Semalt Expert Defines A Reason Why Not To Use Referral Exclusion List To Keep Off Spam

Many people try to get rid of referral spam in Google Analytics. The reason is that it leads to skewed reports which can alter how website owners make decisions on their marketing campaigns. The referral exclusion list is one way to go about this. However, as much as it is well-intentioned, experts believe this to be a terrible idea. As much as people continue to claim how much of a bad idea this could be, nobody has ever taken the opportunity to explain the reason why.

Jason Adler, the Customer Success Manager of Semalt Digital Services, will attempt here to make this explanation.

There are many articles regarding how one should go about removing referral spam. However, we will only concentrate on why one should not use the referral exclusion list. Google reserves the use of the list to exclude any traffic emanating from third party shopping carts. Through this way, Google Analytics prevents the counting of customers in new sessions through refers and return purchases. It happens when the client checks out of the third-party site and returns to the order confirmation page later on.

The simple definition given by Google can go about causing misconceptions with the public. The phrase that states that when you exclude a referral source, all the traffic coming from that prohibited domain does not trigger a new session, confuses many.

People will consequently assume that this exclusion means that Google Analytics will not include the visit from the report. It is usually not the case. What goes on is that Google attempts to connect the current visit with an original visit to the website. In addition to this, it prevents the recognition of any referral information. Nevertheless, there is an apparent visit, only that it has no source.

Here is a demonstration of what this means:

One website has a link to the site one owns. If the person visiting the "lonely" site clicks on the link or domain, it appears as a referral from StackOverflow in Google Analytics.

In the desktop overview, it reads that there is one active user on the site, citing StackOverview in the top social traffic. Now, if one decides to add the new domain to the referral exclusion list, and click on the same link, but from a different browser, Google Analytics will still record the visit. Mainly, the exclusion list keeps out all the domains included in the list. According to Google Analytics, as far as it is concerned, access from the new browser triggers a new session, treating the action as it were a new user. Therefore, analytics treats it as a direct visit since it does not contain any referral information.

If one includes too many spammy links and domains to their referral exclusion lists, they can work against the website owner and turn to direct traffic. Therefore, one completes the objective of having referral spam cleared out of the Google Analytics report, and in place, a direct traffic alternative shoots up. Either way, the website metrics will remain off.


If spam referrals become a menace, consider not using a referral exclusion list to get rid of them.