In the UK, 44% of online traffic is now suspicious, attributed to so-called bot traffic. And this year alone, digital advertisers are predicted to waste £6 billion on this non-human traffic. On the face of it, these look to be pretty depressing statistics for those of us working in digital advertising. But is this really the case or is this just scaremongering?

Ok, so Solve Media, the company that produced the research behind these stats, has a vested interest in highlighting how bad things are as far as bot traffic is concerned. Its main product, Captcha, helps protect sites against non-human traffic. But it does bring an important issue to the fore – that bot traffic is out there and it’s a problem that is not going away.

Bot traffic is used to ‘visit’ sites, artificially inflate page-views and therefore enlarge the audience size of a particular website or network of sites. Larger audience figures means the publisher can sell more advertising inventory, but it can even go further than this. The Bots may “click” on the ads and even go on to complete on-site actions to inflate the perceived quality of the traffic. Click through rates and on-site conversions are typical proxies for campaign success and if a bot can deliver these it can hide the true value of the traffic.

Bots Inflate Costs

If left unaddressed bot traffic could have serious, long-lasting implications. It could undermine publishers, with advertisers losing trust in the inventory they are selling. Likewise, the wasted spend inflates performance costs. This in itself limits the amount of spend advertisers are willing to invest into display as a channel, minimising the return both the publisher and the advertiser can make from online display.

But here’s the important point – there are procedures you can put in place to protect your digital advertising budget and make sure that the money you are investing is not being gobbled up by bots. Although the risk exists, it is not something that should put you off looking to display as an extremely valuable and impactful marketing channel. Be aware of the risk and work with your partners to analyse its impact on your campaigns.

It is worth knowing that the problem differs from site to site – well known publishers typically have very low bot traffic as a percentage of their audience. When buying advertising, publishers will often be classed based on content quality and audience size. You can therefore buy advertising based on site Tiers, where Tier 1 and 2 sites have low bot risk. It may be more expensive, but the money you are investing is much less likely to be wasted on bots.

From there, the best approach to minimise risk is to use a mix of automated and manual checks to ensure you are buying actual eyeballs rather than automated impressions.

Tools can Help

There are tools available that have in-built protection systems that monitor for over 300 bots known to the IAB, which is a good starting point. The tools access this information through an ever-growing list that is paid for on a subscription basis.

Bot traffic also has certain characteristics that you can keep an eye out for, such as large amounts of impressions or clicks in a short space of time. If anything is suspicious you can remove the sites and can raise it directly with the publishers or ad exchanges. Again there are programmes that monitor for this kind of activity.

But you can’t leave it all to automated tools. It is absolutely worth having dedicated people monitoring performance day to day, while also working closely with ad exchange partners to weed out the bots.  

Unfortunately, you can’t remove all risk, but when you buy media on a performance basis that is kept under close scrutiny, underperforming areas should be quickly weeded out, so wasted budget should not be an issue. Ultimately, whether that under-performance is driven by poor targeting, poor creative or even non-human traffic a vigilant approach to media buying should ensure the impact is minimal.