I was recently contacted by a client who received a message in her Google Analytics account with the following:
"A significant portion of referral traffic to property Q4intelligence is from the following hostnames, which may be self-referrals:
"Self-referrals are referrals from pages within your own domains. Self-referrals can obscure the actual sources of traffic to which conversions and other engagement on your site should be attributed. As a result, your referral metrics could be inaccurate. Further, self-referrals could be indicative of improperly-configured cross-domain tagging. Your users could be generating a session per domain, which would artificially inflate session counts.
There are multiple different Analytics misconfigurations that can cause self-referrals. Users navigating from an untagged page on your site to a tagged page can appear as self-referrals. Users navigating from one subdomain on your site to another subdomain that uses a different cookie domain can appear as self-referrals. If you track multiple domains in one web property, users navigating across multiple domains on your site without linker parameters set up to transfer cookie information properly can appear as self-referrals.
To avoid self-referrals, ensure all pages on your site are correctly tagged with the Analytics tracking code, make sure that cross-domain tracking is configured correctly on all your pages, and check your cookie domain settings in your tracking code to be sure that all subdomains in a domain are using the same cookie domain."
At first glance I thought there was something wrong with their Analytics account. From this explanation it sure seems like it. But after further research I found it wasn't a misconfiguration at all. The message was caused by bots generating fake referral traffic in Google Analytics.
If you navigate in Google Analytics to Acquisition, All Traffic, Channels, click on Referrals for the domains that are referring traffic. At the top of the list is was 4webmasters.org. Also I found other referral spam for free-share-buttons.com, and other spam domains.
So this is having an effect of elevating this number of sessions because these are being added in the Audience Overview for all traffic.
The good news is if you want to fix the problem you can. You just have to create some advanced segments that will filter out those domains or hostnames. Here's a real good tutorial on how to accomplish: https://megalytic.com/blog/how-to-filter-out-fake-referrals-and-other-google-analytics-spam
As this article explains and many others, this is a problem Google knows about. How and when they will fix it is still a mystery and there hasn't been any response to date.
Monitoring traffic with Google Analytics is a great way to see the results of your online marketing efforts. Any chance you have to make the results more accurate is going to be more beneficial. We do this as part of our inbound marketing service retainers. If you would like to know more let us know.