Google Analytics Bot Traffic – 2021 Edition

It’s Back! Sigh….

Google Analytics was hit (hard) with a spike of bot traffic on January 30th, 2021, after 3 years of virtually eliminating it on their platform. To a lot of people, this is new stuff, but since I wrote the original Definitive Guide to Removing Google Analytics Spam article, I thought I should have a look.

First of all, this is not an exhaustive analysis — I did a deep-dive on only one site that was hit — but it was enough to get an idea of what we are dealing with.

Timing: 2 spikes, 1 hour in duration each, almost 6000 hits in each. The traffic was evenly distributed across the timespan. Conclusion: bot traffic. The spikes are suspiciously 1 hour long exactly, making it look like either that was intentional (programmatic), or Google’s anti-spam algorithms kicked in after 1 hour.

Geography: traffic shows country of origin from 116 countries with China (13%), U.S. (8%) and India (5%) leading. It also displays a mix of 79 languages. Combine this with the even timing distribution, and it looks less like real traffic and more like a Measurement Protocol injection, where fake hits are sent direct to Google’s tracking servers. Digging a little deeper, we find over 600 cities recorded — a lot of variety. The spammers went out of their way to make it difficult to identify an easy pattern to eliminate their traffic.

Technology: fake traffic can sometimes be identified by a common browser version or screen resolution; not in this case, though, with almost 300 different browser versions and 17 typical screen resolutions. Interesting, though, the Browser Size dimension typically populated by the actual visible screen size as returned from a real browser is ALL (not set). AHA! Gotcha! That would be a simple filter/segment: exclude Browser Size contains ‘(not set)’.

Summary

The traffic appears to be a Measurement Protocol injection, meaning there is nothing you can do on your website to stop it. It is fake traffic injected into Google’s servers, so while Google closes yet another loophole in the algorithms, we need to manually update our filters and segments to get rid of the garbage. To see how to do that, check out the Definitive Guide – it’s all there for you.