Category Archives: google

Beware of Ghost Referral Spam!

Recently I noticed a small web  site I manage was showing an unusual amount of traffic…far more than expected. Upon checking Google Analytics under Acquisition/Channels/Referrals here’s what I found.


Over 80% of the traffic was being referred from the domain,!

After a few minutes researching this domain I found a relatively new issue has emerged known as ghost referral spam. They leave a trail in your analytics reports to entice you to click through to their spam-ridden websites while screwing up your analytics reporting and SEO analysis.

They are called ghost referrals because they NEVER visit your site. They are able to post fake pageviews to Google’s tracking service using a random series of tracking IDs. So when they happen across a series that includes your tracking ID, Google will record a referral visit from that source in your analytics reports.

Since they never actually visit your site they can’t be blocked at the server using traditional blocking techniques like IP excludes or .htaccess methods. So what to do?

There seems to be several main ideas floating around about how to most effectively handle this new threat.

The most common recommendation is to simply create a filter in Google Analytics to block them from showing up in reporting. Here’s a good article with detail step-by-step instructions and screen shots on how to setup these filters in Google Analytics.

Since the spammer hostnames can change frequently, thus rendering your exclude filters useless, another approach is to only INCLUDE valid hostnames by creating filters based on a hostname INCLUSION lists. Here’s an article,  Definitive Guide to Removing Referral Spam, with the details of this approach.

Yet another approach, which claims a “surefire” method using a combination of tracking changes, cookies, and filters can be found here:

Why are Ghost spammers doing this in the first place? It seems no one is really sure. Speculation is they want to entice website owners to out of curiosity  visit their site for some nefarious purpose.  Perhaps it’s a shady SEO service promising to get thousands of people to look at a site? Or perhaps they are infecting visitors with malware?

Hopefully Google will take action against this and provide some additional security in Google Analytics but in the meantime this is something we’ll just have to deal with.

Google Southeast User Group Meeting and Summit July 25-26

Ken Ingle, President of the Google Apps Southeast User Group, kicks off the meeting

Enjoyed this great one and one half day event at the Google office in Atlanta. Who knew the Google offices in Atlanta are located as easy walk right down the street from my office at Tech Square and just across the street from the 10th street Marta station? The event was a combined Google Summit for non Google Apps customers and a Southeast User Group meetup for current App customers. Attendees were there from all over the southeast.

Day 1: The first afternoon covered Google’s current upcoming feature release roadmap which I can’t revile due to an NDA. However I can say the remainder of 2011 is going to see some exciting new features in apps.

The end of this first day Ken announced that event sponsor, Cloud Sherpas, had donated three kegs of beer…and Google provided hot wings, quesedas, a variety of cheese, summer sausage, salami, grilled veggies, and more that I can’t remember. It was awesome to say the least!

Day 2: After an informative keynote panel in the morning of the second day the summit attendees split off from the user group to get a deep dive on Google App features while the user group members broke into groups for discussion of specific topics of interest.


Here are a few photos I took of the event.


From the back of the room showing ping pong, pool, and foos ball tables. Glimpse into the West Coast culture?


Networking event started around 4:30 with lots of food and beer. Shown here are the hot wings, quesadas, and beer on tap.
Back of the room


Well equipped guitar hero area







Atlanta Google Wavers Meetup

Last night was my first to attend the Atlanta Wavers Meetup, held this month at Ignition Alley. The two presenters, Andy Thornton and Rick Thomas, both provided outstanding presentations on the basics of Wave gadget development.

The important take  aways for me were finally understanding key differences between gadgets and robots and gaining some insight into how they are developed.  Plus a cool new (and free) development IDE called Aptana Studio which is available stand alone or as an Eclipse Plugin. As a bonus Andy provided CDs filled with software and examples for all attendees.

So what’s the difference between a gadget and a robot? In a nutshell a gadget is a program inserted into a wave that can be used by all wave participants like voting or drawing.  While a robot is a program added to a wave to perform automated tasks like making the wave public.

Installation of gadgets and robots into a Wave is very different. Gadgets are installed by entering the URL of the gadget whereas robots are installed as contacts and then added to the wave just like you would add any other contact.

Gadget and robot development are also quite different. A gadget can be written in a variety of languages like python, php, or even c#, and are simply publicly hosted web applications. Most gadgets even those written for non-Wave containers can run in wave. The main difference between Wave aware gadgets and non-Wave gadgets is that a Wave aware gadget can interact with the wave. Wave gadgets aren’t typically complete applications but rather they tend to be small add-ons that add a piece of functionality to a wave. Making a gadget wave aware starts with a declariation in the gadget specification of <Require feature="wave" /> which serves to give the gadget access to the Wave Gadgets API.

Robots on the other hand are all created and hosted on Google App Engine, which at this time only supports Python and Java.

I’m glad to see that Atlanta has an Wave Development group. I plan to add this meetup to my calendar and attend often.

Some Companies Can’t Innovate

I was just reading about a conference put on by a middle-school in the Bronx called Dot-To-Dot. The main conference topic was exploring freedom but what really caught my attention was the technology platform they used to organize and host all aspects of the conference. Since 2007 this public middle school, IS 339, has been using Google Apps to engage students in new and innovative ways like student run businesses and student projects. Even grading and progress is managed collaboratively with students using Google forms and spreadsheets. What strikes me is how does a public middle school adopt and innovate with a technology like Google Apps when so many companies and government organizations (run by adults) are seemingly unable to do the same? I’m wondering what are the major factors in corporations and governments that stand in the way of adopting a strategy around technology innovations like Google Apps. I’ve seen it over and over throughout my career…with minicomputers, personal computers, LANs, 4th Gen Languages, Web Sites, Intranets, content management systems, etc. These technologies have all been right there staring every company in the face..but most companies just can’t seem to see the new technology until years later after the technology has been adopted by others and has become “old hat.” Why does this happen? If I had to pick one barrier to adoption of new technology for innovation I would have to choose middle management. There always seems to be one or more middle managers, who know little to nothing about how technology is used and where it is going, but for some reason finds it necessary to stand squarely in the way of anything that he/she deems TOO new. I think the reason small startup companies are so innovative is because they aren’t big enough to have put any middle managers into place. Once they do the innovation slows down or even stops. If anybody else has a better idea I would sure like to hear it.

Cloud Sherpas

I just read about a startup company made-up of former Emory students called Cloud Sherpas. Their business is to assist companies in migrating to and maintaining Google Enterprise Apps. They also do Google App Engine development. This is a great service (and a great name) since most small companies don’t realize the value and reduced cost they could achieve by adopting Google Enterprise Applications for email, shared documents, collaboration websites (for employees, customers, and partners), groups, and chat (voice and text) just to name a few of the services available from Google at little or no cost to the business. I’m not sure why a small to mid-size business today would want to do anything else especially given the tight economic times we are in now. And I have to add that whoever thought up the name Cloud Sherpas is a genius.

Google Docs Rock

I’ve always been something of a power user of Microsoft Office ever since the release of version 1.0 back in 1993. But more and more nowadays I find myself creating google docs instead. I find the convenience and simple design along with the ease of sharing a document  with anybody either in private or public mode just too compelling to resist. The biggest complaint I hear about google docs (especially from Microsoft folks) is they lack the rich feature sets and sophistication of Office documents, which is very true. My take on that argument is that like most people I rarely use the more sophisticated features found in Excel or Word or Powerpoint.  In fact studies have shown the majority of people use Excel to create lists of “things” which they can then sort and/or add up. And I don’t know about you but I’m completely turned off whenever I see a powerpoint presentation designed to overwhelm with attempts to impress by overdosing on all the advanced features.  I read somewhere that “Simple is the new sophisticated” and google docs certainly fit this description. But the real power of google docs lies in the ability to easily share them with others. You can invite others to work on a document with you…even have multiple people updating the same document simultaneously (each persons updates appear in a different color). Documents can be shared privately so login is required to view…or publicly with a URL that opens the document for anybody without a requirement to log in.

The biggest advantage of docs for me is being able to access them from any computer. I’m so tired of being tied to one particular computer just because Outlook is installed on it or having to physically move office documents from one computer to another via email or flash drive whenever I know I’m going to need them someplace else. This is probably the main reason I’m loving google docs so much now.

So basically with docs you can create spreadsheets, documents, presentations, and forms that are used to collect data into spreadsheets. You can also organize docs into folders.
A major concern of some is being able to access docs while offline. For me this isn’t an issue as I am never off line unless my internet connection is down…which has become so rare for me I can’t even recall the last time it happened. But some people might want to access a presentation at a meeting without a connection or maybe update a document while on a plane.
Google answered this issue with Gears, a technology that installs onto your local computer and allows access to docs while you are disconnected from the Internet.
One more major feature I want to mention before I close is that docs can read and save as MS office documents. You can upload a Word document for example and it converts to a google document. You can also save a google document as a Word document or as a pdf.
Did I mention that Google docs are completely free? And you get several gig of free storage in which to store them?
Check out docs for yourself at

New Google Search Analysis Service

Google just released a new service called Google Insights for Search. Similar to its popular Google Trends this new service is geared towards advertisers. It’s a tool to track a particular search term’s popularity across the Web and geographic regions of the world. Using this service you can track how much a term has been googled over time, show where it’s most popular on a map, and even see the top “related” and “rising” searches for the term are. And you can filter results by geographic region or time frame. If you are into meme tracking or analysis then Insights for Search is the perfect tool for you to use.

Google Enterprise Apps

Today I attended a morning seminar on Google Enterprise Applications at the Westin in Buckhead. This is the first time I’ve seen a roadshow event from Google which was interesting in itself. Google’s purpose is to introduce the rollout this Winter of the new Enterprise Applications, a suite of product solutions aimed at Corporate and Government enterprises.

The suite is divided into three categories; Search, Share, and Visualize.

Search contains a choice between three search solutions; Search Appliance, Google Mini, and Google Desktop. Both Appliance and Mini are physical devices…self contained appliances that are plugged into a network and configured to crawl/index content sources throughout the network using the same technology as Google’s main search engine. Desktop is installed onto individual desktops to search that individual desktop.

Share also contains three product solutions; Gmail, Calendar, and Docs & Spreadsheets. Gmail is Google’s free email service which I have been using for some time now. Calendar provides a shared calendar service you can use to view the calendar(s) of your “friends,” combine calendars, and many additional features. Docs & Spreadsheets represents Googles entry into the word processing and spreadsheet space. I haven’t used these products yet and so can’t compare to MS Word & Excel.

Three product solutions of the Visualize group are Google Earth, Google Maps, and Sketchup Pro.

My main take away from the seminar is learning how Google Enterprise Apps differs from simply using these tools individually from Google free of charge.

For $50 per person per year, Google Enterprise Apps provides an enterprise with the ability to customize these apps with domain name and branding. Google guarantees 99.9% uptime and provides unlimited support. Storage limit is increased from 5 gig per person up to 10 gig per person. Last but not least you can hook up Google apps to your own internal Microsoft Active Directory or LDAP directory service to manage authentication and control access.

For those who prefer MS Outlook, gmail works just fine with an Outlook client. Although the browser interface for gmail is very good and personally I prefer it over Outlook…but that’s just MHO.

I’m glad I took the time to attend the seminar. It was an “eye opener” for me and will factor into any future IT strategy discussion in which I am involved.