How to Identify Bot Traffic

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As a publisher[9], bot traffic can sometimes be the bane of your existence. When you notice that your website, ads, and campaigns have become sluggish or lacklustre in performance[6], the culprit is usually one of the various bots circulating the digital world.

If left unchecked, bots can cause both your ad revenue and your website quality to swan dive. 

So, how can you identify bot traffic and what can you do about it? 

What Exactly is Bot Traffic?

Bot traffic is easily defined as any non-human traffic that comes across your website or app. We often associate “bots” with all things negative, as they tend to be irritating due to their irrelevance in terms of user engagement. 

However, bots aren’t necessarily good or bad. It all depends on their purpose. Some bots are designed to be useful to users. Others can be rather malignant, such as the ones designed for data scraping, launching denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, or unauthorized web crawling. 

What makes these bots such a nuisance is that they can mess with your website analytics and they typically generate click-fraud — which Google AdSense[7], Google Ad Manager[1], and the programmatic advertising[2] world as a whole, doesn’t like.

Different Types of Bot Traffic

Bots make up over 40% of all website traffic. If that’s not bad enough, there are different types you need to watch out for — six different types to be specific:

1. Click bots

Click bots are responsible for making those pesky fraudulent ad clicks that cause click spamming. These bots are considered the greatest threat posed to web publishers, especially those following the pay-per-click (PPC) model for their advertisements.

Click bots skew your data analytics and your budget, which can affect your bottom line.

2. Download bots

Download bots will also skew your data analytics, especially when it comes to your user engagement data. Although rather than messing up your click count, they generate a fake download count.

That means if you’re offering free products on your website in downloadable form, these bots will mess up your conversion rate data.

3. Spam bots

Spam bots are actually the most common type of bot. These bots are responsible for disrupting your user engagement via the distribution of unwanted content. 

This would include spam comments, spammy ads, phishing emails, unnecessary and strange website redirects, generating negative SEO[3] against your competitors, and so on.

4. Spy bots

Spy bots mine for individual or business data. They like to steal semi-personal information like email addresses from websites and other communicative channels, which makes them incredibly dangerous.

5. Scraper bots

Scraper bots are extremely malicious. They’re created by third-party scrapers, usually hired by your very own competitors with the intention of stealing your content, product catalogues, and even prices. 

Once a scraper bot steals your content, you can bet it’ll become repurposed and published somewhere else — without your permission, of course.

6. Impostor bots

Impostor bots act like they’re authentic visitors to bypass any security measures you have in place. These bots are most responsible for the DDoS attacks, and they really like to install spyware on your site, or position themselves as fake search engines.

How to Identify Bot Traffic

Unfortunately, bots aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. They’re also getting sneakier. Luckily, there are a few sure-fire ways to identify the bots wreaking havoc on your site.

Here are some of the tell-tale signs that you’ve got a bot infestation (check your data in Google Analytics[4]):

  • Abnormally high page views. We’re talking about an abnormal and unexpected increase in page views. Usually there is no actual data other than a single pageview[10].
  • A ridiculously high bounce rate[8]. Some bots are directed to one single page and they don’t click through to other pages, which is what would cause your bounce rate to spike. 
  • High or low session rates. Bots either work faster or slower than the average human, especially when it comes to spending time on each page of your website. If the highs and lows of your session rates seem peculiar, it’s because you’ve got a bot problem.
  • Garbage conversions. Fake names, fake phone numbers, and nonsensical email addresses accompanied by a conversion surge equals bots.
  • Regional traffic spikes. A spike in traffic that comes from a specific region, especially a region where the native language differs from your site’s language is typically the work of bots.

How to Prevent Bot Traffic

You’ll never be able to get rid of all the bots, but there are ways to keep the majority of them at bay. Here are a few tips and tricks you can use to ward off bots from your website:

  • Use legitimate arbitrage. That means buying traffic from known and reputable sources only. This ensures safe traffic that’s also high yielding in PPC and CPM[5]-based ad campaigns
  • Make use of robots.txt HTML coding. Using robots.txt within your HTML coding can keep bots from crawling through your web pages.
  • Set up JavaScript alerts. By setting up JavaScript alerts, you’ll have a contextual alarm system in place that alerts you whenever it picks up on bot activity .
  • Add challenge tests to your site. Type-challenge response tests like CAPTCHA on sign-up or download forms to prevent bots and any other unwanted visitors from moving forward on your site.
  • Continuously evaluate your log files. Since bots like to try to overrun servers, examining your server log error files frequently can help you find and fix any website errors caused by them. 

Don’t Let the Bots Win

Bots are a never-ending nuisance that will eventually destroy your website if you don’t take the proper measures to spot and prevent them. Between the different types of bots you’ll have to deal with, and the fact that they’re only getting smarter, you could have a lot of work ahead of you. 

1. Google Ad Exchange ( Google Ad Manager ) Ad Exchange is often referred to as the premium version of AdSense, and also a Google-owned ad network of sorts. To join Ad Exchange, publishers need to meet specific requirements such as 500 000 minimum monthly traffic, be invited or join through a Google certified partner. Recently Google has rebranded this product, and it is now called Google Ad Manager.
2. programmatic advertising. Programmatic advertising entails using machine learning and technology suites to buy and sell ad inventory with a data-driven process.
3. Search Engine Optimization [SEO] ( SEO ) SEO, also known as Search Engine Optimization, is the process is optimizing a website to rank higher in a search engine. SEO is merely one of the many methods publishers use to send traffic to their sites.
4. Google Analytics. This is Google’s traffic tracking and analytics tool that gives publishers insight into traffic origins, popular pages on their website and much more.
5. Cost Per Mille/Thousand [CPM] ( CPM ) Cost per mille, or thousand (mille = thousand in Latin). A pricing model in which advertisers pay for every 1000 impressions of their advertisement served. This is the standard basic pricing model for online advertising. See also CPC and CPA.

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