Google Whisperer Guide to Ghost Spam in Google Analytics

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Google Whisperer Guide to Ghost Spam in Google Analytics

One of the hardest tasks working in Google Analytics is keeping the data clean. Between UTM tags, filters, and goal set up, data management can be a game of whack-a-mole. As soon as you identify one problem, another one will pop right up! Doing some research into this, I have come up with a way to check if your data has been hit, and how to future proof your filters with this Google Whisperer’s Guide to Ghost Spam.   

Ghost spam, or referrer spam, has been around in Google Analytics since 2014. This is when “Spammers send fake visits to Google Analytics, often without ever accessing the actual site. The technique is used to have the spammers’ URLs appear in the site statistics, inducing the site owner to visit the spam URLs. When it is the case that the spammer has never visited the affected site, the fake visits are also called Ghost Spam.” (source). This is all traffic that will show in Google Analytics despite checking the “block bots and spammers” in GA. High level, you will not know if you got hit by one of these spam bots. When you investigate Google Analytics more, you will see spam keywords that correspond to a spike in traffic. 

ghost spam in Google Analytics

Historically if you got hit by one of these, you could add the keyword to a filter and not think about it anymore. As spammers have gotten smarter in their ways, doing these filters by keyword is only going to happen after the fact. The commonality between all this referral spam is that the browser size will always be “not set”. When you think about that, it makes sense. Spam traffic isn’t coming from a real computer, so it wouldn’t have a browser size associated it.    So now it’s time to go ghost hunting in your own Google Analytics and see if you have been hit by spammers. Your first step is to find that traffic in your own GA. To help make the investigation easier, I have created a Google Analytics segment that you can apply to any account. This will identify any traffic where the Browser Size is equal to not-set. You can access that segment here. Once you apply the segment, navigate to the “All Channels” report and apply the segment. If you have been hit, you’ll see spikes in traffic with keywords of spam sites or even junk URLs.

ghost spam in Google Analytics

If you see any traffic in this segment, it’s time to apply a filter. Once you are in your filtered view of GA, click “new filter”. From there, you want to be making a custom filter. Select “Browser Size” from the drop-down list, and then paste the following into the filter pattern field:

^\(not set\)$

And then click save. Do not be alarmed if the verify the filter check shows no changes. This tool in Google is not always 100% accurate. If you saw traffic in the segment, you are likely to keep seeing traffic like this. This filter will help you keep your data clean going forward.

This filter should help protect you from the new waves of ghost spam. Filtering can be a lot to take in, so if you have questions reach out to Sincro today and we can help.  

ghost spam filter in Google Analytics

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