Small business owners have a reputation for working “in their business.” In other words, finding time to perfect their organization isn’t always easy and often requires the help of specialty consultants. The small business website is something that’s often split among in-house and out sourced talent. The owner, or owner’s spouse or another family member, may make occasional or basic updates to the company website. A consultant may be used for projects, campaigns or major site overhauls.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Greater Maryland reviews a lot of websites — more than 2,500 annually. It’s just one piece of required due diligence performed before approval of accreditation and yearly renewal is granted. We know, first-hand, most business owners aren’t experts in web development or management.

Enter referral spam. At best, referral spam skews analytics and, in the worst case, its impact can be downright disruptive, even malicious.

Ill-intended referrers are designed by con artists to generate fake traffic. Unless you’ve put precautions in place, the traffic will inflate your statistics. If you’re logged into your analytics and get curious about the unfamiliar site that appears to be sending lots of traffic your way and you want to click on the link or type in the referral URL, don’t. If you do, you may be directed to a spammy domain or become a victim of malware.

Here are some tips to help keep referrers in check and your website visitors safe.

  • Search for a referrer instead of directly visiting the site. A quick web search will reveal if a URL is actually a scam or spam site.
  • Filter out fake referrers. Techniques vary depending on the website analytics service you use.
  • Consult your information technology provider or webmaster if you need assistance.
  • Keep your website’s content management system up to date. This won’t block referral spam, but it helps keep your site secure. New versions contain fixes to security issues, keeping your site safe from hackers.
  • Require users of your site management system to create strong passwords. This will help keep your site secure and protect visitors.
  • Know the names of your service providers. Scammers like to impersonate domain name and website hosting providers. The more service providers you have, the more time-consuming it will be to identify spam referrals.

For help filtering out referral spam, check out this article in SearchEngineJournal.com (www.searchenginejournal.com/ask-an-seo-filtering-referral-spam-google-analytics/164688). For more information about BBB or BBB accreditation, visit bbb.org/greater-maryland.

Angie Barnett is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland. She can be reached at 410-347-3990 and abarnett@greatermd.bbb.org.