Even if you’re not a computer programmer or software engineer, you’ve probably heard of bots and know that the word is short for “robot,” even if you don’t quite understand exactly what they are or what they do.
If you hate dust bunnies but also hate to sweep, you may have a robotic vacuum to perform that mundane task while you’re at work or hanging out with your friends. That’s the same concept behind these automated software applications. Unlike your robotic vacuum, you can’t see bots that interact with search engines, social media, and other websites you frequent, but you do see their functionality in the form of chatbots, newsfeeds, and suggested purchases.
As bots get smarter and become more human-like, it’s important to understand the differences between good bots, which keep our digital world turning, and bad bots, which use that digital world to steal our data, spread malware, and even manipulate how we think.
What Can Bots Do? Good Bots vs. Bad Bots
These bots—including search engine bots, customer service bots, and social media bots—make digital life easier by performing helpful or useful tasks for websites and the humans that use them. Think of chatbots that simulate human conversation to provide valuable information and customer support, both on websites and social media channels. Social media bots are designed to post updates, engage and interact with followers, and run contests.
These bots—including spam bots, distributed denial of service bots (DDoS), and scraping bots—perform malicious tasks that can harm websites and their visitors, such as stealing data, spreading malware, or disrupting websites. Spam bots send unsolicited messages, often in the form of phishing attempts. DDoS bots overwhelm websites with traffic, preventing legitimate visitors from accessing them. Scraping bots collect website and user data which may end up on the Dark Web, where it is often sold and used to commit crimes such as account takeover and identity theft.
Regardless of bots’ intended purposes, good bots and bad bots can negatively impact online advertising campaigns. They can put your brand’s reputation at risk and your customers’ information and personal data while also wasting your advertising dollars with fake clicks and impressions.
Can You Prevent Bots From Negatively Impacting Your Digital Campaigns?
Let’s take a closer look at just some of the ways that bots can negatively impact digital marketing campaigns:
Brand Reputation and Customer Information at Risk
Bots can breach your website’s security and steal your customers’ data. They can trick customers into making fraudulent transactions or urge them to click on fraudulent links with phishing tactics that put additional information and accounts at risk. These actions undermine your customers’ trust in your company, and they may sever their relationship with you. Some reports suggest that nearly half of affected customers stop doing business with a company after their data has been breached.
Bots can also inject ads or download prompts for malware onto your site or app, which can, in turn, compromise the security of your visitors’ devices.
Wasted Ad Dollars
Bots can click on your ads, leading to click fraud, one of the leading ad fraud scams. Fraudulent clicks inflate click-through rates (CTR), drain advertising budgets, and divert ads from your target audience, rendering your campaigns ineffective and increasing your overall costs.
Bots that artificially inflate likes, shares, and follows lead to distorted social media metrics, which is particularly problematic in advertising and political campaigns. Bots are also capable of executing DDoS attacks that may crash your website. If legitimate prospects click on an ad and can’t access your site, they may not return, and you will lose leads or sales.
If you generate leads for your own company (or to resell), bots can complete lead forms with fake or real contact information. This results in lost time following up with invalid leads, and it can also put your company, plus those who rely on leads from your website, at risk for compliance violations.
How to Stop Bots from Putting You at Risk
As you can see, bots can be helpful or harmful, and no one is immune to them. Malicious bot attacks can target your company’s marketing campaigns, website, and even your customers. We expect that as bots continue to evolve, it will become even more challenging to identify and stop bots from causing harm. Still, brands and performance marketers need to find ways to do so.
Honeypots, feed fetchers, and verified user authentication are just some of the methods Anura implements to help our customers effectively block bad bots, reduce risk, and improve marketing effectiveness. Stopping bad bots and the damage they can impose on your business, your marketing, and your customers is an ongoing challenge and one that you can’t overcome on your own.