Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

Are Spambots Ruining Your Traffic Reporting?

Google Analytics

Google-Analytics-logoMany, many website owners rely on Google Analytics to report on the traffic to their sites: where do visitors come from, what pages to they like, how many visitors are coming to their website, etc.

If you’re doing SEO or paying someone like us for it, you need to know how well it’s working.

When looking at SEO, you (and we) like to see how many visitors are coming from organic search, from links on other sites (referrals), from paid search, from social media, and from typing in the URL directly. That’s getting a little more difficult now.

Arrival of the Spambots

In recent months we’ve seen a disturbing trend of spambots showing up in the referral traffic figures. Spambots are not human visitors, so they’re not the kind of traffic we want or need. Some may be scraping email addresses or have other goals, but whatever their motivation, it’s not serving you well.

While a few hundred spambot visits a month are unlikely to skew reporting for a large site like Amazon, for a small local business just getting started on the web they grossly distort traffic reporting.That makes it hard to tell where visitors are coming from and whether or not your SEO efforts are paying off.

Here’s an example of what looks like really nice traffic growth:

total-trafficBut if we look into where that traffic came from, we find it’s almost all referral traffic, and that traffic has just exploded over the past two months, accounting for the vast majority of new visits. Here’s traffic showing only referral visits:

referral-traffic

navigationYou can see where those referral visits came from in Google Analytics, navigating as shown on the right.

Once you do, the websites where those visits originated are listed. In this case, we’re only showing the top ten referral sources, but spambots consume the majority of those sources even when you look deeper into the results.

bot-traffic
1,409 of the top 1,510 visits are from bots — more than 93%. You can see how this makes interpreting your website traffic exceedingly difficult.

Is this happening to you?

The first step you need to take is to determine if this is a problem for you. Access your Google Analytics and navigate to the spot shown just above. If you don’t know if you have Google Analytics installed on your site, just ask your webmaster. If you don’t have it, I encourage you to ask your webmaster to add it, and to give you Admin rights. Having Admin rights will open up one of the tools to help you deal with this.

In the meantime, it helps to know whether you can trust your traffic analytics. In Acquisition | All Traffic | Channels (the location shown above) you can still check all the non-referral traffic sources individually to understand the traffic you’re getting from those.

How do you fix this?

There are ways to filter out much of the spambot traffic from your reporting, and even to deny spambots access to your website. That’s a topic for a future blog post right here.

Stay tuned.

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