How much money do you spend on ads per month? Some companies dedicate as much as millions of dollars per month towards getting their ads in front of the right people. Unfortunately, a percentage of that is unknowingly wasted money. According to The Wall Street Journal, Adobe found that 28% of website traffic likely came from bots and other “non-human signals.” If you've invested money into a digital ad campaign, there's no guarantee that those ads will end up in front of real people. They might, instead, end up being served to bots. But what exactly are bots, and how to we prevent them from syphoning your company’s ad spend?
The Mechanical Menace
What are these bots? Short for “robot,” a bot is an automated software program built to carry out a specific task by simulating a human's use of a website. Usually, this wouldn't be a problem, since we have bots all over the internet. However, bots can be classified as good or bad. An example of a good bot is those automated applications that search engines use to determine a website's SEO viability. For every good bot, there's a bad one. The bots that we're concerned about in this equation are the ones responsible for ad fraud.
Hello Bots, Goodbye Revenue
Once there's a revenue stream, there will be people trying to exploit it. Ads are no different. Early on in the life cycle of ad production, some creative coders realized they could make a lot of money by faking the number of impressions that an ad makes. This procedure is known as ad fraud which stems from illicit traffic sourcing.
When you pay for an online ad, you assume that your supplier puts it in front of a real human being. Most of your metrics work with that premise - with a certain number of impressions, you'll expect a particular conversion rate. However, when up to half of your ads are in front of bots, what are you paying for? Typically, when you're promoting a website, you source traffic from multiple channels. The thought is that, as more people see your ads, they'd be more likely to click on them. Bots change that entire dynamic.
When you buy ads from a website, they serve it to their engaged audience, and you have a chance of getting a consumer to buy your product. However, traffic brokers have caught onto this scheme. They offer a massive number of visitors in any demographic, but at a much lower cost than traditional advertisers.
The problem is that you're not buying REAL impressions. You're paying them for bogus impressions, which won't benefit your business in the long run. Most companies aren't aware of how insidious these practices are and how much money they're wasting on traffic sourcing. Traffic sourcing can be a massive boost to a business's visibility. If left unprotected, you run the risk of being inundated by bot impressions. Their impact on your business can be deep and destructive.
How Bots Affect Your Metrics
As marketers, we rely on data to inform our decisions. When that data comes from an artificially inflated source, the numbers we get (and the insights they provide) are worthless. Among the ways that bots can damage your metrics and lead you down the wrong path include:
- Skewed attribution reports: Lead attribution reports allow you to spot which digital campaigns have been getting the most clicks. Ideally, with a human audience, you can tailor your content to your audience's tastes. Bots don't care, since they don't have any taste. The insights generated from their "clicks" might lead you to make bad choices in future digital ad campaigns.
- Erroneous Analytics: Analytics also rely on a human audience to be useful. The analytics reports from your website can give you a unique insight into your core audience. You can determine where your core audience is located, or what age group they may be in. All of these can help streamline your website to suit them. Unfortunately, bots can skew these analytics and give you the wrong information about the people you think are your audience.
- Driving Up PPC Costs: When a bot crosses a page, it will click on every ad it encounters. The bot's clicks translate into more revenue for the website that the ad is hosted on and increase your cost for ads. The more well-designed bots can even randomly vary the amount of time they spend on a page or even fill out basic forms, making them look less mechanical and harder to spot. A lot of the clicks these bots generate are non-usable leads or fraudulent traffic, and it requires a lot of technology to determine these users are fraudulent.
- Bots Could Lead to Bad Advertising Channel Decisions: Social media is the best method for establishing an audience. However, a user doesn't have to do all the work themselves. Twitter bots, for example, make it easy to code an app that follows random people and then unfollows them if they don't reciprocate over a short time. Most Twitter users don't know if they're influencing people or just bots.
- No Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) Measurement: How much is a customer worth to you? The CLV offers you insights into the value that a customer brings to the business over the entire time they associate with you. It also allows a company to balance its ad-spend budget to cater for the money it will recoup from that customer. If your impressions are all bots, then you have no baseline for measurements. None of those bots are "customers," and so they have zero lifetime value to the business. No matter how you try, you can't divide by zero.
With the right solution in place, you’ll have access to technology that is constantly updated to stay a few steps ahead of the bad actors—essentially enabling you to future-proof your campaigns.
How to Identify the Signs and Know If You Have a Bot Problem
There are several methods that you can invest in to determine if bots are plaguing you. Among them are:
- High Clicks Rate with Low Conversions: If you notice a rapid increase in clicks but little to now conversions, you may have a bot problem.
- Abandoned Shopping Carts: Bots can’t complete a purchase. If you notice a high bounce rate or visitors placing items in carts and leaving them behind, you may have a bot problem.
- Unfamiliar Traffic Sources: Look into your traffic data. Bad traffic may originate from large data centers and send multiple clicks from the same IP address. If your traffic is coming from an area outside of your target audience, this is a red flag.
- Impressions remain constant after implementing "Invalid Traffic" solutions: Not all traffic coming from human users will be valid. If you implement measured to stop invalid traffic but get no corresponding decrease in user impressions, your supplier is probably using bots to drive up the impression count.
- Form-fills with fake information: It’s east to identify a bot form fill when it submits illegible information but what happens when a sophisticated bot uses valid information in a form, like a real phone number or email address. You may have a TCPA noncompliance issue if the form’s owner doesn’t properly vet the “lead.”
These are just a few methods you can use to help you spot when you have bots populating your page and pretending to be legitimate users. Once you notice some of these signs, you'll need some way to verify whether you're dealing with bots or if another issue may be causing your poor results.
The Right Solution
The best defense companies can use to protect their brand and consumers from bad bots engaged in ad fraud is to invest in an ad fraud solution, like Anura.
Based on hundreds of data points per visitor, Anura can distinguish between clicks generated by bots, malware, and human fraud, versus clicks generated by legitimate website visitors. With precise combination of machine learning and well-versed engineers, Anura can achieve these results.
Anura does not use confusing numerical scoring systems which create false positives. Just a black-and-white indicator of web traffic as real or fraudulent. When Anura says it’s bad, it’s bad.