Discussion

Are bot clicks hurting your email marketing campaigns?

Email marketing has lots of moving parts and even the most experienced marketers, using the very best email marketing software, will not necessarily be guaranteed success.

There are many hidden challenges that will put you to the test and at the very top of the things to overcome pile, labelled ‘Soooo !?#!&#! frustrating!’, is email security bots.

Bots: A simple explanation

Email security bots are software scripts running on mail servers and are designed to scan content, links and attachments of every incoming email in order to identify not only spam but also more malicious content such as malware, phishing, spoofed and scam emails.

The damage caused by bots

The intentions of bots are good but unfortunately, in doing what they need to do they wreak havoc with email marketing campaign performance indicators.

Common side-effects of link scanning include…

  • Inflated open & click stats
  • Falsely triggered automated emails
  • Increased opt-outs
  • Inaccurate website visitor stats
  • Disparity between email campaign clicks and Google Analytics stats

Inflated and inaccurate stats are a real problem but worst of all are false automations and opt-outs – these two things will cause serious reputational damage resulting in lost customers and lost revenue.

Identifying bot activity

We’ve seen crude hacks such as hidden links in email so bots can be manually weeded out. Anything clicking a hidden link must be a bot right? Well, no. It’s not that simple but this approach will work to a level, a terrible level, but a level all the same.

Commonly, bots will click every single link in the email and that’s never going to be normal human behaviour where there are lots of links so if that’s what happens it ‘might’ be a bot. Problem is, if your email only has 1 or 2 links then it’s feasible that they’ll all be clicked and this method also becomes unreliable.

A weird scenario is where a click occurs before the email is delivered and this is where  link scanning is applied during email transmission. It’s very difficult to identify though and becomes an onerous time-consuming task doing it manually that will sometimes provide no results, and therefore will be a massive waste of time.

“Is there a more reliable method?” I hear you ask. Well, the good news is that there is!

When links are scanned the IP address and what’s known as the user-agent string of the bot can easily be detected and these two pieces of information can then be recorded and used in the bot identification process – the more you track, the better your database of known-sources of bot activity becomes.

Filtering out bot activity

Filtering activity manually isn’t a viable option so you’re going to need this to be automated through your email marketing software.

All email marketing campaigns (regardless of ESP) track opens and clicks using a tracking domain and here’s a hugely simplified idea of how that works…

  • Person clicks on the link
  • Click traffic is sent over to the servers of the ESP (Instiller, Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor etc.)
  • Processing wizardry and tracking takes place
  • Persons browser loads and the relevant web page loads

The clever part takes place in the step highlighted in the garish pink colour. At this point the IP address and user-agent of where the click has come from is collected.

Those two pieces of information can then be checked against known-sources of bot activity and if there’s a match the click never reaches the website and the activity gets filtered from the reports.

The result of filtering this activity is…

  • False opens and clicks are not recorded
  • Website visitor & Google Analytics stats do not get inflated
  • Automated opt-outs are suppressed
  • Automation triggers only occur for real people

There’s a bonus ball as well and by recording the bot activity you can track and monitor the extent of email security bot activity within your email marketing campaigns.

What next?

Filtering bots out of your email campaigns is a priority and that’s where you need to be looking at your ESP for help with doing that.

Instiller tracks billions of emails every year and as part of doing that we continual identify and update known-sources of bot activity making it easy for our clients to filter all of that noise out of email marketing campaigns.

Want to see what Instiller can do for your agency? Take a free and unlimited trial today or book in a live demo and we’ll walk you through our features.

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