Marketing Analytics: Debunking Bot-Driven Website Traffic
One of the best ways to see how your marketing is doing is to look at website traffic—the amount of people who visit your website. This can not only give you a good idea of changes over time, but tell you a lot about what is and isn’t working, such as the source of this traffic, the quality (how long do they stay, what do they do), and demographics such as geo-targeting. However, look at your traffic long enough, and you’ll eventually see a spike of traffic you can’t account for with strange tell-tales. Congrats! You’ve just had your first spike of bot-driven website traffic; now it’s time to understand what that means and how it impacts your analytics.
What is Bot-Driven Traffic/False Traffic?
When we talk about “bot-driven” traffic, we mean largely automated campaigns by third parties that impact your website traffic, introducing “fake” traffic into your analytics when all you want is data on real people. The four most common are:
- Ghost Traffic: “Ghost” traffic, regardless of source, is traffic that doesn’t actually visit your site. Instead, it pings your Google Analytics code directly. It’s usually easy to spot as large amounts of traffic with session durations of around 0 seconds and visiting a single page.
- Referral Traffic: This traffic is often “sales” traffic, pointing you to a website where you can buy website traffic, with names such as “share-buttons.xyz” or “free-traffic.xyz.” A new version is “language spam,” where when looking up language demographics you get similarly sketchy names.
- Spam Bots: Spam bots can come in many forms. Generally, instead of just visiting the website, they also take actions. If you’ve got forms or blog comments enabled with captchas or other spam filters, you can get quite a few of these per month.
- Benign Spiders/Crawlers: Of course, not all bot traffic to your site is spam or malicious. There are plenty of crawlers (AKA “spiders”) that are indexing your website for search engines, feeds, monitoring health, or just looking at metrics.
What Does False Traffic Mean for Your Analytics?
As mentioned above, the biggest impact this traffic has is skewing your analytics data. Sometimes this will be a certain amount of “background noise” that is consistent throughout the month and easy to ignore, especially on active sites. But other times these will create significant “spikes” of traffic that are harder to ignore and can significantly affect total monthly traffic and comparisons—an increase of 15% to 50% of traffic for a month is hard to ignore when it’s completely useless in terms of lead generation.
Can I Remove Bot Traffic from My Analytics Data?
Sadly, the answer here is “it depends.” Google Analytics does have a “known bot-traffic exclusion,” but it’s a black box in terms of how it works or how much it filters out. Note: this is for “G4” Google—earlier versions have to manually activate it in their View settings.
But otherwise, it has to all be done manually—both identification and exclusion. The easiest traffic to clean up is referral traffic, as it all comes from an easily identifiable source. Often, such spawn referral/ghost referral traffic has easy-to-identify names such as “source-traffic.com” or similar names. These can be filtered out by simply setting a filter in Google Analytics or your reporting software of choice against it. Direct traffic, on the other hand, is much harder to remove without an easy-to-identify source.
Further Marketing Analytics Reading
Below are some additional topics you might find useful when it comes to reading and understanding your marketing analytics, both as a marketer and as a business owner:
- Marketing Analytics: CPC Isn’t Advertising’s Only Important Metric
- Marketing Analytics: What Are KPIs and Which are Important?
- Obsessing Over a Single Analytics Metric: A Marketer’s Take
It’s hard enough to read the tea leaves of your website’s traffic without dealing with bot-driven website traffic, but just like ads on Google or junk mail, it’s something we have to live with. If you’re looking for help with understanding your marketing analytics, including audits and monthly or quarterly reporting, Vision Advertising can help. We’ve worked with clients for years introducing blogs, social media, and advertising to their marketing and know what success looks like with KPIs and deep analytics. Contact us today to get started.