Last week I read an article in which claims that over 50 per cent of website traffic in the world is comprised by bots. That's alarmingly high. It has taken Indian brands 10 years to embrace the digital medium. It has been sold as a medium which is transparent, trackable and efficient. However, the ecosystem has changed and we are now forced to fight a losing battle with smart bots or robots that have the ability to replicate human behavior on your website.
So what are these so called bots really?
There are two kinds of traffic on any website. One is the kind generated by humans - it has a direct impact on business. The other kind is automated traffic which is good and bad for business. This is automated software designed to replicate human actions such as clicking on ads, increasing likes on Facebook, following your brand on Twitter, filling up leads on a website, stealing information from a website, stealing website content, etc.
Good bots and bad bots...
On the other hand, there are malign bots which comes to your website as part of ad fraud. In 2016, it is estimated that $7.2bn was lost due to ad fraud by advertisers. There was another article I read, which claims that over half the clicks generated are from bots.
There are many ways in which bots can have a negative impact on your business.
1. Click Fraud: A large amount of advertising money is lost due to this, which in turn impacts the efficiency of the marketing campaigns.
2. Form/Comment Spam: Lot of brands end up getting junk leads in their marketing campaigns. This leads to inefficiency of marketing dollars and a lot of precious time is spent on verifying the leads generated.
3. Website Hijack: E-commerce website are at the risk of bots scraping through all the data available on the site and replicating the site. This will have an adverse impact in terms of pricing and inventory strategies.
4. Security breaches or information theft: Websites that have customer information are at risk; bots can skim the data including credit card information, if available. This may also lead to spamming of the brand's own customers.
5. Skewed Analytics: When we look at the KPI of traffic, it always gives a rosy picture. Unfortunately, we aren't able to make sense of this data as analytics doesn't segregate humans versus bots.
6. Slowing down site speeds: Brands often face the dilemma of the website not loading properly. This creates a really bad customer experience leading to drop in customer purchase process.
One segment which benefits from bot traffic is your ad tech company and their affiliates, which are paid to bring traffic to your website. However, this is a very small segment. The fight between advertisers and bots is highly complicated. The underground bot economy is constantly evolving and finding smarter ways to dupe advertisers.
In the past we have used technologies like CAPTCHA on websites to detect and remove bots. Today we have moved onto OTP verification, incoming calls, etc. to avoid bots. That is also being out-maneuvered these days. There are ad-tech firms like Sizmek that are able to monitor click fraud and reduce part of the wastage.
Unfortunately, there aren't many takers for this service, possibly due to short term cost impact. Maybe we haven't truly understood the impact that bots can have on websites and brands.
There are few brands in the world which are leading this fight against bot traffic. In 2016, a brand called Sneakernstuff blocked 40,000 bots a day on its website during peak sales period. Few brands that started their crusade against bots are Cars.com, TrueCar and Autotrader, and this was way back in 2014. In India, brands are aware of bots, but haven't really understood the negative impact this can have on their business. It may be another couple of years before they start creating in-house solutions or getting specialists to intervene.
The objective is to back track the source of bots and optimise the plan. This will help reduce the number of bots and improve efficiency over time.
The first step to reducing bots is acknowledging the existence of bots and knowing how much traffic is human and how much is generated by bots. Until that happens, brands will not be able to fight this menace.
(The author is founder and chief executive officer, What Clicks, a digital media audit and strategy firm)