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4 min read

What Is a Bot, Anyway? Understanding the Basics of Bots

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As the term "bots" becomes more common and widely used, you may find yourself asking, "just what is a bot?" Short for “robot,” the definition of a bot is an automated software program built to carry out specific tasks. They do jobs that most people would find too repetitive or time-consuming. Bot traffic can vary in technical complexity depending on its function.

Anura detects bots before they cause harm

Hearing the word “bot” sends many an advertiser into a panic. All too often, we see news stories of bots participating in ad fraud scandals, security breaches, and other forms of cybercrime. However, the word “bot” isn’t a catch-all term for malicious software. As with most things in life, there are both good bots and bad bots.

Bot Traffic Stats - what is a bot

The Good Bots

Good bots keep the digital world turning. Without them passing along data, things like search engines, social media, and online retail platforms wouldn’t work nearly as well as they do. Here are some of the most common types you might see in the wild.

Search Engine Bots

Also known as “spider bots,” these bots crawl web pages on behalf of search engines. These web crawlers process and analyze the content of a web page to figure out its meaning and relevance. Depending on what they find, search engines can use that info to gauge a page’s reliability and organic SERPranking.

Social Network Bots

Ever wonder how certain posts appear in your social news feeds? Social networks like Facebook and Twitter rely on proprietary bots to run data through algorithms and serve posts based on user behavior.


Chatbots are programs designed to communicate with people using artificial intelligence. Chatbots specialize in answering specific questions or doing certain tasks. Companies can deploy simple chatbots on platforms like Slack and Facebook Messenger. More advanced chatbot examples include Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri.

Backlink Checker Bots

This type of bot is an SEO specialist’s best friend. Backlink checkers crawl websites and search for inbound links to see where traffic originates. Using the bots’ findings, SEO specialists can make the necessary website and campaign changes to keep visitors coming.

Monitoring Bots

Like digital doctors, monitoring bots make sure your website is running without any issues. These bots can detect where users are having trouble on your sites, such as areas of lag or unresponsiveness.

Feed Fetcher Bots

These bots work around the clock to bring you real-time data. Feed fetcher bots specialize in collecting and sending information to subscriber lists for sites like news outlets, blogs, and weather services. Many feed fetcher bots pull data from RSS feeds.

Copyright Bots

Online copyright infringement is rampant, especially with so much data being shared every day. To combat plagiarisation and theft, copyright bots scour the web for stolen content, such as music and video clips. Sites like YouTube use copyright bots to flag and disable uploaded content that could be in violation of copyright laws.

Trader Bots

Similar to spider bots, trader bots crawl around the web for pricing information. Online retailers like eBay and Amazon use trader bots to keep an eye on their rivals and offer competitive deals on products.

The Bad Bots

Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad bots freely roaming the web. Knowing each type of bot’s destructive capabilities may give you an advantage in protecting your online presence. Let's define these bots here:

Bad Bots - what is a bot

Scraper Bots

Lots of ad fraud crooks create questionable websites to sell ad space. In order for their sites to appear more legitimate and increase visitor traffic, fraudsters use scraper bots to “scrape,” or steal, high-quality, keyword-rich content from other websites. Chances are, if you fall victim to a scraper bot, you won’t know unless you specifically search for copies of your content.

Click Bots

Advertisers are all too familiar with click bots. These bots intentionally visit sites and click on ads with the goal of warping ad campaign data and burning through an advertiser’s budget. For advertisers who pay on a CPC basis, click bots can be devastating.

Spam Bots

These bots plague comment sections, lead forms, and email inboxes spreading unsolicited messages, advertising links, and other forms of spam. Spam bots are also programmed to phish for personal information that users submit through forms, such as phone numbers, email addresses, and passwords.

Spy Bots

Hackers use spy bots mainly for surveillance and data collection purposes. Spy bots steal personal information about a company, website, or person by logging keystrokes or intercepting packets. Some hackers sell that data to outside parties for a profit.

Transfer Bots

Sometimes called download bots, transfer bots are responsible for forced redirects. Transfer bots attach themselves to reputable websites and wait for users to click through. Instead of sending users to the site they requested, transfer bots redirect them to another site, usually one set up by a fraudster or hacker.

Impersonator Bots

Disguising themselves as human visitors, impersonator bots try to get past site security. Obstacles like CAPTCHA codes are used to keep impersonator bots from reaching sites, but they are only getting more sophisticated as technology improves.

File-Sharing Bots

These bots act as malware delivery men. They post malware-infected files on peer-to-peer file sharing services, such as Dropbox. Thinking the file is legitimate, the user downloads it, but in reality, they just installed malware onto their computer.

Zombie Bots and Botnets

As the name suggests, zombie bots turn computers into mindless drones, letting hackers control them remotely without users knowing their machine’s been compromised. A collection of zombie bots make up a botnet. Here, affected computers work simultaneously to perform a certain task. Botnets are usually responsible for DDoS attacks.

Bots Are Bigger Than Ever

Advancements in technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, are driving bots to higher levels of sophistication. It’s becoming easier for bot traffic to act more like humans -- drawing inferences, making decisions, and learning from data without manual input.

These are great improvements for good bots, as they’ll be able to do their jobs more efficiently than ever before. But this also means it will be harder to detect bad bots.

For this reason, you should take preventative measures now before bad bots outsmart the system. Get a broader understanding of bots and ad fraud in Anura's e-book, Bots 101.

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