What every B2B marketer needs to know about bots and fake Web traffic

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You’ve heard about bots and traffic fraud. You know it exists but are you aware of how prevalent it is and how it can affect your B2B firm’s bottom line?

Online, B2B and B2C advertisers are able to specifically target companies who are likely to be interested in their products or services. If, for example, a company is constantly checking up on all things heavy duty construction equipment, another company could target that person directly with some specific offers about whatever kind of equipment they’ve been searching for.

In other words, the data generated by the Internet, in theory, makes it incredibly easier for B2B marketers to successfully target their audiences. In theory, that is.

Sobering news for online marketers

It turns out that when it comes to advertising on the web, marketers can never be sure that humans are actually seeing their ads in the first place. This is due to the fact that a whopping 36 percent of all web traffic is fake. Yes, you read that correctly. More than one out of every three impressions made on the web are not made by human beings.

Here’s how this happens: Advertisers pay for their ads to be hosted on websites. Many of them pay simply a correlating figure to how many ad impressions the page with their ad on it receives. So if the stats say that 100,000 people visited a site during a month, let’s say, advertisers would have to pay the cost to reach 100,000 folks — even if 36,000 of them weren’t real humans. (Other marketers pay according to how many times their ads are clicked—something that can be similarly faked, too.)

You might wonder why advertisers continue forking over money for something they know isn’t as effective as it’s claimed to be. The answer is quite simple: The Internet is an enormous space. To be effective, marketers have to reach their audience, which unfortunately means they have to try to be in all places at once. You’ve heard this described also as “spray and pray.”

Rather than try to figure out where to target manually, advertisers use software of their own to find the best sites to place ads. Essentially, this enables them to buy a slew of ad space and quickly, spreading their advertisements over all corners of the web.

While it might seem somewhat counterintuitive due to the false impressions they’re paying for, ad execs feel as though there are more pros than cons to digital spend. Believe it or not, industry pundits expect 80 percent of all digital spend will be bought programmatically within the next decade.

The rise of click fraud bots

According to an October 2015 study from Adweek, advertisers will lose roughly $6 billion from ad fraud. How does this work? Essentially, programmers create scripts that mimic the behavior of an average web user, clicking on ads and reloading web pages. They’re called click fraud bots, and they’re designed to give folks who sell ad space more revenue — while deceiving marketers.

Bot chart via White Ops Inc
Bot chart via White Ops Inc

Paying for advertising isn’t the only way your company could be losing money from this. Let’s say you sell software to midsized companies. You find that one of your product pages is showing that it’s getting a ton of traffic in Google Analytics. You start to pour money into that product, and after a few months see that the traffic has dropped to zero. What happened? Likely, that huge amount of traffic at the start you saw came from fake bots. Once that went away, you realized you just wasted money on a product that wasn’t nearly as popular as you thought.

Other kinds of bots can give marketers pause, too. For example, there are bots that can populate social media profiles with tens of thousands of fake users. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, for example, has over 1 million fake Twitter followers, as does Donald Trump, her possible Republican rival.

Many companies and digital properties use similar services, which can confuse marketers when it comes to figuring out where to advertise in order to get the most bang for their buck.

“Nobody knows the exact number,” says veteran ad executive Bob Hoffman to Bloomberg, “but probably about 50 percent of what you’re spending online is being stolen from you.”

But there’s good news!

Thankfully, smart marketers are able to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, when it comes to parsing their actual traffic data from the traffic data generated by bots.

For example, to remove referrer spam in Google Analytics:

  1. Access the Referrals report in Google Analytics.
  2. Sort the list by bounce rate in descending order.
  3. Find referrers with either 0% or 100% bounce rates and at least 10 sessions.
  4. Compare what you see to this ultimate referrer blacklist.
  5. If it’s there, it’s spam.
  6. If it’s not there, head over to the referrer website to see whether its legit (but browse the web safely! There could be malware there.)
  7. After figuring out that the referrers are indeed spam, block them by adding advanced filters.

The good news about the Internet is that there’s no shortage of guides that’ll help you remove referral spam should you need more help.

The bottom line is that marketers need to use the web to be successful. That’s a no-brainer. Unfortunately, there are a lot of ill-intentioned individuals and firms out there who are always looking to make a quick buck. By being proactive and spending your time figuring out how to conquer referral spam, however, you can be much more successful in your advertising efforts.

Good luck!

Main photo via rivalhost.com

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Scott Huntington

Scott Huntington

Scott Huntington is a business writer from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in Forbes, Business Insider, Time, Inc, and more. He also covers the automotive industry and writes about cars at Off The Throttle in his free time. Follow him on Twitter at @SMHuntington.