Do You Have Ghost & Referral Spam In Google Analytics?

by Julie Cohn
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When you look at Google Analytics, is your bounce rate higher than you’d like it to be?  Have you added more internal links, edited your posts into easier-to-read, more SEO-friendly text, added more headers, and stayed true to your brand with relevant content?  If you have tried everything to lower your bounce rate, perhaps it is not you…perhaps it is something more sinister.  Do you have ghost & referral spam lurking in your Google Analytics?   As fanciful as it sounds, ghost or referral spam is a very real problem, and most bloggers have it but don’t realize it.  More than likely, if your bounce rate is high, you have it too.

Do You Have Ghost & Referral Spam?

What is Ghost Spam?

In a nutshell, ghost spam (also called referral spam) is any type of fake referral to your Google Analytics account.  Spammers use something in Google Analytics called  the measurement protocol, which measures HTTP referral requests to your web server.  Spammers bombard that measurement protocol with randomly generated Google Analytic tracking codes, so eventually your tracking code gets hit…usually many times.

Ghost & Referral Spam In Google Analytics

Wait. What?  Your head just exploded?!?  There is so much more to measurement protocol and spam, but unless you do a lot of back-end coding or are a tech wizard, most of this technical jargon is over most bloggers heads (mine included), so let me break it down a little more…

When someone visits your site, they shake your blogs hand, and Google Analytics measures that handshake.  If they stay awhile and get to know you (visit several pages), your bounce rate goes down, which is a good thing.  Ghost spammers are able to shake Google Analytics hand without laying a foot (or hand) on your blog.  They do not bring true traffic to your site, but Google Analytics records the spam as a real handshake, and since they they never access your site, your bounce rate goes up, which is why you see 95-100% bounce rate for the ghost spammers.


 How Do I Know If I Have Ghost Spam?

There are a few very easy steps to check and see if you have ghost spam in your Google Analytics (GA).  First, go to your Google Analytics dashboard.  If you have more than one site listed on GA, go through each site individually, using the same steps for each site.

Google Analytics dashboard —> Blog name —> All Web Data —>Acquisition (Left-hand side) —> All Traffic —> Referrals

As you move down under the chart, what do you see?  Most people see Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, etc. as referrals.  These referrals are good, and you want to see those at the top of your list.  Do you also see stuff like,, 4webmasters, etc?  This is ghost spam.  Not everything you see with an odd name is ghost spam, but a good indicator that it is ghost spam is if the corresponding bounce rate next to the referral is 100%.  This means they hit your GA without shaking your blog’s hand.


Here is another way to check your GA for ghost spam.

Go back to your GA dashboard —> Blog Name —> All Web Data —> Audience —> Technology —> Network

Under the chart you will see two primary dimensions: Service Provider or Host Name.  Click on Host Name.  You should see your web address and maybe a variation of your web address (with www and without).  You may even see, which means that someone needed to translate your site to read it.  These are all okay to have.  As you dig deeper, you may notice some weird stuff, such as or abracadabra.ur.   You may see a lot of this, and if you do, this is spam!

Bloody hell!  Did you find ghost spam?  Do you feel violated?  I did. I had a ton of ghost & referral spam but decided to fight back and with my help, you can too!  Here are some easy tips (and a spam filter guide) to Get Rid of Ghost & Referral Spam.

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Rachee 09/29/2015 at 9:21 am

“This means they hit your GA without shaking your blog’s hand.”
And with that you have a new fan.

Amanda Ripsam 09/29/2015 at 12:44 pm

When I was on blogger I got a lot of Ghost spam. I don’t seem to get as much of it now that I am over on wordpress.

Mary @ LOVE the secret ingredient 09/30/2015 at 9:12 am

Very interesting, I’ll have to look into this. Looking forward to your exciting conclusion 🙂

Nicole Brady 10/01/2015 at 9:54 am

It wasn’t near the top of my list but I did find one… then stopped looking because it made me mad. Where’s the follow-up on how you fixed it? I’m ready!


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