Are your email performance reports blighted with bot activity? You are not alone. It’s a big problem, particularly when trying to understand the performance of your email campaigns or engagement from your audience, and in this blog, we explain how to find and remove them.
Many corporate email servers use antispam protection tools to check the links in your marketing emails, but these automated clicks are often counted by marketing automation platforms as genuine clicks. While automation software vendors are constantly improving their detection methods, it is often an uphill battle, and some will inevitably make it through and spoil your results. In some cases, this could even put your organisation at risk of data compliance laws if you rely on clicks to verify email addresses or double opt-in users as part of a preference centre.
Identifying bot activity
Figuring out which clicks are real and which aren’t can often be a tricky endeavour, but if done regularly, you begin to get a feel for it. There are patterns that appear, for instance, a bot may click every link in an email, even the social links in the footer. A human is unlikely to click everything, so this is immediately suspicious. Sometimes the patterns can be noticed when looking at groups of data. For example, if you have multiple contacts from the same organisation and all of them show the same click pattern then that’s another good indicator. Other examples could be clicks being recorded without opening the email or clicks all happening instantly upon receipt. Again, this is behaviour not expected of humans.
Defeating the bots with Marketo tools
Marketo has implemented some additional tools to minimise these false results and you can enable the bot activity filtering through the admin section. If “log bot activity” is enabled, you can use this to narrow down repeat offenders.
You can also use the bot identification feature in smart list filters and triggers to screen out bot activity.
But what if you’ve enabled the bot rules, yet you’re still seeing bot clicks and opens? It may be time for more drastic methods.
Compare clicks with other activity
If the links in your email go to a tracked webpage, then you can pair the click with the web visit if it is recorded. This is a simple way to filter out false positives, it also has the benefit of identifying records that may have had bot clicks but then ultimately been clicked by a human, which is the best of both worlds. For some processes such as email verification or double opt-in, you may have to rely on multiple actions to ensure you’re recording the preference accurately. Perhaps consider adding a simple form to the page you’re linking to so that users can confirm their choice for definite.
These aren’t the links you’re looking for…
A great way to filter out bot clicks is to hide a link on an email that is unlikely to be clicked by humans. Perhaps set the text colour to the same as the background, hide it in a corner somewhere, or use a small image with a link. These links will be clearly visible to a bot scanning the email, but a human would likely not notice them. If the hidden link is clicked, then it is more than likely it was a bot that clicked it. A word of warning though, adding hidden links to an email can trigger spam filters to flag the email as junk. Consider this only as a last resort.
Move beyond clicks
Despite the best efforts of software and due diligence, bots may inevitably affect your results. It is an arms race and to quote Sun Tzu, “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” Clicks will ultimately only paint a limited picture of engagement - even if the link was compelling enough to click, but then what?
Different marketing campaigns may have different goals, but beyond mere awareness, you may want the user to do something more significant. Instead of the end goal being a click, set it to browsing a selected group of pages, perhaps completing a form, or performing other more significant actions you have devised. Break free of vanity metrics and start looking at more focused engagements and the bot activity may not seem like such a big deal. For more food for thought about gauging marketing success check out our blog on revenue attribution.
Anthony Konarski is a Senior Marketing Technology Consultant at WoolfHodson. You can learn more about him here. If you would like to find out more about how our team can enhance your marketing performance and improve business operations, contact us today at email@example.com.