Should you trust your Google analytics data?

Should you trust your Google analytics data?

Using Google Analytics to measure and track how users interact with a website has become a common way of collecting important and actionable data. It allows us to track where users are entering a site, how they navigate through it, which pages or posts they engage with most and the volume of traffic as a whole. So, it is safe to say that we rely on this monthly data in order to measure and improve what we are doing online. So just how accurate is the data that we are receiving and should we trust it?

What is referral spam?

As the use of analytics data has increased, it has become a target for spammers and `Blackhat` marketers. These spammers target Google Analytics as a way of marketing often dubious websites by generating fake referral data, known as Referral or Ghost spam.

This spam is used as a way of generating visits to sites. The end goal is to generate advertising revenue or to artificially boost their own traffic or that of their clients.

How does referral or ghost spam work? While the end result is the same, Referral spam and Ghost spam are slightly different things and it is important to understand in simple terms, those differences in order to tackle the issue. Referral spam is generated by bots, small programs designed to crawl the web and visit websites. These bots leave fake Hostname information behind which then shows in your Google Analytics account as a fake referral.

Ghost spam is slightly different and harder to tackle. The spammers use simple scripts to randomly generate different Google analytics UA codes (I.e. UA-xxxxxxx-1). They then insert these codes into a Google analytics tracking script, which is in-turn inserted into a fake webpage and fake traffic generated to it.

This has the effect of recording the traffic in whichever unfortunate Analytics account has the generated UA code without the spammers ever needing to visit the site. This method is the most damaging to your statistics.

Both Referral and Ghost spam will also inflate your overall traffic totals, sometimes with as much as 90% of your data being fake, largely making your analytics data unusable.

Can referral and ghost spam be prevented?

The good news is that it certainly can be filtered out of your analytics data going forward, unfortunately however it’s not possible to retroactively apply any fixes to your existing data.

In order to tackle the issue, something called a Hostname filter needs to be set up in your google analytics account. The general idea of this is that only legitimate traffic is recorded in your data, regardless of its original source. If your confident in using Google Analytics filters and you’re reasonably technically minded then a quick google of the term ‘Google Analytics Hostname Filter’ should provide you with the information you need to get started, there are several good blogs on the subject out there.

If you’re not so confident, technical, or would just like us to do the hard work for you, then give us a call, message us on social media or send us an email and we’ll be happy to help. Don't forget to subscribe for more news in the digital world. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.