Site Update: Attack of the Referral Spam – June 2016

So the site is still quite new, and most of the comments I’ve gotten so far has been people wondering what I do to earn the kind of income I do working from home.

I do freelance digital marketing consulting. A big part of that is helping clients with their analytics – and specifically implementing & interpreting data in Google Analytics & Google Tag Manager, and using that data to make decisions as to how best optimize their site and the traffic to their site.

That said, my plan for this series of “website stats” posts each month is to get a bit “meta” with the blog, to pull back the dolly so-to-speak on the whole thing looking at the analytics, and see together how it develops from nothing.

Each month I’ll open up the analytics backend so you can see what I see, how I analyze it, and also the types of activities I may have done over the time period to grow the blog, to see what impact that has or doesn’t have. In this way, there may be value for you to see what works – and what doesn’t work – to grow blog traffic and engagement.

This post will discuss:

  • What I did in June
  • Blog stats
  • Key takeaways
  • My referral spam problem and how to fix it

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What I did in June

A new blog is challenging to get started & odds are that most will fail to get traction since most traffic tends to only go to just a few blogs. It’s part of the reason why Facebook has an almost insurmountable moat, as does Google, and part of the reason I’m an investor in both, even though they don’t pay dividends. They have achieved a level of scale, that by virtue of network effect, tends to drive and keep all traffic there, while 99% of the sites on the Internet get little or none.

But it’s not impossible to break through, if you have good content, and solve a niche need or have a unique perspective for your audience, even in a busy category like personal finance.

This month was focused on starting to build out some content. I wrote 8 articles:

I also started laying some basic groundwork:

  • Installed Google Analytics on June 21st
  • Launched a Twitter page, and have been posting there a few times per day. Mostly liking other people’s tweets, posting a few links, and blog article promotion
  • Created a stock watchlist template for Google Sheets
  • Went to a few DGI blogs, commented on their articles, & sent a few notes asking to be on their blogrolls, where appropriate
  • A few posts on Reddit, in /r/personalfinance, /r/financialindependence, and /r/dividends, the latter of which seems pretty inactive. In all these posts I didn’t really promote anything, just started engaging with the community. In the dividends subreddit, I posted my stock automated watchlist article.

Blog stats

The great thing about numbers – whether you like them or not – is that they don’t lie. Here’s the numbers over the past month:

Traffic sources

Most of the traffic generated was from posting on Twitter, and that traffic also had the longest time on site at 11 minutes/ session, which is pretty good! Referral site Dividenddriven drove 9 pages/ session, but the numbers are so small that not much can be taken away from this.

Acquisition Report - Google Analytics

Speaking of Twitter, I tweeted 24 times, and grew followers from 0 to 15.  Not too shabby. 🙂

Number of visitors

After launching on June 21st, and filtering out my own traffic and referral spam, I received a total of 38 unique users, with 88 sessions:

Stats Dividend Ten

Content Engagement

Outside of the homepage (rows #1 and #2), the most popular content was the dividend income roundup, which was me going out to other dividend growth blogs, and ranking their dividend tallies for the previous month. This incidentally led to a few bloggers coming by to say hi, which was cool! The watchlist page was also relatively popular.

Stats

Other key content engagement metrics:

  • Bounce rate: 57.95% (this just means the # of people who come to a page and do nothing, then leave. It’s generally a measure of if your content is good. 57% is rather high – generally you want to see this under 50%)
  • Pages/ session: 3.32
  • Average session: 6.28 mins (this is good)
  • Repeat visitors: 56%

Key takeaways

Overall the numbers are quite low, but I was happy to get any traffic at all, and it was neat to start getting my first few comments, most of which came from other bloggers. Obviously most successful for me thus far to generate traffic has been posting on Twitter. Additionally, posting on other DGI blogs drove some traffic, and it’s clear that there’s a reciprocal benefit there for the community to visit and post on each other’s content, both from a visitor & SEO perspective.

My referral spam problem and how I fixed it

One of the issues that I had analyzing this month’s data is that it was corrupted by referral spam.

Referral Spam Dividend Ten

This is one of the most basic reports in Google Analytics – it just shows the amount of sessions over time.

What this is showing is that obviously a) I set up the Google Analytics Tracking Code (GATC) on my site on June 21st, and b) it shows a divergence around June 29th, where one type of audience is incorrectly, and artificially inflating my numbers.

This inflation is from referral spam.

Referral spam is essentially traffic that doesn’t really come to your site but shows up in your reports anyway. This traffic exploits the measurement protocol, which is how data is transferred to Google Analytics servers for processing. Basically, these nefarious individuals send hits directly to Google’s servers using your tracking number, so that it registers as a session in your Google Analytics report, even though they never actually visited your site.

Why do they do this? Well, for one, because they’re idiots. The second is in the hopes you’ll go into your referral reports, wonder what the site is that is driving all this traffic to you, and click on their link, at which point they can make you some stupid offer, or worse yet, put some kind of trojan or malware on your computer.

So don’t click on these links!

How to filter out referral spam from your Google Analytics reports

Anyway, since it’s fake traffic that doesn’t hit your site and is skewing your numbers you need to identify it and filter it out. Here’s how you do it:

1. Check to see if you have referral spam in your reports. Go to your acquisition -> all traffic -> channels report and click on referral to open up the details of the sites that referred traffic to you:

Referral Report Dividend Ten

This shows you every site that drove traffic to you over the time period. (Side note: By the way, props to Divhut, and thanks for being my first comment post on the site! :))

2. Click on “secondary dimension” above the chart, and start typing hostname. Once the box comes up with the words hostname, click that:

Hostname

3. In your reports, see which referrals have the hostname that equals your website hostname, and which do not. The ones that do not are traffic that did not go to your hostname, and are therefore spam.

Aha! We have found the evil offender. Mobot.com, whose hostname is “(not set)” – curse you, Mobot!

My top referrer to date was a spammer!

Mobot is evil

4. Ok, now we have to fix this problem. The permanent fix is this. You need to create a hostname filter that will filter out all traffic from your reports that don’t have your hostname.

To do this, go to your admin panel -> filter and then create a new custom filter that only includes traffic from your hostname. Here’s how mine looks:

Hostname filter

For the filter pattern, just enter your domain name, without the www. and include a “\” before the dot, which is a regular expression, and is somewhat outside the scope of this article. If you have multiple domains, then include a pipe or a “|” between the domains you want to use, which is a regular expression which means “or.”

This filter will remove all referral spam from your Google Analytics reports going forward.

A couple important points to keep in mind:

  • Your new filter won’t retroactively change your data, so you’ll need to create a custom segment with the same hostname include filter, when looking back at your historical data, to see a cleaned up version of your data.
  • It’s generally considered best practice to have a few “views,” and one unfiltered view where no filters are applied, just in case your filter isn’t set up properly. I’d recommend that in addition, you create a new “raw” filter, to collect data without any filters applied.

Well that’s it for this month’s site update report. I’ll update the site metrics page accordingly. Have a happy 4th and thanks for stopping by!

Was this information helpful? Why or why not? Anything else you’d like to see in these reports?

8 Comments

    • Greg Gee July 4, 2016
  1. DividendStacker July 6, 2016
    • Greg Gee July 6, 2016
  2. Investment Hunting July 6, 2016
    • Greg Gee July 6, 2016
  3. FerdiS July 7, 2016
    • Greg Gee July 7, 2016

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