A Bot Last Night…

A Bot Last Night.jpg

Robotics, automation, artificial intelligence … the future!  News Alert:  It’s already here.  Our lives have become easier thanks to incredible innovations from Silicon Valley to Main Street arriving at a dizzying pace.  Want to know if your route to Grandma’s just turned into a parking lot? Waze will redirect before you’re stuck.  How about selling your ballgame ticket at the best price thanks to a late meeting just sprung upon you?  Stubhub to the rescue.  When did you last drive to your bank to deposit a check? A :30 second scan on your bank’s app and you’re back to social media for hours on end.  Progress!

Sort of.  All of this innovation comes at a cost.  No, this isn’t a lecture about the ills of an intolerant society due to the anonymity of virtual existence.  We’re talking about the nefarious use of technology to steal your marketing dollars.

Bots and click farms are the underbelly of marketing innovation.  As performance marketing rose with great fanfare, the thieves were lurking.  Cost per click and cost per view were enthusiastically embraced by an all too eager industry where mitigating the risk of low performing campaigns was an exciting proposition.  Who wouldn’t want to pay solely for the traffic they receive?  Pump the breaks.  Those who generate traffic are in on the game and the unscrupulous are always one step ahead just waiting to spring into action and gobble up your marketing dollars.

When these tactics first came on the scene, simple analytics could easily identify fraud via rudimentary traffic patterns that were not indicative of human browsing behavior.  The fix was simple:  Deduct the garbage traffic from the good and pay only for the ‘good’.  But the bad actors have become increasingly sophisticated in masking their appearance via dynamic IP addresses, varying geographies, and incremental timing of traffic to your site so as not to appear in batches.

How do we remedy?  With respect to email marketing its best to understand the motivation of those responsible.  Why do bots and click farms want to infiltrate your email campaign?

Couple of reasons: The first and most nefarious is the purposeful inflation of site traffic by an email list provider to suggest a strong response and engagement to your offer so you continue to pay to deploy email!  The good news is this is pretty quickly remedied by no longer using that email list provider (be sure to never pre-pay!) when sales fail to occur.  Another prevalent cause is malware resting on the IPs of your email recipients.  While the intended target is in fact a real person who has opted-into the list, bots may be lying in wait, ready to kick into gear upon receipt of your email.  Some of these include:

1.       Scrapers.  This sort of malware accesses landing pages linked within the email, grabbing information from your site to gain marketing intelligence (e.g. what is the company offering to this recipient that they have identified as a “prospect”).  With this information, they can build targeting profiles of your prospects and/or customers to then sell to other companies.

2.       Ransomware.  This type of malware wants to see all site content in hopes of ‘catching’ the email recipient with browsing behavior to extort a ransom by ‘outing’ embarrassing website surfing.

3.       Firewalls and Anti-Virus Programs.  Both may thoroughly inspect the links within the email, generating clicks, to ensure that proper legal and disclaimers are in place before allowing the email to proceed to the in-box.  These gatekeepers, while good, can cause an uptick in site traffic if you’re not careful to identify.

So what can we do?  When using e-mail lists for acquisition prospect marketing, demand that ad fraud detection is baked into the deployment.  These services ensure that emails causing invalid traffic are continuously cleaned from the prospect database.  When evaluating your traffic, ditch the IP address investigation and focus instead on site visitor behavior.  If you see larger than typical percentages going directly to obscure areas of your website, you likely have a problem.  Or if you see a pattern of pages being accessed with no activity (mouse scrolling, etc.) before moving to another page, that’s another problem.  Especially if you see identical scrolling occurring at regular intervals over a period of time (30 seconds, 45 seconds, 60 seconds, etc.) before loading another page, happening again and again.  These are scripts designed to look legit when viewed independently but whose patterns reveal an intent to deceive.

TMA Direct goes to great lengths to pair our clients only with email providers that have processes in place to deliver only the most legitimate traffic to your site.We have tools built into our data sourcing to protect you against fake traffic.If you are experiencing – or suspect - fraudulent visitors from your email traffic, we can help!

Faith Sherry