To understand what bot traffic is, you first need to understand the behavior of a real user. A real user has a browser, and an app can automate a browser, so it doesn’t have to depend on the human being for every action.
The app can load a webpage, click buttons and links, fill out forms, etc., just as if a person were doing those things. This is what enables spam bots to do their dastardly deeds. Even more dangerous are “spider” bots from search engines that search your site looking for content to add to their indexes.
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What is Bot Traffic?
Since the beginning of the web, bots have been around, but they have become much more prevalent in recent years. For example, Google’s indexing bots and image-sharing bots almost exclusively control most internet traffic today.
Certain types of bot activity can be beneficial to you by helping you identify problems faster and increasing the quality of your data. But there are still plenty of bad bots out there that can cost you money in lost revenue, damage your reputation and hurt your search engine rankings.
Identifying Bot Traffic
Most browsers act like real users, so it’s not easy to tell the difference between a browser and an app pretending to be one. Fortunately, bot traffic is easier than other classes of non-human visitors since they don’t send referrer information that identifies where they came from, nor do they pass cookies containing user preferences or user-id information.
Bot traffic can be identified through regular expressions and rules written for various or specific purposes. Many available tools help you determine if your website’s traffic is of human beings.
Some have been created by big data companies such as Google Analytics which comes with a set of default filters to block bots, but you can also use 3rd party services.
Bot Traffic Effect on Analytics
Blocking bots can reduce your bounce rate (since they don’t typically view all pages before leaving the site). Some analytics programs go even further by blocking page requests made from known crawlers used by search engines to avoid skewing keyword reports, where “keyword stuffing” might appear as a popular search term.
Using analytics, you can also see where bots are making requests from and who they’re registered to (e.g., Googlebot is registered to “googlebot.com”). You can then block those IP addresses at the webserver level or through your analytics software directly to reduce their impact on your data.
The downside of blocking known crawlers is that you also lose access to other good traffic sources such as social media platforms and content scrapers. Sometimes it’s challenging to differentiate between bad and good bots, so blocking IP addresses without exception may not be the best solution for all cases.
In any case, if you do choose this method, make sure that you monitor your site closely to ensure that it hasn’t drastically decreased your access to “good” bots.
Blocking is always better than allowing because if you allow, you lose the ability to block bots. If you need to increase bot filtering, we encourage you to always enable blocking and then report on your data to see what’s occurring on your site.
As with any filter or modification of analytics (e.g., removing referrals from a particular domain or user-agent), make sure that you monitor data closely and adjust as necessary to negatively impact good traffic sources such as social media platforms and other bots.
Filtering Bot Traffic
The best way to deal with unwanted bot visitors is by using filters in Google Analytics. But you can also use bot block and detection tools from 3rd party companies.
Filtering out known crawlers used by search engines, as explained in the previous point, is an excellent initial step to take. Google Analytics provides a basic filter that will re-route traffic from known bots to a separate tracking view, which you can theme with custom colors and rules.
This will help you identify if your site’s traffic is of human beings and help you monitor what type of content these visitors are viewing and how long they’re staying on your site.
Blocking by IP address at the webserver level or through your analytics software directly (e.g., 404 errors) is another quick way to deal with non-human visitors. Make sure to report on your data to ensure that you haven’t blocked essential traffic sources such as social media platforms or other bots.
Many more advanced filters can be applied, but the most effective way to learn what type of filters work best for you is by reporting on your analytics data and trying different methods based on the results.
After all, even if non-human traffic is identified, it’s still difficult to say whether they came from “good” or “bad” bots, so allowing some level of bot traffic might continue to provide helpful information about your site performance.
For example, if your goal is to get more social media followers, it would be unwise to block every user agent associated with social media platforms, even if they’re “robot” visitors. After all, there are several good reasons why bots might be visiting your website.
How Can Bot Traffic Hurt?
Malicious bots can manipulate search engine rankings by increasing your website’s link count through spam links. Using bots, hackers can bring down your website with DDoS attacks.
They also get into people’s email accounts and steal data that they sell on the black market. Finally, many botnets are used for malware distribution which spreads viruses to innocent users worldwide.
How Can Bot Traffic Be Bad for Business?
Botnets are responsible for delivering enormous amounts of malware, so web hosting companies have had to increase bandwidth capacity to filter out bogus data before it affects user experience.
Large corporations can’t keep up with the amount of junk traffic generated 24/7 by botnets, so they use cloud computing resources to re-route traffic through different servers. However, this increases their bandwidth costs.
How Can Websites Manage Bot Traffic?
Since it is so difficult to identify which visitors are bots and which are human users, it is recommended that you implement anti-bot security measures using Cloudflare, Incapsula, or similar services to protect your site against malicious activity caused by bots.
It is essential to distinguish between human users and bots to filter out malicious activity caused by bots. As seen from this article, having a strategy to filter out bot traffic is a must for anyone who does not want their website being used as part of a more significant attack or wants to maximize ROI on their marketing dollars.
There are many ways you can tell if your site’s visitors are bots or not. The easiest way is looking at their user agent string which is different from those made by browsers or internet-enabled devices.