How to Deal with Referral Spam on Your WordPress Website

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As a business, getting found online is more difficult than ever. Companies spend a lot of money on SEO strategies and content marketing to improve their Google page ranking and show up in search results. While honest entrepreneurs and businesses spend time and money for these purposes, unscrupulous people try to take advantage of their well-optimised websites to gain more traffic on their account.

This, in short, is referral spam. Now let us take a moment to better understand it.

What Is Referral Spam?

A referrer is a link shared though the HTTP header when users navigate via their web browser from one page to another. This is how you check in analytics to see where your website visitors come from (social media, Google search, ads, etc.). A spam referral happens when a person replaces this link with their own URL, in an attempt to gain more traffic without providing users with any kind of valuable content (and making money from affiliate marketing through dozens of banner ads).

The main problem with referral spam is that it makes your analytics data irrelevant. You cannot be sure how many of the page visits and clicks are from genuine people who are interested in your business, and how many are from bots placing referral spam links.

Let us move now to the core of the problem: how to stop referral spam from appearing on your website. Here are a few ways to do it:

1. Install a Referral Spam Plugin

The issue of referral spam is so widespread that developers have started creating tools to protect WordPress websites from it. There are currently over 40 referral spam plugins available on the WordPress.org Plugins page. Of course, not all of them are as effective as the others, but each of them has a rating given them by users over time.

Some of these plugins work automatically once you install and configure them. Others allow you to insert rules and ban IPs manually.

2. Block Referral Spam in the .htaccess File

You should leave this method to a professional website manager and not attempt it on your own. The .htaccess file is a critical one, in the root of your website code structure. It is responsible for allowing access from visitors’ IP addresses to your website.

By adding specific lines of code, you can specify the exact IP addresses of illegitimate traffic, and ban them from accessing your website.

Attention! Failure to implement the code correctly and with an accurate syntax will take down your entire website.

3. Use a Comprehensive Website Firewall Solution

Firewalls in computers prevent malicious websites from installing malware and infecting the device. In WordPress, a solid additional firewall solution (on top of your web hosting’s server firewall) such as Cloudflare will keep the majority of scammers and spammers away from your website (note: if hosted with Swish Online, we are happy to set up up with Cloudflare for no extra charge).

Cloudflare covers all the critical aspects, from blocking referral spam to protecting your website against DDoS attacks. It is the ideal choice for website owners who do not have the time and technical skills to perform referral spam blocking manually.

4. Create Filters in Google Analytics

Because nothing works at 100% efficiency in the online world, you should find ways to deal with referral spam which may trickle through all the security solutions you put in place. This is done in Google Analytics by creating a filter to remove referral spam traffic from the data you compile to determine the effectiveness of your marketing and SEO strategies.

The Admin panel in Google Analytics has a menu option named “Filters”. Here, you will find the Filter Bots option. Here, you can create various filters by country (most bots have been recently tracked back to Russia, Indonesia and Brazil).

The above techniques will surely go a long way to help you sort out the referral spam issue that you may have with your website currently 🙂

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