Referral SPAM: What? How?

As a stats nerd, I’m constantly checking the Google Analytics data for Fatberry. I pay particular attention to the referers, meaning the sites (domains) which users are coming from to visit Fatberry. There are the usual ones I expect, here and there a new one which I generally recognize as being a real company/site and then every now and then there’s one that doesn’t make any sense. Top candidates in that latter category: buttons-for-your-website.com, best-seo-offer.com, 4webmasters.org.

You’ll notice that those three domains are not a link you can click. That’s on purpose. Don’t go there. They’re evil.


They are not legitimate users, but instead they’re shady companies trying to sell unsuspecting website operators on whatever crap they offer. This is their “marketing”, effing with the Google Analytics stats of websites to try to get your to buy their product. I’m not going to make any blanket statements on their nature, but many of these types of services link back to the largest of a former union of states which is east of Europe and often very cold.

So what do you do about it? It’s essentially a bit of whack-a-mole and likely an ongoing effort. There are three basic things to do:

1) Try to filter these out in your server with an .htaccess file change

This is the best solution, because the bots never get to load your web pages and consequently can’t get to your Google Analytics. The best list I could find is here: https://www.addedbytes.com/blog/block-referrer-spam/. You’ll need to keep updating this.

2) Set up individual filters in Google Analytics to ignore this data

You can also filter within Google Analytics itself. The downside of this is that it apparently causes sampling issues with your data and some folks recommend NOT doing this, but my take is that if you’ve got a baseline set via method #1 above, adjusting something in GA quickly while you see it is easier than a server config change. You’ll want to transition these to .htaccess changes (#1) over time, but I think it’s a good short-term measure. Start by going to “All Filters” in your GA Admin panel:

admin filters

 

Then configure filters like this:

filter edit

Make sure to pop your views from the left box at the bottom to the right one.

3) Tell Google Analytics to filter their known bots out

This is a no-brainer that you should always have set. Might as well take their help. Select your view in the admin panel and then check the Bot Filtering checkbox.

view auto filter

 

That’s the quick overview. There are some deeper guides about this, but IMO, these are the couple of quick fixes you can make in a few minutes and you should have a pretty good solution in place with an easy way to maintain.

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Please stop retweeting testimonial spam

Twitter is an awesome tool. Non-users have asked me how to use it and my answer generally is that it differs from person to person. In my case, I use it mainly as a source of news by following interesting people and bots, as well as a few lighthearted moments through people I know personally making funny comments or tweeting funny links. I will try to be funny myself in my tweets, tweet interesting articles I find (often from within the site/app I’m reading them on) or retweet interesting articles I see in my stream.

I don’t use any fancy readers for Twitter besides the Twitter-provided ones on Mac, iPad and iPhone. When I open the app, I have a long list of all the tweets, completely unfiltered, and I start to scan them in reverse chronological order from roughly where I left off before, reading whatever sounds interesting. Being a multiple-times-daily habit makes you realize not only the topics and frequency of tweets for each person I follow, but also I really start to get a sense of quality. Quality is obviously a subjective word, but in my use case of Twitter, quality simply means “how likely am I to a) read b) digest c) react to and d) click on the link in a tweet?”

Unfortunately, there are some people who use Twitter very differently from me and I question why they use it this way. No, I don’t mean the shameless self-promoters, narcissists or the brand/product-centric marketing accounts. What I mean is the people who search for stuff related to their company and then retweet those testimonials. I question this because:

  1. Why do I care? I know your service/product/opinion is great and you can tell me that, but you don’t need to send me 5+ tweets a day from strangers to prove a point I already know. Just send me an interesting article every few days or a cool stat about it.
  2. With my Twitter clients, retweets show up as coming from the original poster, not the retweeter. Using my quality metric and limited time, I tend to skip many retweets. The only saving grace is when I notice that the retweeter is a super high quality user. Then I sometimes click through.
  3. When you do send a worthwhile non-retweet, non-testimonial tweet out, as a testimonial spammer your assumed quality is so low that I mostly don’t bother reading any of your tweets.

So in essence, consider the signal-to-noise ratio in your actions on Twitter. Send lots of signal with little noise. My reaction is that after some time, I unfollow people who are effectively spamming me. Now I know one un-follow from me is completely meaningless, but I also know that others are frustrated by this as well and have probably found ways to filter you out or will unfollow you too. Remember, this means that means even your worthwhile tweets get sent to junk and now you’ve completely defeated the purpose of sending out tweets. So stop the Twitter testimonial spam. Get a separate corporate account for that. Thank you.