Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Corrupted Data: How to Detect and Remove Referral Spam

There's a rampant issue impacting the Google Analytics account of nearly every business. It's called referral spam (a.k.a. ghost spam) and any marketer tasked with reporting online metrics should know how to detect and remove it from their data. Using Google Analytics to make data-driven decisions is important for any small business, but if you're only looking at the top level metrics, then you may not be getting an accurate picture of how your website is truly performing. 

What is referral spam?
Referral spam is a black hat SEO tactic, in which bots are used to send send multiple fake visits to your website. These visits are recorded in your data and falsely inflate your site session metric. What do spammers get out of this? Extra visits to their website. Every curious data collector who clicks on a link automatically provides traffic to the offending site. Sometime this means they can charge more for advertising on their site due to the falsely inflated site visitation, and other times they can serve up Malware so be cautious about clicking on unfamiliar links in your data!

How to spot referral spam?
The majority of these top 10 referral sources are spam. 
1. Login to your Google analytics account and navigate to the reporting tab.

2. On the left hand menu click on Acquisition.

3. Then select All Traffic.

4. In the dropdown select Referrals. Here you'll see a list of any site that has sent traffic to your website during the time period selected. 

What to look for:
- Visits with a 100% bounce rate.
- Sites with an average session duration under 1 second.
- Unfamiliar URLs, often worded to entice a click. 

What's a small business marketer to do?
Google is well aware of the issue and has been silent on any pending solutions. There are some great blogs that discuss advanced solutions for creating valid hostname and spam crawler filters. These strategies are a bit complex for the average marketer with no coding experience, but they are helpful in preventing spammer data from invading your metrics. Essentially you tell Analytics what constitutes a real referral for your site, and which ones should be blocked. This is a solid option for larger sites managing a ton of data. Need help setting it up? CC Communications has experience so contact us to learn how we can assist.

If your site only receives a modest amount of traffic each month, then it may be easier to filter the data and do the math yourself. It's a manual process, but once you get the hang of it, you'll be able to do this rather quickly. Here are the steps:

1. In the referral section of analytics make note of the total number of session being reported.

2. Above the data and to the right is the word advanced. Click that and a new filter section appears.

3. Select the following criteria.
- In the first dropdown choose Exclude.
- In the second dropdown choose Site Usage and then Average Session Duration.
- In the third dropdown select Less Than.
- In the field next to that type 1 (one). 

It should now look like this:

This filters out any site visits that were less than one second and provides you with a cleaner list to review. Keep in mind that this scrubs a lot of the spam, but not everything.

4. Next go through and identify which referrals are real. Add those session numbers together to get your actual number of legitimate referrals and then adjust your overall website session metric accordingly.

Hopefully this type of data corruption will soon be eradicated, but until it is, marketers must remain diligent to ensure accurate data is being reported. If you have any questions or need assistance contact our team at

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Regional YMCA website gets a fresh, mobile-ready start

Project Spotlight: Cleveland County Family YMCA 

CC Communications recently designed and launched a new website for the Cleveland County YMCA, a health and wellness center with five branch locations around the community. When redesigning this website, CC Communications implemented an events calendar, streamlined navigation, and a strategic content structure to showcase member stories throughout the site. This layout provides an enhanced, user-friendly experience and assists site visitors in quickly finding important information, no matter which branch location they plan to visit.
The new Cleveland County Family YMCA website designed by CC Communications.

CC Communications made several other improvements to the website including enhanced content for each branch location and a unique graphic design treatment customized for the Cleveland County YMCA, while adhering to the national YMCA brand standards. The site also utilizes the latest in responsive design technology to ensure a seamless experience for all mobile and tablet users.

The website was built using DotNetNuke (DNN), a robust and secure Content Management System providing businesses with an easier way to manage their online assets. CC Communications is also providing hosting services to maintain security and consistency of the new website.

Is your website overdue for an upgrade? Contact us today and get a complimentary site audit.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Should Your Business Block AdBlockers?

There is a continuing divide between consumers and advertisers on the web.

On one hand, advertisers want and need to generate online revenue to help their business succeed. Why? Websites are one of the most lucrative communication tools to ever exist, and if they can't generate revenue, then their business will fail.

On the other hand are consumers who either dislike or outright hate ads. Online advertising has a messy history of being incredibly intrusive. Also consumers have to deal with poorly designed ads that use junky script or plugins to function. These ads can potentially take a lot of data/memory to run on a browser. This results in a slower browser experience, which will guarantee a high bounce rate and negatively impacts the chances a user would go back to that site.

Enter Ad Blockers 
The biggest one available to consumers is Adblock Plus, which currently holds bragging rights to being one of the most used add ons to virtually all major browsers, primarily Firefox and Google. Ad companies and businesses hate them. From their perspective, they exist solely on the function to deny these companies revenue. But what these companies don’t put into perspective is that Ad blockers exist for a reason.

The relationship between the average consumer and ad companies has turned sour. Adblock Plus isn’t a snake charmer who has lured customers away with false promises of easy and inconsequential web experiences. It was created to fill a market demand - to block what was seen as obtrusive advertising and very real, legitimate threats to web browsing security. And like any bad relationship, some companies take to extremes to try and hang onto their customers, and end up causing more damage.

What A Business Shouldn't Do
Forced whitelisting and denial of website access unless ad blockers are disabled will most likely push
users away. They will go somewhere else if they can find an alternative, especially when these methods lead to bigger problems.

Forbes requested all ad-blockers be disabled.
One of the more recent (and ironic) examples of this is Forbes, which made the decision to prevent users from accessing their website and articles if they had an ad blocker turned on. Visitors would receive a notice asking users to disable their ad blockers. Unfortunately, Forbes got hacked, and those users who turned off their blockers were almost instantly served ransomware from the site’s advertisements.

This was a huge slap in the face for users who turned off their pop up blockers, and many ad blocker users saw this as vindication that they were in the right to keep using ad blocking; online advertisements were simply not to be trusted.

Furthermore a recent report offers some circumstantial evidence showing that websites requiring whitelisting are actually seeing an overall decline in traffic.

Where do we go from here?
Some companies are already attempting to answer this question with efforts like better ad security and quality. It will likely take some time before trust is rebuilt with ad-blocking consumers, and since it seems Ad Blockers are here to stay, this may prove to be much easier said than done.

It might be worth considering whether ad companies should try a new approach to the way they handle their online advertising. Whether this will be done through persistence, technology, or creative innovation remains to be seen.

How can your business effectively navigate this ever-changing landscape of online advertising? Reach out to our team at CC Communications to learn more about best practices for online advertising. We can also help you explore other ways to effectively advertise online without fear of an ad blocker disrupting the delivery of your marketing messages.