3 proven tactics to combat bogus traffic

A couple months ago, the online marketing community was up in arms over one little statistic. The Wall Street Journal reported that about one-third (36 percent) of online traffic is bogus, causing concern for online marketers and advertisers alike over the validity of their current analytics and reporting.

Are all the numbers we've all been using to show success, as bogus as inauthentic traffic? Have we all been wasting money?

As digital advertising spend climbs towards $50 billion this year, it's important for advertisers to achieve accurate ROI to justify these increasingly rising investments. It's understandable for the industry to stop and question the accuracy of its results and wonder if we are all throwing away 30 percent of online advertising budgets on bogus traffic.

The thing is, while the statistic is new information, the presence of bogus traffic is not. Black hat tactics and bots have been gaming the system for as long as, well, there's been a system to game. For just as long, there have been marketers developing more sophisticated strategies and tactics to combat digital search malpractice. For years bots and marketers have fallen into an endless feedback loop of symbiotic evolution. Are marketers doomed to forever be at the mercy of bogus traffic? No. There are actually a lot of ways that marketers can work around bogus traffic in order to accurately attribute valuable traffic.

What is bogus traffic really?

Before you can find the best defense against bogus traffic for your company, it's important to understand the basics. At the core, bogus traffic is traffic that will never convert to a conversion. You can often identify the existence of bogus traffic to your site if you experience unaccountable spikes in traffic (clicks or impressions) in an abrupt period of time without a correlating increase in conversions. In truth, bogus traffic is a real threat, but there are also a few tactics your agency or in-house team can implement to circumvent pesky fake bots.

Filtering

One way to scout out and separate bogus traffic is through simple filtering. Bots typically enter your site in the form of direct traffic. They generally don't request embedded objects, such as images, JavaScript, or CSS, so sites can use JS flags to exclude bots based on this information. Sites can also look at the user-agent or referring domains to determine and filter out potential bot activity, and then blacklist IP addresses or user agents known to be associated with bots.

Filtering frequently requires manually reviewing traffic and determining which referring domains to exclude. Sifting out suspicious traffic, and invalidating visits, which came from suspicious IP addresses, can be tricky when trying to ensure that bot activity does not go undetected. Having your analytics team set up alerts to flag sessions that have unrealistically high page views can make it a little more automated.

Analytics

Using alerts isn't the only way your analytics team can help separate bogus traffic from authentic visits. Data can easily identify suspicious trends, spikes in traffic without conversions, or an increase in page visits without any conversions. It's important to monitor conversions on a regular basis -- daily and weekly -- to determine a baseline to identify suspiciously high traffic combined with low conversion rates. This is great to ensure you're not paying for bot traffic that does not convert.

But, ultimately, it comes down to the cost of sale, conversion rate, and profitability. Essentially, the price of acquiring traffic should never exceed your profit margin. The easiest way to weight numbers is to shore up the number of referring domains that have high volumes of traffic to your site, which simultaneously don't yield conversions.

Google

In addition to your internal team, you can also partly rely on Google and other search engines to invalidate bot traffic. The search engines are highly cognizant of the threat that bots pose and are actively working to counter it. Google recently proved its commitment to combatting fraudulent bots by acquiring Spider.io, a company devoted to creating ad fraud-fighting technology.

As long as there is a system to be gamed, bots and bogus traffic will threaten your numbers and spend but, truthfully, it's not the end of the world. There's no need to panic over a statistic that doesn't really say anything new. However, it is, and always has been, a concern. There are tactics available to reduce fraud and misleading traffic numbers, as long as you remain calm and committed to vigilance against evolving black hat dangers.

Eric Kim is director of analytics and reporting at The Search Agency.

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