In yesterday’s The Daily(ish) Advocate email newsletter, “The Internet’s Gone Bot 💩 Crazy,” (use the form at the bottom of this post to subscribe for free if you’re not already on the list!) we covered how bots are running rampant online.
They eat up budgets in your ad campaigns and affect the quality of traffic on your website.
To make matters worse, they’re super hard to avoid, detect and fight.
But keep your chin up, Sparky! It’s not all doom and gloom.
While you’ll never eliminate them completely, there are things you can do to reduce the number of bots running wild on your site and scarfing up your ad budget like they’re Joey Chestnut at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Here are 5 key bot-busting strategies we’ve discovered as we’ve waged a war against the bots attacking our sites and campaigns…
1. Avoid 3rd Party Search Networks
If you’re running ads directly on Google, Bing or Yahoo, the number of bot clicks you’ll get is relatively low.
It’s when you start expanding campaigns to 3rd party search networks that the bots really come out to party.
For Microsoft Ads, that’s their Search Partner Network. For Google, it’s their Search Partner and Display Networks.
For platforms like Twitter, Fakebook, Outbrain and Taboola, unfortunately, the bots are all over the place.
In any case, if you can run your ads only on the main search sites, you’ll have fewer bots to bust.
2. Bot Fighting Software (maybe)
We tested a few services, ClickCease being the most popular, that claim to help block the fake impressions and clicks you’ll get from bots (and unscrupulous competitors) in your ad campaigns.
Unfortunately, we were very underwhelmed by the results.
To be fair, we only used them on traffic from Microsoft Ads. Maybe they do a better job with Google Ads traffic. But, based on what we saw, we’re skeptical.
What we found most interesting (and frustrating) were the results when we compared two of these services side-by-side.
This was a true apples-to-apples test where both services were running on the same sites at the same time.
While they both showed they flagged a lot of bot traffic, there was almost NO overlap between the traffic each service flagged as fake.
If these services were genuinely effective, you’d think there’d be at least SOME agreement between the two over what traffic was fake and what was legit.
Those results, and some other things we noticed in the data, made us decide not to keep using either service we tested, so we can’t recommend them.
However, your mileage may vary.
So far, the most effective way we’ve found to squash the bots is the Super Bot Fight Mode service from Cloudflare. (They also offer Cloudflare Bot Management for enterprises.)
But the service has a key shortcoming: it does a good job of squashing bots only AFTER they land on your site.
That means you’ll still be paying for clicks from bots if you’re running paid ad campaigns.
But Cloudflare definitely helps if traffic quality is vital to your site. For example, it can help fight all sorts of nastiness (i.e., slowing down sites, fraud, credential stuffing, inventory hoarding) bots can unleash on an e-commerce site.
We love and use Cloudflare on all our websites for all sorts of reasons (which we’ll cover at some point in the future). But, for now, check out their Bot Buster Fight Mode service if you’re struggling with bot traffic on your website.
4. Machine Learning
This is a situation where an ad network’s machine learning algorithms may be your best ally.
If you can ID good quality traffic and the traffic most likely to (legitimately) convert, then the machine learning should, over time, favor the legit traffic and show your ads to bots less and less.
Doesn’t always work, but hey, a guy can dream.
5. Building Exclusion Audiences
This may not always work, but it can be wicked awesome when it does.
If you can ID specific actions bots take on your site, or certain pages they visit, you can create an audience based on those actions/page visits.
We created an audience of that traffic and added it as an Exclusion audience to our Microsoft Ads campaign (basically telling Microsoft not to show our ads to that audience). Doing that has helped cut down on the bot traffic that’d been slamming our site from that campaign.
Unfortunately, there’s no perfect solution when it comes to bots. Even if you use all the strategies above, you’ll still get plenty of these little buggers on your site.
But you at least now have some good options to use to go out there and kick some bot booty!