The plague of ghost referrals to hit the internet includes a new one– ILoveVitaly. The spam referral is similar to darodar, priceg, blackhatworth, hulfingtonpost.com, and cenoval, creating fake page views that are posted to Google’s tracking services via random tracking IDs to wreak havoc on unsuspecting websites.
If you search Google, you’ll find reports of hundreds of thousands of websites overwhelmed by the spam links, which change daily. To make matters worse, everyone is struggling to find a definitive solution to rid the garbage once and for all.
In light of the recent attacks, there’s a lot of debate regarding the best methods to block the harmful links. The controversy only intensifies as the referral spam appears in Google Analytics within top keywords, such as “google-officially-recommends ilovevitaly.com search shell.” This leads people to believe that it’s recommended by Google, when in reality, it’s a nonhuman Russian organization.
Thankfully, you can remove the spam without hurting your ranking while Google works on the issue.
What is ILoveVitaly Spam?
Referrer spam is nothing new, as Matt Cutts explained years back. Basically, this form of spam involves repeated attempts targeting a specific webpage to show up in referrer logs and analytics. Should these logs be published, they then become indexed by search engines.
Essentially, ILoveVitaly uses your website’s tacking ID to send a specifically crafted referral link to your Google Analytics account, which gets listed. This basically tricks Google into thinking that you’ve had a website visitor, when in fact, there wasn’t.
Plus, the spam often tricks you because your curiosity of the suspicions link may lead you to click on it, directing you to whatever affiliate site the spammer is using, such as Amazon Affiliates.
I’ll admit, curiosity is powerful. We all want to see where that new link is coming from, but you’re better off not clicking on it. As Mike Sullivan says, “As tempting as it is, you should generally NOT click on the links to find out where it comes from. There is more risk if you actually visit the site to see if there is a real link.”
What’s the Damage to My Site?
The spam link is going to cause negative results on your analytic reports because you’ll be viewing fake traffic as both you and Google have been deceived. Google is reporting fake page views as a referral visit; thus, the name Ghost Referrals.
In addition, the spam links hurt your page views, bounce rate, total sessions, total users, time on site, and essentially, every other aspect of reporting.
Earlier this month, Nick Baker from Cucumber reported, “For a website that we look after that was only recently launched, every referral so far in 2015 is either a ghost referral or a spam referral and referrals make up 40 percent of total website traffic.”
Therefore, if your website already has low traffic, the referrals will be more effective than those with higher traffic. However, no matter the size of your website, ghost referrals must go!
How Can I Eliminate ILoveVitaly?
In 2014, Google Analytics announced a new feature that allows you to automatically exclude certain bots and spiders from your data. You can use this filter to block Google Analytics from reporting the pesky referral links.
For easy maintenance and more long term results, you’ll want to create a filter based on your valid hostnames. You could create filters specifying each source, but it will require more work on your end.
By creating the hostname filters, you’ll create a filter that keeps only those that are recorded from your valid web hosts. This will also work as a preventative measure to protect your site from new spam referrals that pop up in the future.
To begin removing the spam:
- Log in to your Analytics account to view a multi-year report showing just your hostnames (Audience >Technology >Network >hostname.)
- Confirm whether or not each hostname is valid or spam.
- Create a filter expression for the domains that you’ve deemed valid. Use a vertical bar to separate your valid websites and domains, while using a backslash before each period.
- Save and test the filtering
- Use the filter expression you’ve created every single time you enter your tracking ID into a web service.
To remove spam from your historical reports:
- Add a New Segment in Google Analytics.
- Enter a name in the new segments, such as “Remove Spam.”
- Select the “Conditions” tab under “Advanced” to create the new entry with sessions >include hostname >matches
- Enter a regular expression to cover your valid hostnames. As with filter expressions, be sure to list your websites and your domains that are separated by vertical bars. Don’t forget to use a backslash in front of all periods.
- Save and test the new segment.
Before you begin the filtering process, keep in mind three important tips:
- Use an unfiltered view in your property that shows zero filters, but leave the “Bot Filtering” box unchecked in case there’s an error.
- Don’t immediately implement your main view. Instead, put the new filter in test mode first, then create a new test to mirror your main test with the box checked.
- After a couple of weeks, if you’ve noticed a positive difference with the test, implement the test in the main view.
Fighting Ghost Referrals
If you’ve noticed these spammy links in your analytic reports or a sudden huge increase in traffic, you want to take action immediately. Although many spammers use the referral links to gain more traffic, others use the links to gather website information looking for website vulnerabilities. Not to mention, the negative consequences it can have on your ranking.
While we continue to combat referral spam, it’s expected that Google will soon release new features to protect our analytic data. Until then, use the filtering techniques to keep your site as free from referral spam as possible.
Removing Referral Spam from Google Analytics” Analytics Edge