If you’re an affiliate marketer, chances are your landing pages have fallen subject to bad bot traffic a time or two. It is sometimes inevitable to cough up a few cents here and there from bots — but some marketers have lost tons of money to stealthy bot traffic. Statistics show that a staggering 50 percent of all online advertising will never be seen by human eyes. How does ad fraud of this grand scale happen, you might ask?
In many cases, marketers have fallen victim to deceitful publisher tactics, utilizing bots to drive up traffic on their sites, leaving you to pay the bill. So, are you missing the tell-tale signs of bot traffic, like many affiliate marketers? Check out this list gathered by MGID of common bot traffic indicators — but first, let’s take a look at why bot traffic is so detrimental to affiliate marketing revenue.
Why is bot traffic bad for an affiliate marketer’s business?
Bot traffic — which is essentially software applications performing automated tasks on the web — can be good and bad. Search engines crawling your site for indexing purposes is good bot traffic. Negative traffic occurs when bots raid your content for malicious reasons, or to generate false ad clicks. This is where deceptive publishers come into play.
Because publishers are partially compensated by paid traffic sources for clicks on affiliate marketers’ displayed ads, many will write scripts for bots to enter their sites, click ads and exit immediately. This is a click that, as an affiliate marketer, you will pay for, while receiving no real engagement or benefit for that paid click. The traffic source and publisher still make revenue, and you essentially lose.
One click may seem like a small drop in the lost revenue bucket, but when amplified by thousands, or even millions, of false ad clicks, deceptive bot traffic can be devastating to even the most expert affiliate marketers.
How to detect negative bot traffic
Now that we know how and why shady publishers and bot traffic are so detrimental, let’s take a look at how to detect this type of traffic before it begins, or continues, to plague your revenue stream.
Pay closer attention to impression metrics
There are many indicators within your traffic numbers that can help you detect bots. For instance, bots are programmed to show up, wreck shop on your content in one way or another, and leave within a matter of milliseconds. If your statistics show average time of site is low to practically nothing and bounce rates are high, bots are likely running rampant through your impressions data. Closely analyzing your metrics is the first step to detecting bad bot traffic.
Establish a standard CTR
In addition to these stats, the easiest way to spot bot traffic is by assessing your CTR. Do some research to establish a good, standard CTR for your monetized content, taking into consideration variation based on utilized digital platforms, devices and ad campaigns — and begin sifting through your engagement metrics results for anything that doesn’t measure up to that standard. For example, if you have thousands of impressions but very little or no ad clicks, you are most likely a victim of bot traffic.
Create bot traps
Yes, even pesky online critters can be caught, and setting traps for bots is easier than you might think. While bots are created to imitate real engagement, bots and humans tend to interact inherently different with the same displayed content.
To play on this difference, create a link on your landing page that’s too small to be detectible by the human eye, but noticeable to bots. Because human visitors cannot spot the link, any interaction will expose the visitor as a bot. You can then analyze this type of traffic to determine if the bot traffic is beneficial or malicious. Creating bot traps like this requires certain parameters (check out this article on the particulars), but is a commonly utilized and successful tactic for separating real traffic from the fake.
In 2016 alone, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) estimated that $7.2 billion was lost to ad fraud. Use these tactics above to ensure you do not become another scorned, outsmarted affiliate marketer in that number. If any of these signs look familiar, it may be time to reconsider your publishers, take action to reboot affiliate strategies, and recoup your marketing revenue.