What if you faced with spam in Google Analytics reports? Does it mean that someone can access your Google Analytics accounts, or maybe someone can modify data inside your GA? How can you prevent it?
There are two main types of Measurement Protocol spam: referral traffic and event spam. More rarely you can see spam in languages, keywords, URLs, transactions, etc. In this article, I will explain what Measurement Protocol spam is and how you can prevent it with the help of Google Tag Manager Server-Side tagging.
Why someone sends spam into Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is the most popular web analytics tool used by millions of users. Referral spammers hope that when you go to Google Analytics and see traffic from unknown websites, you will be curious to see what it is and you will open their website. It is one of the grey ways of getting traffic. There are multiple ways of monetization: redirecting to affiliate offers or directing to a landing page offering to buy something/download software, promote a marketing agency, or any other service. A few years ago, it was even used in politics. Before the Trump election, many GA accounts were hit by referral spam that was saying “Vote for Trump”.
To send fake hits to your GA account spammers need to know your Google Analytics ID. But sometimes they don’t even bother themselves with finding real Google Analytics IDs. Spammers may generate fake IDs in large quantities and hope that some of them are real GA identifiers. An automated script sends false data to GA accounts using measurement protocol.
How can referral spam affect your website?
Because of ghost spam, you cannot see the real data about your website visitors since fake traffic is mixed with natural. It affects all GA metrics – number of visits, bounce rate, avg. session duration, etc.
It can also lower your position in the organic ranking since search engines can interpret spam traffic as attempts of increasing your SEO positions using grey techniques.
How can you block referral spam with the help of Google Tag Manager Server Tagging?
There are two ways of blocking referral spam using the GTM server container: hiding your real Google analytics ID and adding a secret key. Server-side tagging can be used not only for blocking Measurement Protocol spam. It can also help to reduce the loading time of your website, better protect your customer’s data, see full data inside analytics software, etc. This article explains the main benefit of the GTM server container. You can test GTM server-side tagging for free using our service. In our blog, you can also find several useful articles that describe what possibilities you’ll have if you move from web container to server.
- Hiding your real Google Analytics ID.
In some cases, spammers first crawl websites (similar to what google bots do) and collect Google Analytics IDs. After that, they use a Measurement Protocol to send fake hits to your Google Analytics. If you’ve set up a GTM server container and added a custom tagging URL (you can check how to set up a GTM server container in this article), it is possible to replace your real Google Analytics ID with the fake one. Spambots will see the fake Google analytics ID and won’t be able to send Measurement Protocol spam into your real Google Analytics account. Your GA settings will look similar to the settings on the screenshot. You can add any Tracking ID you want, but this method will only work if you’ve set up GTM server container and added the transport URL. Highly recommend testing these changes before publishing it, just log in to GA and test data in the realtime.
2. Adding a secret code to your Google
The first method won’t help you prevent spam traffic from those who send requests to random Google Analytics IDs. Sine in this case spammers don’t need to know your Google Analytics ID. It’s just a matter of luck if your GA account will be in their list. This type of spam relies on quantity, not quality.
You can prevent this type of spam by adding a secret key. Google Analytics tag inside your server container should send this key. You will have to add this secret key as a custom dimension and then create a filter that allows traffic that matches custom dimensions.
The first step is to add a new custom dimension inside your Universal Analytics tag in the server container.
Then add a new custom dimension in GA and create a filter that will include only traffic with this secret key.
Chances that random spammers will know your secret key is close to zero. So this way, you can keep your Google Analytics data clean.
If you want to filter referral spam inside GA4, the second method that I described in this article won’t work since filters are not available inside GA4. But the good news is that Google created native setting to help prevent measurement protocol spam. This feature is called Measurement Protocol API secrets. It allows you to set a secret value to enable additional events to be sent into the stream through the Measurement Protocol.
Google Tag Manager server container has a lot of new features. Blocking referral spam is one of them. We already described how you could use it to send Slack notifications in this article.
If you want to test what the GTM server is and how it works, you can create an account using our service.
If you want to move from web to server tagging, feel free to contact us, we can answer your questions or simply do the set up for you.