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Increase in Web Traffic May NOT Be a Reason to Celebrate: Referral Bot Alert!

Analytics showing a sudden surge in website traffic? Great! Before indulging in celebrations, however, check and confirm that the fluctuation is not due to referral bots. Read on to learn more.

In today’s increasingly competitive global markets, especially when business marketing is experiencing a paradigm shift, it has become essential for enterprises to have a deep insight into their website data. In the context of digital marketing, besides “conversions”, “website traffic” is one of the most important metrics used by marketers to assess the performance of their initiatives. But what if the increase you see in Google Analytics is nothing more than a mirage that, contrary to what you believe, may actually cause a serious damage? If such is the case, you need to invest some time and resources to get to the bottom of the issue and block the gaps that allowed the problem to manifest in the first place.

Why Should You Be Worried?

If you think your website is resistant to referral bots, it is advisable to rethink the conviction. Attributable for one in every 24 global visits, referral bots severely distort analytics data, affecting visits, bounce rates, average visit time, and all other key metrics used to ascertain the performance of a website. In addition, bots can also breach the security of your server, triggering a chain reaction. They steal resources, causing a server overload and hampering your website’s ability to attract and serve relevant traffic. Moreover, whenever a request is sent from a masked referrer header, it is recorded in the server log. If the log is publicly accessible, the referrer value is treated as a backlink, which affects your site’s rankings.

Diagnosing an Infestation

If you haven’t made any changes to your website or marketing strategy, and yet there is an unusually high increase in traffic, it is a clear indicator of an attack. In fact, even if you have implemented some new strategies to promote your website and your analytics data is showing a notable increase in traffic, you need to ensure that the augmented inflow of visitors is translating into actual business. The surest way to tell is checking the list of your website traffic sources, which you can do by navigating to ‘Acquisition’ > ‘All Traffic’ > ‘Channels’. Look for the ones you don’t identify and Google them to find out their legitimacy. If any hostname is a bot, the search results will be more than explicit with many people reporting their problems.

Driving Away the Party Crashers

There are numerous ways to block referral bots and protect you analytics data. The simplest way is creating a new hostname filter, which you can do by navigating to ‘Admin’ > ‘View’ > ‘Filters’. Creating a filter allows only legitimate traffic to get through, saving you the trouble of manually blocking spam requests. To identify the legitimate ones to be added to the filter list, simply navigate through ‘Audience’ > ‘Technology’ > ‘Network’. Then, click ‘Primary Dimension: Hostname’. The legitimate hostnames will include your domain name and any other websites that are linked to your analytics tracking ID. The hostnames that do not have any such info, therefore, can be regarded as bots.

Excluding Spam Data

The solution to block referral bots does not remove old spam data – it simply prevents future attacks. Therefore, to ensure your efforts have paid off, you need to wait for some time for new data to accumulate. If you want to exclude historic data, it can be done by creating a segment, which you can do by clicking on Reporting and then clicking the +Add Segment button. The challenge is: referral bots can infect thousands of websites and send HTTP request using fake referrer headers to avoid being detected as bots, and even with a filter in place, bots may make a U-turn. To get rid of the referral bots permanently, it is advisable to modify the Google Analytics tracking code of your website.


No matter what you know or would like to believe, the fact remains the same that referral bots can easily sneak through the barriers of Google Analytics. Though large portals are fairly safe from such attacks, smaller websites may get as much as 70 percent spam traffic, which may have a notable impact on their organic traffic and optimization. Therefore, whenever you notice an abnormal surge in traffic, consider it a red flag that calls for a thorough analysis of the reason(s) attributable for the increase. If it is a legit referral source such as a paid or social campaign, you have a reason to pop the champagne. Should you wish to learn more about referral bots and what all you can do to raise your guards, feel free to connect with one of our All-Star consultants for a round of no-obligation free consultation.