2018 has been called “the year that bad bots went mainstream.” These software applications run automated tasks over the internet at many times the speed of a human. According to the Bad Bot Report, in 2017 a whopping 42.2% of all internet traffic wasn’t human, and significant year-over-year increases were seen in both bad bot (9.5%) and good bot (8.8%) traffic.
Chatbots, which are usually harmless, has been named “the future of marketing.” As& marketers turn to chatbots to serve as round-the-clock customer service providers, some brands have achieved impressive success.
Rose, a chatbot launched last year by Las Vegas’s Cosmopolitan hotel, provides concierge and guest services in a playful and fun way. Her missives are far from robotic, and her flirtatiousness is perfectly in line with the Cosmopolitan resort’s naughty slogan, "Just the right amount of wrong." While brands use traditional advertising to “push” messaging upon an apathetic viewer, chatbots “pull” users while engaging with them.
As this technology continues to grow in prevalence, marketers should be aware of some troubling implications – of both good and bad bots. It’s important to make sure you’re aware of all types of bot technology. Many are capable of killing your marketing efforts dead in their tracks.
Read on to learn about some of the top bot menaces.
1. Insufficiently savvy chatbots turning prospects off
While chatbot technology is often on the cutting edge, natural language processing (NLP) errors can hurt digital trust. Many bots are deployed with insufficiently sophisticated artificial intelligence and don’t discern context. As most of them are unable to hold information for longer than a few chat bubbles, their cumulative understanding of contextual conversation is usually highly limited.
Online shopping may be the most popular use case for chatbot technology, but retailers must exercise caution. Artificial intelligence goes a long way for simple interactions, but customers must be able to escalate more complex issues to human employees.
We are still in the technology’s early days and have a lot to learn from Asian markets, where consumers have been engaging with marketing chatbots for some time.
2. Click bots depleting your PPC campaigns
PPC campaigns are the lifeblood of many brands’ marketing efforts today. With Google Adwords sitting pretty as the most popular search ad network, this type of advertising enables companies to target specific demographics, pinpointing target consumers. However, PPC makes companies easy targets for their competitors, who can employ bots to view and click on sponsored search results fraudulently, draining their competition’s ad budget.
An estimated $19 billion will be lost by advertisers to fraud in 2018 – the equivalent of $51 million per day. The waste is estimated to keep rising, too, reaching $44 billion by 2022. This type of click fraud can be perpetrated manually (click farms) or automatically (using bots).
Google AdWords has a dedicated Ad Traffic Quality Team, which works to detect and handle the sources of potentially invalid clicks. However, the attempts of Google and other ad networks to protect customers from click fraud are not sufficient. ClickCease is one reliable tool that uses its own machine learning engine to identify potentially fraudulent search ad clicks. It can automatically ban audience members from seeing your campaigns and can apply for refunds from both Google and Bing on your behalf.
3. Twitter’s bot crackdown getting you erroneously banned
In an attempt to crack down on a community perceived as over-automated and fake news-friendly, Twitter changed its policy in February, prohibiting any attempt to use scripts for the purposes of mass posting.
The steps taken are meant to ensure Twitter stays ahead of malicious activity targeting the crucial conversations taking place on its platform, including those around political elections. As part of this change, TweetDeck no longer enables users to select multiple accounts through which to tweet, retweet, like, or follow.
Marketing thought leader Ana Hofman is just one example of many Twitter users who found themselves caught in the crossfire, banned from the platform when over-zealous bot detection scripts erroneously identified her as a spammer. Hofman’s once largest referrer of website traffic was taken away from her with little explanation, and the same thing has happened to plenty of other accounts.
4. Malicious scraper bots sabotaging your SEO
These nasty bots republish your content without your consent and steal your search traffic. By illegally copying and redistributing your content on other websites, your search rankings might be degraded, causing you to be outranked on search engine results.
What’s more, advertising networks may penalize or blacklist you if they notice a lot of questionable script activity on your pages.
Akamai’s Bot Manager is one recommended solution, as it recognizes the many roles bots can play and takes the appropriate action on different types of bots, based on their business and IT impacts. By using this tool you get more from your website, increase online revenue, shift your competitive dynamics, reduce the incidence of fraud, and better engage with your customers.
5. Spam devaluing your comment form
Comment spam bots post gibberish in blog comment sections, linking to items they are promoting in the hopes that a reader will click on the link, redirecting them to a spam website. When comments are riddled with junk text and irrelevant links, this reflects poorly on your site.
Even worse, though, is when hackers use comment spam bots to hunt down security weaknesses that they can later exploit to gather information such as your credit card data for their own use or to sell for a profit.
Possibly the most effective way to combat a comment bot is to include a honeypot field – one visible only to machines and not to humans, so as to easily identify the bots that populate it. Another popular solution is including a CAPTCHA (“Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart”) or a random short question easily answered by humans but not machines.
6. Hacked chatbots ruining your brand’s reputation
AI-powered chatbots typically store customer data for analysis and greater personalization in the future – and data is at risk of being stolen by a third-party attacker, as more than 100,000 consumers experienced last month.
In this recent bot-ch, a piece of malware temporarily residing in the online chat service provided by 7.ai may have harvested payment details after consumers completed a transaction at Sears, Delta Airlines, KMart, and Best Buy.
Handling private data can be problematic, and even more so in sensitive sectors such as banking or health.
7. Bot attacks taking your whole site down
Don’t say we didn’t warn you about bots that are capable of taking down your entire website and disrupting any communications hosted on your domain servers.
Most shocking is how easily anyone can identify and hire a “stresser” to paralyze an unprotected website for a small fee, with a simple Google search.
One tool to protect from these is Incapsula’s Name Server DDoS Protection, which becomes the first destination for all DNS queries and prevents illegal queries from reaching your server while masking it from direct-to-IP network layer attacks.
Bots can seriously hamper your marketing efforts and, in some cases, even lead to direct monetary losses. But with the right education and solutions in place, you can beat the bad bots and avoid any threat to your marketing efforts.