In the world of digital marketing, the success of an advertising campaign depends on driving traffic to a website, increasing conversion rates, and ultimately, boosting sales. However, with the rise of traffic bots, achieving these goals has become increasingly challenging. These bots, which simulate human behavior and generate fake clicks and views on ads, can quickly deplete advertising budgets, harm campaign performance, and negatively impact a business’s bottom line.
In this article, we’re going to talk about what exactly traffic bots are, how to identify them, and how to prevent them from impacting your PPC (Pay-Per-Click) ad campaigns.
What are Traffic Bots?
At its core, a traffic bot is a program application designed to mimic human traffic, generating non-human traffic to a website. By doing so, it provides the illusion of an increased number of visitors to the site, boosting metrics like pageviews, clicks, and even conversion rates. However, these metrics are entirely fake, leading marketers to believe that their campaigns are successful when, in reality, they are being sabotaged by bots.
Invalid clicks can be categorized into two types: harmless clicks and fraudulent clicks. Harmless clicks can be the result of accidental clicks by users or clicks from users who lack real purchase intent. However, fraudulent clicks are far more severe and can cause malicious harm to your campaigns. These harmful clicks are caused by click fraud, which involves the intentional clicking of your ads by competitors, publishers artificially inflating click revenue – or traffic bots.
Good Bots vs Bad Bots
There are two types of bots: good bots that are used for gathering information, and bad bots that generate clicks. Some bots infects user devices and generates clicks on their behalf. Other bot networks are more sophisticated and can be used by organizations to click on their competitor’s ads at scale, depleting their ad budget to free up ad space for their own ads. Click farms are also commonly used where laborers are paid to click on ads manually, which has a similar impact as bot networks.
Why Do You Have to Identify Bot Traffic?
Click fraud detection mechanisms have improved significantly in recent years, but cybercriminals who use bots to drive fraudulent traffic continue to develop more sophisticated codes and scripts. This is a serious cyber security issue that requires the attention of specialists. The bots used for click fraud are becoming more complex, and it is essential to keep up with their tactics in order to prevent them from hindering the performance of online ads. Detecting and identifying bot traffic is essential for several reasons:
It Ruins Your Analytics: Bot traffic can ruin your website analytics data, misleading you into making the wrong decisions. If you rely on metrics like bounce rate and session duration, your analysis will not show the real picture of your target audience’s behavior. Filtering out bot traffic is therefore necessary to avoid making the wrong marketing decisions that could hurt your business in various ways.
It Increases the Cost of Tools: Bot traffic also increases the cost of various tools and apps used by businesses. Most marketing, sales, and other tools charge based on traffic, which means that bot traffic will increase the cost for businesses. By filtering out bot traffic, businesses can save money and pay less for various tools and apps in the market.
It’s Related to PPC Fraud: One of the most significant reasons to identify bot traffic is to prevent PPC fraud. Bot traffic is extensively used in click fraud to sabotage competitors’ ad campaigns and earn money by selling fake clicks and ad impressions. By protecting your ads from click fraud and click bots you can optimize campaigns using legitimate metrics, improve ROAS by removing wasteful traffic, and get clicks on your ads that lead to real conversions.
How to Identify Bot Traffic
Differentiating between bots and humans is getting increasingly complicated, as bots replicate human behavior. Your analytics tool (e.g. Google Analytics) can’t detect bot traffic but it can help you identify it. Here is how to do it:
1. Look for Traffic Spikes
If your analytics show an instant spike in traffic for any given day without you taking any initiative for a traffic increase, it is bot traffic.
Here is an example:
Without bots meddling with your data, your traffic will increase gradually over time. But when you see a sudden spike, you need to further analyze the traffic on that given day to identify bot traffic.
2. Look for the Right Metrics in Your Analytics
When identifying bot traffic, the three most crucial metrics that you must inspect include bounce rate, session duration, and the number of sessions per user.
Here is how to identify bot traffic using key metrics in your analytics tool:
- Bot traffic has a high bounce rate
- Traffic from bots isn’t distributed rather all the visits generate simultaneously within a few minutes
- Bot traffic has a low average session duration as its purpose isn’t to spend time on your website. It comes and leaves instantly
- Bots don’t click on links, especially internal links. Their entry and exit page are the same and thus the number of sessions per user will be 1
- Pages per session will be one too as they don’t move to other pages
- All the users appear to be new.
Here is an example of how bot traffic looks like in Google Analytics:
All the bots visited the website between 8 and 10 am, they showed a 100% bounce rate and zero average session duration. This is evident that the traffic was generated by bots.
3. Analyze the Traffic Source
Bot traffic is usually direct. This is because bots don’t find your website in search engines and they rarely originate from a referral. However, bots can hit your website via a referral traffic source – but that’s rare.
Once you have analyzed the key metrics, head to the traffic source to see where all those new users came from:
Out of 56, 51 users aren’t human and these 51 users were nothing but bots.
4. Look at Location and Language
If your website receives traffic from a country or region you aren’t targeting, it could be a sign that bots visited your website. For example, if you offer plumbing services in a small area in Austin Texas, and analytics show that you are receiving traffic from Germany – that’s bot traffic.
Similarly, if you are targeting a specific country and you are using country-code TLD and you start getting traffic from another country that you aren’t targeting means you are getting bot traffic.
The same is the case with language.
If your website is in your local language, the bot traffic can be identified by looking at the language. If the users have any other language than your website’s language, it is a clear sign you are receiving bot traffic that needs to be excluded.
5. Analyze Your Server Performance
A degraded server performance with a spike in traffic during those hours is another way to identify bot traffic. Bots hit your website for a short period of time and this slows your server as it gets hard for it to handle such a high volume of traffic in a short period of time.
A Denial of Service (DoS) attack is usually used to exhaust your website’s resources and crash or even shut down your server by sending heaps of bot traffic. If you ever experience such an issue, you should definitely search for bot activity.
6. Search for Suspicious IP Addresses
Tracing IPs that send a lot of traffic in a short period of time to your website is one of the best ways to identify bot traffic. If a single IP address sends a lot of traffic, you need to block it so that visits from the IP aren’t tracked by your analytics tool.
Excluding IP addresses to safeguard your website from bot traffic is the best way as IP address is the basic constituent of bots.
7. Watch Out for Poor Conversions
If all else fails, consider your website’s conversion rate.
If you notice that you are receiving a lot of traffic but the conversion rate is extremely low, you need to dig further as it is an indication that you are getting bot traffic.
Bots don’t convert. They just visit your website and leave. If your conversions sink instantly coupled with a spike in traffic, this is another indication of bot traffic.
Also, your conversion rate increases or decreases gradually as you incorporate CRO techniques across your website. It doesn’t fluctuate overnight. Monitor conversions and look for a sudden plunge.
Set Up IP Exclusions
If you spot a click fraud caused by the traffic bot your best chance at stopping it for the moment is excluding its IP address.
By making Google not to display your ad to that address, traffic bot should be unable to reach it, and therefore click fraud can be stopped.
This is a fast, effective but definitely not long-term solution for stopping the traffic bot as you will be required to monitor your campaigns constantly in order to stop the traffic bot once it starts acting.
Setting it up is super simple:
- Open your Google Adwords and go to the settings tab
- Click on the campaign you want to exclude IP address from
- In Advanced settings you will find IP exclusions option where you will just paste the fraudulent IP and Save settings.
Run retargeting campaigns
Running retargeting campaign may decrease the probability of your ads being suffocated with traffic bot. Basically, a retargeting campaign will make your ads pop only to people who visited your website in the past.
Bear in mind that the price of these ads is usually higher, but it’s definitely a safer way to advertise instead of just getting your campaign out there.
If you’re advertising for leads and offering download forms or sign-up options it is good to have reCAPTCHA on it.
Add reCAPTCHA to your website and it will protect you from certain types of traffic bots.
Setting it up is fairly simple and you can follow this guide by Google.
Exclude specific countries/regions
Let’s say, for example, that you already blocked 3 IP addresses that are from a certain country or region.
The next logical step is instead of constantly blocking various IPs, you exclude the region where your Google Ads campaign will be displayed.
That way, if the traffic bot has common IP from a certain country, it won’t be able to act.
Note, however, that this isn’t a solution if the traffic bot has the IP from the country you’re actually targeting.
How To Stop Traffic Bots Effectively
Bearing in mind that the estimated costs related to digital advertising fraud worldwide are growing exponentially, and set to reach as much 100 million dollars in 2023, gaining a comprehensive understanding of your clicks has become more important than ever before.
However, in order to effectively combat click fraud, relying solely on competitor blocking or exclusive publishing is not sufficient. To truly protect your ad campaigns, it’s important to continually monitor clicks and their locations. However, this auditing process can be time-consuming and prone to missed details.
Ultimately, the best way to stop click fraud is using Click Fraud Protection Software – and ClickGUARD’s automated click fraud blocking system is precisely what every data-driven marketer needs. By essentially acting as a firewall that shields your ads, ClickGUARD protects ads from fraudulent clicks and wasteful traffic by analyzing and assessing each click based on IP address, location, device, and more.
Our solution doesn’t just protect you from traffic bots, but it also protects you from:
- Competitor clicks
- Click farm networks
- Anonymous proxy clicks
- Rogue web crawlers
…And many other things click fraudsters use to decrease the efficiency of your Google Ads campaigns.
Our latest version also comes with many new and exciting features, such as Facebook Ads support, fully automated capabilities, a new and more intuitive user experience, value-focused pricing adjustments and account auto-upgrading, improved multi-account support, and improved reporting tools.
What are Traffic Bots?
Traffic bots are programs that imitate human traffic and provide fake website traffic, increasing pageviews, clicks, and conversion rates, leading marketers to believe that their campaigns are successful when, in reality, they are being sabotaged by bots.
Are all traffic bots bad?
Not all traffic bots are bad. Good bots are used by search engines to crawl and index websites, as well as by online security services to identify potential threats. However, bad bots can be used to generate fake clicks, inflate website metrics, or exhaust a competitor’s ad spend.
How do you identify Traffic bots?
You can use various methods such as analyzing website logs to see unusual patterns in traffic, checking the source of the traffic to see if it’s coming from known bot networks, and implementing bot detection software to identify and block bots in real-time.
How do Traffic Bots impact businesses?
Bot traffic can ruin your website analytics data and mislead you into making wrong decisions. Bot traffic is also extensively used in click fraud to sabotage competitors’ ad campaigns, or to increase the costs of any tools, apps, or ad platforms that charge based on web traffic.
How do you stop traffic bots from affecting your ads?
You can stop traffic bots by setting up IP exclusions, running retargeting campaigns, using reCAPTCHA, or excluding specific regions. The most effective method, however, is to use trusted click fraud detection and prevention software.