Bots are pieces of software that are used to replicate humans online. There are ways in which bots can be used as a force for good such as testing applications and monitoring your website (such as bots used by applications like Pingdom and SEMrush). However, there are also many malicious and unhelpful bots out there – some of which could be a danger to your company. Below are just some of the ways in which the latter type of bot can wreak havoc on your business.
Interfering with analytics
Many bots are recorded as regular internet users. As a result, when monitoring your web traffic, it may sometimes seem like you’re getting more internet users than you actually are. Unexplained spikes in users are typically due to bots. Some may even fill out forms or put items in their basket (more of this later). Bots can also affect your advertising campaigns, clicking on your ads to make you think you’re getting more clicks than you actually are, wasting your advertising money.
Some web analytics tools like Google Analytics will allow you to exclude all hits from known bots and spiders. This can help to filter out these unhelpful hits so that you can better understand how your human traffic is interacting with your site. Aside from this, you can always look at the source of traffic. If it’s a suspicious or unknown source, then it’s likely a bot. IP exclusions and ad targeting may meanwhile help to prevent bots clicking on your ads.
Hacking your accounts
Bots can also be deployed by cybercriminals to log into accounts and steal credentials. Some can even inject malware into your site’s code or inject viruses into custom software. You could end up losing money, losing traffic and having your company reputation damaged. These are by far the most malicious type of bot and are the ones that you really want to protect yourself against.
Strong application security will minimize the risk of your accounts being hacked by bots. This includes using bot mitigation tools, data encryption and multi-factor authentication. Developers will usually be able to put these security features in place for you when creating your site or software. If you built your website or application yourself, you will need to make sure that these security features are added.
Inventory hoarding bots are a rarer type of bot that typically target businesses selling valuable rare items like concert tickets or limited edition clothing. Hundreds or thousands of these bots may attack a site at once putting all the items into shopping baskets and holding them there. This prevents any customers from buying these items. The cybercriminal deploying this bot is then able to purchase some of these items and put up the value of them due to the high demand and increased scarcity.
Inventory hoarding bots can usually be protected against by similarly making sure that you applications and website are fully secure. Bot mitigation tools are the best defence.
Sharing data with competitors
Web scraping bots are another threat to look out for. These bots crawl your site and collect data, which they then share with competitors. By having access data like pricing information, it may give your competitors the upper hand.
Web scraping is not illegal, although it can damage your business by giving competitors an unfair advantage. You should keep tabs on your competitors to see if they are likely using web scraping. If competitors regularly steal your content, you can take legal action against this by launching a DMCA complaint.
Harming your search rankings
In some cases, bots may negatively impact your search rankings. Web scraping bots that steal content can do this by creating duplicate content online – your SEO rankings are likely to go down if it is revealed that other sites are using the exact same content as yours. You should also watch out for bots that post links to malicious sites within comment sections, as this can also affect your search rankings by making your site less trustworthy.
To prevent these types of bots damaging your search rankings, it’s worth a) regularly checking the internet for stolen content and b) erasing comments that contain dodgy links. There are tools that you can use to crawl the internet for duplicate content so that you can request its removal. When it comes to comments on your site, you can meanwhile put in place a moderation process that allows you to only publish the comments you desire (this can also help to get rid of general spam and negative comments).
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