I used to be terrified of bugs. The type of bug didn’t matter. It could be a teeny, tiny ant and I’d want to run into another room. A friend of mine once said, “look how small the bug is and look how big you are, there’s no reason to be that scared.” I realized that sometimes you just need a different perspective to tackle the nasty things in life in order to squash them (or, just gently place them outside).
There’s something that I noticed marketers and advertisers do without realizing: they’re afraid of their data. They’ll love it, they’ll nurture it, but they’re afraid to see if the data is true. Rightfully so! After all their hard work coming up with creative and audience targeting, who wants to uncover that a large percentage of new potential customers in their databases, are actually fake?
Marketers need a new perspective on bots because the old idea of “a little fake data is just the cost of doing business” can’t fly (no pun intended) anymore when better conversion rates and smarter spend is at your fingertips. In the last year, we found that two-thirds of respondents experienced some sort of marketing fraud which can range from bots filling out lead forms, producing social interactions to manipulating cost per acquisition outcomes. This type of fraud is a lot more common than marketers realize. Instead of being afraid of the story behind your data, you could create a whole new story and erase the bot character from the narrative in the new year.
One Bot, Two Bot, Bad Bot, Good Bot
Let’s back up and start from the top: what is a bot? A bot is an automated piece of software that is coded to do a specific task. There are good bots, like chatbots that can appear on websites and help customers decide on products or answer questions. Good bots aim to aid real people. You know exactly what they are and they don’t have malicious intent.
On the other hand, bad bots deceive people and right now 75% of the bad bot traffic we see comes from residential malware-infected devices like mobile phones. Most of these bots pretend to be human (sometimes even real people) and use that likeness to cheat their way into making money. That’s almost always the goal: make a profit. I like to say fraud follows the money, so if there is money to be made you can bet a bot is in there trying to steal their piece of the pie. For instance, a fraudster will program a bot to cut the line of a big sneaker drop so they can get their hands on an exclusive pair. Then the fraudster might purchase a bunch of them and resell them on third-party reseller websites. The fraudster is cheating the system and using a bot to make a profit for themselves.
So what are the types of threats marketers face against bad bots in 2021?
Bad Brand Ambassadors
Marketing fraud is incredibly lucrative for a fraudster because of the amount of money that’s funneled into marketing every year. In 2021, it’s predicted that global ad spend will increase by 7.6% to $612 billion. That’s a massive chunk of change. In order to save your budget from the influence of bots, there needs to be an understanding of how they do it. Here are the top threats marketers are facing in 2021.
Perhaps one of the most well-known threat models, sophisticated bots get paid to view and click on ads, and the marketer is none the wiser given their human-like tendencies. Click fraud occurs when bad actors seek to leverage bots to deliver ad activity for a campaign. As campaigns dip into less trustworthy inventory sources to meet click and margin goals, the quality drops as does the conversion rate.
As with click campaigns, the possibility for fraud on conversion efforts also rises when advertisers are under pressure to drive aggressive customer growth. A bot living on a real person’s device can put that person’s name and information into forms, making it even more difficult for a marketer to spot the fraud. This is only amplified when the cost-per-lead (CPL), cost-per-action (CPA), or cost-per-installs (CPI) payouts are high, directly attracting fraudsters looking to steal the higher conversion payouts. They drive bot traffic to the landing pages, typically with form fills and emulate human behaviors to avert detection. This results in high lead numbers, but lower customer conversion rates. But when marketers take control, they see the results. An insurance company we worked with found bots completing multiple steps in a new customer acquisition process, by stopping this flow it was calculated that over $4 million would be saved and re-invested.
This fraud occurs when service providers have driven site traffic from sophisticated bots which then populate data management platforms (DMPs) or customer relationship managers (CRMs), then use this data to retarget bots. The retargeting provider, which can send bot visitors that previously landed on your site, gets paid on completed retargets/returning visitors. This results in fraudsters falsely claiming the referral payments. So, the marketer continues to lose money and time as it retargets a fake lead. Data under the influence of bots can have a wide ripple effect on your budgets.
In order for marketers to keep up against bots in 2021, they need fraud protection that not only detects fraud but prevents the fraud from entering their systems and impacting their campaigns. I always suggest utilizing a solution that embraces a multilayered bot detection methodology of global threat intelligence, machine learning, continuous adaptation, and technical evidence. But in order to get there, marketers need to read the story their data is telling and rewrite it with bot mitigation tactics. Don’t be afraid of your data, make bots afraid of you.