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Beware Spambots That Ruin Analytic Numbers

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One of the most exciting experiences in online publishing is a spike in site traffic. One of the most discouraging experiences is the discovery that the traffic is spam.

Spambots are becoming a more common problem for sites because they can distort website analytics and mislead and deceive site publishers.

This site has 31 spam visitors it is blocking so far with many more to come. In one case, a single spammer hit the site with four different URLs.

What Is a Spambot?

A spambots are automated visitors who are simply trying to get attention. They are hoping site publishers will notice the visits in their analytics reports and use the URL in the reports to visit that site. There, they hope to sell a product or service.

For example, auto-seo-service is a website that has a “free” website audit. The owner is anonymous in the ICANN whois report, but the registrar is based in the Ukraine. Talk about a red flag not just for spam but also for site viruses.

For publishers who use Google Analytics, they will find these spambots listed under Acquisition / All Traffic / Source-Medium.

Anyone who pays attention to analytics and especially to traffic sources on a regular basis — at least weekly if not monthly — will soon discover these spambots. Taking action quickly is essential to preventing them from corrupting audience reports with worthless visits.

How to Stop a Spambot

There are two main options for keeping the spammers out of analytics. One involves some technical skill. The other is simply a change in Google Analytics.

The technical answer lies in what is called an .htaccess file (yes, it begins with a period) if the site is on an Apache server. The code looks something like this:

# block visitors referred from
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} semalt\.com [NC]
RewriteRule .* – [F]

Even a tiny mistake in changing the .htaccess file can literally bump the site offline, so I don’t recommend it for anyone without at least some technical skills. Because of site and hosting variations, I recommend testing or getting feedback from the hosting company before using the above code.

The easier way is a change in the analytics software. In the case of Google Analytics, click on the Admin or gear icon in the lower left corner and follow these steps:

  • Under the account name, click on All Filters.
  • Click on the red Add Filter. Give the filter any name in the Filter Name box. The best name accurately reflects the name of the spammer.
  • Click on the Select Filter Type dropdown and choose Exclude.
  • Click on Select Source or Destination and choose “traffic from the ISP domain”.
  • Click on Select Expression and choose any option such as “that contain”.
  • In the ISP domain box, enter some or all of the spammer’s domain name.
  • Choose your domain name in the Apply Filter to Views box and click on Add.
  • Finally, click on Save.

The filter will block the spammers from appearing in the audience reports. Don’t be surprised if the filter changes past audience reports.

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