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Watch out for spam traffic in Google Analytics

Library folks who are responsible for the library's web presence: let's talk about spam traffic in Google Analytics reports. If you've looked at a Google Analytics report lately, you've probably seen it: fake visits generated by a web bot or spammer.

You may have raised an eyebrow at a surprising number of visitors coming to your U.S.-based website from a far-away country in an Audience report. (Those are spam visits.)

Watch for suspicious audience demographics in the Audience Overview report

You may have wondered why so many strange websites are linking to your website and generating referral traffic, in the Referrals report. (Those are spam referrals, and they're not really linking to your site.)

Watch for suspicious websites in the Acquisition, All Traffic, Referrals report

"But I thought Google Analytics only captured real traffic. You have to be a real visitor to trigger the tracking code JavaScript." That's what I thought! But spammers constantly adapt technology, and can use randomly-generated tracking code ID numbers to send data directly to Google Analytics (aka "ghost" traffic") without ever visiting the websites that use those tracking codes. Or send web bots to crawl a site without following the rules that prohibit this. What can we do?

DO: If you use Google Analytics reports, take a closer look at what's in them. Higher-than-normal traffic may be fake. Keep your common sense hat on.

DON'T: Visit the weird URLs you see in your reports. The purpose of Google Analytics spam traffic (if there is a point, besides wasting our time) is the same as email or blog comment spam: to cheat our curiosity, to get us to click or visit a site, and then lure us into buying something, or trick us into giving up personal information or passwords. Don't fall for it!

DO: Set up some filters in Google Analytics. For all the websites I help maintain, I'll be doing this to help ensure that the data we're collecting is real and useful.

DON'T: Worry about seeing your website traffic numbers go down over time after those filters are in place. 8 visits from people who care about the local library matter WAY more than 97 from a spammer on the other side of the world!

Further reading:

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