If you’re thinking, “What the heck is ghost referral traffic?!” don’t worry, I’ll explain. If you do know what it is, stick around a for a bit & you’ll learn how to filter out this annoying new type of spam.
Let’s get started - what does ghost referral traffic mean? It’s called “ghost” traffic because these visitors never actually visit your site, even though they register as a pageview in Google Analytics. Want to see if your site is getting ghost referral traffic? Open up GA and use the sideebar to navigate to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Next, click on “Secondary Dimension” and start typing “Hostname”. Select that dimension and scroll down. Are there domain names in there that aren’t yours? If there are, you’re getting ghost referral traffic hits.
Why the heck do people do this? They’re spammers, and they send hits to your GA property in hopes that you’ll be curious about the strange url’s & click through to their spammy sites. The worst part is that these fake pageviews can have a significant effect on your total traffic. In one case, we helped a client filter ghost referral traffic that made up 20% of their traffic! Let’s get rid of these ghosties before they do any more damage.
We have two options here, and I’ll run through both. Both options are basically hostname filters that exclude traffic without your hostname - ghost referral traffic generally has a different hostname that the spammers are trying to get you to visit.
Option 1 - Create a new segment that filters out hostnames other than your own. The benefit of this option is that it is non-destructive and won’t permanently filter out your incoming data, especially if you set up the filter wrong. I highly recommend this for people new to Google Analytics. There are a few simple steps to create this segment:
Option 2 - Create a hostname filter at the account level and apply it to your desired views. Warning: filters permanently affect your data so you need to make sure you set this up correctly (we normally advise creating a “Filter Testing” view to practice on before applying the filter to your main view). Ready? Let’s do this.