What is referral spam?

Have you ever looked at your Google Analytics and wondered ‘why am I getting so many referral links from Russia’? Or ‘what the hell is vitaly.co?’ Then don’t worry, you’re not alone. There are many webmasters around the world who are thinking the exact same thing. After noting that a personal blog of mine, which only went live very recently, has started to get these whole bunch of these links I decided to do a little bit of investigation.

Referral Spam

Thanks to a great article on Moz, I managed to get to the bottom of what these are. Essentially ‘referral spam’ is exactly what it sounds. It is spam advertising through the means of appearing in your link referrals. Think about it. Tens of thousands of webmasters around the world will be looking at these links. They will click on them to see what on Earth this ‘free-socal-media-buttons.com’ website is, and then the spammer has a click through on his website. Very sneaky. Worse still, a lot of these links can be cloaked; so that it can appear as though you’re being linked from somewhere legitimate like the Guardian or somewhere – only to be redirected to a weird Brazilian medication website.

The bottom line we all want to know here is, do they harm my website? And the answer is…well sort of. Y’see, while it isn’t quite as malicious as bruteforce attacks or something similar, referral spam does damage by causing your analytics to be skewed. This might not seem so bad at first, but take a look at your bounce rates. Have the spam bots effected it? If they have then you might have a problem with Senõr Google, because a higher bounce rate will equate to a lower search ranking.

Another problem is that they can start clogging up your server space, increasing load times on your site and also potentially stopping other, genuine, bots such as the ones for search engines.

So how do we stop them. Well, although it is early days, the solution that seems to be working for me is using the Wordfence security WordPress plugin to block referrals from these domains. I have even heard of stories of webmasters taking drastic steps such as blocking entire country IP addresses, so that could be a solution if you’re having a real problem. Which ever way you look to fix it, make sure you do; as it is something that you can no longer ignore.