Have you been looking at your Google Analytics and noticed an odd spike in your referral traffic from an usually named site? It’s likely a ghost referral. Check out my list of Ghost Referrers 2018 below. If you’re seeing these in your referral analytics, it’s unlikely real traffic.
What is a Ghost Referrer?
First things first, what is a ghost referrer? A ghost referrer is a traffic showing up in your Google Analytics, but it’s really fake traffic. A bot or server process on another server triggered your Google Analytics ID and pretended to visit your site when it didn’t. Real people were not involved in visiting your site, nor did a bot actually.
These ghosts are adding to your analytics statistics without actually accessing or reading your site. Yes, it is as annoying as it sounds. It also seems to come in waves, where one domain shows up on a lot of sites within a short period of time.
Ghost referrers can also classified as spam, because real people were not involved in reading your content.
Why do they do it?
My guess only, but it potentially pulls traffic into their site because you’re curious as to what the site is. Maybe there’s a short-lived Google benefit for them.
In the more recent years, I haven’t seen the same site show up again in the referrers so it seems to be the sites that do this use the URL for a single burst of traffic and retire the domain.
This also makes it a little harder to proactively block from your Google Analytics statistics.
How to tell if a referrer is a ghost
My go-to approach for identifying if a referrer is likely real versus a ghost is to check the “hostname” in Google Analytics. Traffic that actually visited your site will show your domain as the hostname. It’s possible a weird referrer is still a bot, but the ghost referrers will either show “(not set)” or a different domain as the hostname.
To confirm. add “hostname” using a Secondary Dimension in Google Analytics
To quickly check if a referrer is a ghost, go to the Channels view under Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels and click “Referral” in the table.
Next choose “Hostname” on the “Secondary dimension” button right above the list.
Now you can see if the referrer is coming from your domain, possibly a google property such as translations, or if it’s a ghost. A ghost referrer will have a “(not set)” or another domain you don’t recognize.
Ghost Referrers 2018 List
The following came up in November 2018:
And here are a few other ghost referrers that showed up statistics in 2018
Have you seen any other ghost referrers?
What other ghosts should be on the list? Were you surprised to learn that there are servers out there on the Internet that can add fake traffic to your analytics?