beyond being just plain discouraging, that kind of disparity can lead you to hiring services or professionals who claim they can increase your traffic or to abandon your current strategy in the hope that something else will work when in truth what you have been doing has been working all along. In either case, the faulty data can end up costing you both time and money if you’re uninformed.
False Numbers Can Give You a Bad Name
For those who make some of their income by selling ad space or sponsorships, those skewed numbers can lead to greater financial losses. If you’ve been telling potential adverises that you’re getting more traffic than you actually are getting, you can end up creating false expeectations that can ultimately give you a bad name or worse. Advertisers look at the level off traffic you’re getting, then use their own internal formulas to estimate the amount of traffic they can expect to get from an ad placed on your site. If your site consistenly doesn’t deliver, you’ll lose repeat sales. Your dissatisfied advertisers may well ask for part of their money back or even tell their network to avoid advertising with you. For you, that can mean long term losses and a long, hard rebuilding phase to earn back trust among your advertisers once you rectify your Ghost Spam problem.
Bad Data can Lead You Astray
For those folks who use their Google Analytics numbers to help them undrstand what their potential clients and website visitors are looking at, Ghost Spam can provide a seriously erronious picture of what their users want. If you use your analytics data to help you choose your direction, content, or writing style for future posts, you may find yourself on entirely the wrong road if your data’s been polluted by Ghost Spammers. By the time you’ve discoverd that you’ve been dupped, you may have created a lot of irrelevant content; potentially lost overall traffic, including return visitors; and even lost ground in the search engine rankings.
Lastly, if you’re using your numbers as a benchmarking or goal system for making major changes, like when you want to launch your new online store or hire that intern, Ghost Spam can really set you up for failure. In business planning, we often rely on our data as much as our gut. If the numbers are telling you it’s time to expand, even if your gut says otherwise, it can be hard to say no. Inflated data, thanks to Ghost Spam, can inspire you to make the leap before you’re actually ready, which may well leave you flat on the pavement like Wile E. Coyote instead of happily climbing to new heights.
What can you do to prevent Ghost Spam from polluting your site?
While there isn’t a simple server side solution or website feature, like a WordPress plugin, that can protect you froom Ghost Spam, there are steps you or your web /designer can take. You’ll need to set up some filters on your Google Analytics account to begin with. Caros Escalera offers a good step-by-step guide to doing this on Moz.com and another really good one on ohow.co.
Once you’ve got your intial filters established, you’ll want to regularly monitor your Google Analytics data. The people who create Ghost Spam continually change their indentities, which means you’ll need to watch your referrers list. If you start seeing referrals from sites or sources that don’t make sense, you’ll need to update your filters to include them. What it boils down to is Constant Vigilance.
If you don’t want to spend fifteen to thirty minutes a week monitoring your Google Analytics and updating your filters accordingly, you can ask your web designer to handle that. Many designers, like me, offer regular website maintenance programs. If Ghost Spam isn’t already inccluded in one of their standard programs, be sure to ask to have it added. Whether you’re ussing your numbers weekly or not, you’ll have a better understanding of how potential customers are using your site if you’ve taken the time to prevent Ghost Spam from polluting your analytics data.