Ralph PerrierJune 7, 2017

The job of a traffic bot is to frustrate the results of a true data-driven marketer. Simple as it sounds, the 9 to 5 of a traffic bot is to provide fake metrics and hinder results.

So in this article, we’re going to talk about what is actually a traffic bot and how to stop it in order to have the best campaign results.

What Is Traffic Bot Actually?

Traffic bot is a program application designed to mimic human traffic, so essentially they are non-human traffic.

Marketers work day and night toward one goal - drive traffic to the website of their clients, raise the conversion rates to eventually increase the sales. All of the work they do follows this goal and there are a lot of tools and methods that help them reach the desired result. Pay-per-click ads are such tools. 

They are very flexible and, what is more important, they can reach a variety of people and meanwhile be targeted. Online PPC ads offer the full package for not so high prices given the fact that it works immediately. But let’s be realistic, 9 out of 10 times, ads won’t boost the sales right away.

The traffic bot and click fraud

Traffic bot: As the name suggests, publishers charge for pay-per-click ads based on the clicks that the ad gets. The quantity doesn’t matter to the advertiser, well, it is directly connected to the price they are going to pay but in terms of traffic and conversion rates, the amount doesn’t matter a lot.

But for the same reason, it matters to the publisher, so they have a huge incentive, in the form of money, to generate as many clicks as possible. A classic conflict of interests, which is usually solved in favor of publishers. This is where the traffic bot of sorts has a lot of leverage.

What you can't measure, you can't manage - avoid the traffic bot!

Traffic bot never trust it
What you can't measure you can't manage - avoid the traffic bot!

The Bad Bots Generate Clicks

Why am I emphasizing bad? There are good bots too that are utilized for good purposes. For instance, you can use bots to gather information. But click fraud prevention mechanisms deal with the bad ones. 

The most common traffic bot can infect the device of users and click on the ads on their behalf. According to a study by Incapsula, in 2015 the traffic driven by humans was 51% of the total and 29% by bad bots. Even though it is less than wanted clicks, bots still interfere and mess up the big picture and analysis of the ads.

Click fraud detection mechanisms work quite well now. However, the cybercriminals who use the bots to drive fraud traffic try to keep up with these mechanisms. They use more elaborate codes and scripts. This, of course, is a cyber security issue and has the attention of specialists.

Why Do You Have to Identify Bot Traffic?

Detecting and identifying bot traffic is essential for several reasons.

It Ruins Your Analytics

First, bot traffic ruins your analytics data. The metrics that you use to monitor the health of your website and traffic don’t show the real picture. For example, bot traffic has a high bounce rate and low session duration. This has dire consequences.

If you choose to unpublish a blog post because it has a low session duration and high bounce rate, you might decide your target audience doesn’t like it (and thus, you will not write anything on the same topic ever again). What if your blog post was receiving bot traffic, though?

If that is the case, you might end up making a wrong decision based on bot traffic. You never know, this blog post might turn out to be a goldmine for your business should you have filtered bot traffic.

When your analytics is flawed, it will hurt your business in several aspects as you'll be making the wrong decisions.

It Increases the Cost of Tools

Second, bot traffic increases the cost of tools and apps that you are using. Most of the marketing, sales, and other tools that businesses charge you on the basis of your traffic. Here is an example from Hotjar pricing:

More traffic means a higher cost. You need to get rid of bot traffic if you want to pay less for several tools and apps in the market.

It's Related to PPC Fraud

One of the key reasons why you have to identify bot traffic is to avoid PPC fraud. Bots are extensively used in click fraud to sabotage competitors’ ad campaigns and to earn money. Fraudsters create fake websites, ads, and apps to make heaps of money by selling fake clicks and ad impressions.

Identifying and excluding IP addresses that send invalid clicks to your ads will optimize campaigns and ad costs. It will also improve ROAS, conversions, and several other metrics.

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:

bot traffic spike

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:

metrics for bot traffic activity
  1. Bot traffic has a high bounce rate
  2. Traffic from bots isn’t distributed rather all the visits generate simultaneously within a few minutes
  3. Bot traffic has a low average session duration as its purpose isn’t to spend time on your website. It comes and leaves instantly
  4. 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
  5. Pages per session will be one too as they don’t move to other pages
  6. All the users appear to be new.

Here is an example of how bot traffic looks like in Google Analytics:

bot traffic metrics

Easy to detect, right?

All the bots visited the website between 8 and10 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:

bot traffic source

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 (that’s the whole idea behind them, right?)

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.

How To Stop Google Ads Click Fraud and Traffic Bot

In order to get the most out of your campaigns, it’s essential you keep an eye on traffic bots, as click fraud can happen within seconds and mess up everything.

Bearing in mind that click fraud is growing every year and that traffic bots will be causing almost 100 million dollars worth of damage by 2023, knowing your clicks is out of great importance.

Therefore, here are some effective ways you can stop click fraud and traffic bots.

Use ClickGuard’s Click Fraud Protection Software

Ultimately, the best way to stop click fraud is using Click Fraud Protection Software (not that we're bragging here, but ClickGUARD's click forensics is precisely what every data-driven marketer needs).

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.

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:

  1. Open your Google Adwords and go to the settings tab
  2. Click on the campaign you want to exclude IP address from
  3. In Advanced settings you will find IP exclusions option where you will just paste the fraudulent IP and Save settings.

Run retargeting campaign

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.

Use reCAPTCHA

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 easily find a guide online.

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.

Bear in mind that this isn’t a solution if the traffic bot has the IP from the country you’re actually targeting, but it may resolve the problem.

Conclusion

Are you aware of the "Traffic bot"? This is a call-to-action for all the advertisers and businesses out there that use PPC ads to run digital advertising campaigns. Keep in mind that your ad won’t serve its purpose unless you start using click fraud detection and prevention methods.

Blocking your competitors or publishing exclusively only on reliable sites is not enough. You need to constantly keep an eye on the clicks and their locations. Only that way you can detect fraudsters and get rid of them.

Doing the auditing on your own can be a lot of trouble and you can easily miss a detail that will cost you your traffic. Save your time and make good use of click fraud detection software like ClickGUARD. The specialists at ClickGUARD worked hard to come up with algorithms that not only detect suspicious sources of clicks but also block them. As a result, the software saves you from further inconveniences.

Let your marketers and advertisers do the creative part of the work and trust the safety to specialized click fraud prevention software like ClickGUARD.

Ralph works with department leads to ensure they are well-integrated, highly motivated and focused on changing the AdTech space for digital marketers by delivering game-changing products and personal experiences.