While a strong Google Analytics foundation is important, just adding analytics to your brand website is only the first step. There are still several pieces of data to filter out to ensure an accurate picture of the brand’s website traffic. Self-referrals, spammers and bots are often the worst data offenders since they can sneak into your data where they go unnoticed for months distorting important metrics by the hundreds and sometimes the thousands.
When you’re reporting on the conversion rate of your website, for example, you’d normally divide the number of conversions by the number of total sessions. When your total session numbers are off, Google Analytics could be showing a 2% conversion rate leading you to believe everything is great, when in reality you’re really at 0.5%. This could be detrimental and render your data-centric marketing useless.
In the second piece of this series, we’ll show you how to detect and extract these bogus referrals for your Google Analytics.
How to identify and remove self-referrals
A self-referral user originates from pages within your own domain. You’ll know right away when you have a self-referral problem when you see your domain name or other property you own staring right back at you on a Referral Report within Google Analytics.
This is a sure sign that you have an underlying issue with your Google Analytics set up. Here are common reasons for self-referral traffic:
Missing tracking code on a page: If people are clicking from one page to another and not all pages on your site have tracking code, Google will lose track of the original session and treat it as a new session, making it look like the person was referred from your site. To fix,double check that you have tracking code on all of your pages.
Cross subdomain tracking: In some cases, you’ll want to setup cross-domain tracking to track users from one property you own to another, say from www.yoursite.com to blog.yoursite.com. In this case when a user jumps around these domains and you want to ensure that the user’s session stays active from one domain to another. However, when you jump around to different hostnames, Google will drop the session and start a new one. Therefore, you need to ensure you add your original website (www.yoursite.com) is included into their Referral Exclusion list. If you have an ecommerce website and see your payment processor in your Referral report, this you would fix this the same way. To ensure everything is set up correctly, download and use the Google Tag Assistant Recordings browser extension to verify the tracking is correct.
Cookie timeout: By default, Google Analytics resets sessions if they last more than 30 minutes. If you have content, forms, or video on your site that require users to access your site for more than 30 minutes, Google is going to reset your session, whereby creating a new session and new self-referral. If these pages are accessed quite a bit, this can throw off your data analysis. To change the 30 minute default settings, go into Admin > Tracking Info > Session Settings and change it to an hour or something more appropriate for your site..
How to identify and remove spam referrals
Spam is a rather unfortunate occurrence that used to only be attributed to email in the digital world; however, it has started sneaking into website referral data. Most Google Analytics referral reports without proper filters will show a number of spam referrers such as:
The reason why spammers do this is to trick you into going to their website to check out where your referral came from. Don’t worry though. Most of the time these websites don’t actually have your website URL on their websites. Resist the urge to check them out, unless you want to be bombarded with ads or infected by viruses.
The best way to remove spammers is to incorporate a Hostname Filter to your Google Analytics Filtered View It’s important that you don’t add this filter to your master view since you always want to keep that one for raw data in case something goes awry if your Filtered view. To set up a Hostname Filter in Google Analytics go to Admin and select your Filtered View. Then click on Filters > Add Filter. You can use a predefined filter to include only traffic to the hostname that contains your domain name.
After a couple days, come back to your Filtered View and check to see if referrals are still showing up in your reports, if they are gone, you have set the filter up correctly.
How to identify and remove bot referrals
In addition to spam, there are bots that will affect the validity of your data. Bots are automated programs that visit your site. Often bots are not malicious, they are just programs or applications that run automated tasks. You can set up bots to monitor ads or up-time, Google uses them to crawl websites, and news readers will use them to search out information. But they can artificially affect your data.
For now, the easiest way to filter out bots is to check the Bots Filtering checkbox on the on your Filtered View settings. Within Google Analytics go to Admin > View (select your filtered view) > View Settings. At the bottom of the page, check the Bot Filtering checkbox. Then hit save.
This checkbox used to not catch all bots, but Google seems to be constantly improving their filters. Be sure to check in every once in awhile to make sure you aren’t getting any phoney.
While this might not solve all of your bogus data dilemmas, filtering out self-referrals and basic spam and bots, is a great start. Just remember that bad data leads to bad decisions. Don’t let that be you. Following these simple steps could be a business life-saver.