Have you noticed a recent increase in your website traffic in Google Analytics recently?
Then taken a closer look and seen that it comes via sites with names like semalt and darodar? Or the new one that cropped up for me recently, bestwebsitesawards.com?
Who on earth are semalt?
Unfortunately, these are not real website visitors – they are automated programs (bots). Known as referral spam they are becoming a real problem for small businesses who are trying to measure their website.
For larger businesses the volumes are too small to be significant. For small businesses they skew your figures and make it hard to compare month on month figures.
For more about semalt (and friends), check out this great article.
Getting rid of them isn’t easy.
The most simple technique involves telling Google Analytics to ignore these in your referral reports by creating a filter. However, this just masks the issue and may (depending on the types of spam, simply move the visits from being listed under Referrals to Direct – where you can’t see that they come from these dodgy domains.
More sophisticated methods involve going deep into your website and changing code in the .htaccess file. Not something most small business owners would (or should) feel comfortable doing.
No solution is 100% effective because new bots are popping up all the time and most techniques depend on providing a list of the bad guys by name. There are now WordPress plugins appearing – too new to recommend but worth keeping an eye on. I’m going to try one out and will report back!
You will find lots of articles appearing across the web about this issue (mostly written by geeks, for geeks). But one organisation is notable for its absence – Google.
So far, I have seen nothing from them either acknowledging the issue, let alone coming up with a solution. But with spam volumes growing, it’s unlikely they can stay quiet for long.
So what should you do?
Firstly, if you start to see traffic from a new referral source you don’t recognise, be cautious. Don’t click the link to visit the site – most are pretty harmless but some are not. If you have done this (and I was guilty too) then do run a full scan of your virus checker.
Next decide whether it’s a real issue or just a nuisance.
If it’s just a nuisance, then I would be inclined to wait and see if Google take action or use the filter method described here: Clean up Google Analytics
If you are concerned and want a more robust solution, then I’d recommend discussing options with your web developer.