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Most people probably don’t realize this, but several years ago, we reached a tipping point in terms of website traffic. According to various studies that have been conducted, more than 50 percent of all web traffic now comes from automated programs popularly known as bots. At the same time, human website traffic has fallen under the 50 percent threshold. This newfound role for bots actually has profound implications for the way brands, companies and small business owners should be thinking about the web and their digital marketing efforts.
All bot are not created equal
It’s important, of course, to differentiate between the different types of bots. On one hand, you have all the “helper bots” – these are automated programs designed to do all the heavy lifting of companies like Facebook and Google. The Facebook feed fetcher bot – which is designed to update your Facebook feed based on your likes, preferences and activity – now accounts for about 5 percent of all website traffic. Similarly, there are search engine bots and website monitoring bots – simple, automated programs designed with just a single purpose in mind. They come and go, helping create a seamless browsing experience.
But, on the other hand, you have the harmful “attack bots” that do not have your best interests in mind. One example here is the “spambot,” which is designed to leave nasty or incoherent messages on any new content you publish online. Another example is the “data scraping bot,” which is designed to scrape data (like your email contact info) for any one of various nefarious purposes. Also popular are “impersonator bots,” which are designed to look just like helpful bots, but are actually used to carry out massive DDoS attacks against websites.
Perhaps even more disturbingly, the number of “attack bots” is now greater than the number of “helper bots.” All in all, this is bad news for small business owners – it means that the website you worked so hard to create and then optimize is likely under siege right now by an army of evil bots. According to a study back in 2017, harmful bots now account for 29 percent of all website traffic, while helper bots account for just 23 percent.
Dealing with the bot problem
So what can you do as a small business owner or brand to deal with this bot problem? Perhaps the most obvious answer is to lock down any sensitive data on your website that you don’t want to be scraped by bots. You could also block or moderate comments on your corporate blog or YouTube account to keep away the spambots.
At the end of the day, though, it’s perhaps most constructive to think about the ways that all of this bot traffic is skewing the way you analyze your marketing results. Tracking a metric like “website traffic” might be meaningless. After all, who cares about total website visitors, if half of them are bots? The same is true about tracking total social media followers, if many of them are just bots.
But it doesn’t mean you can ignore these bots. They are the key to many key facets of digital marketing. For example, if you aren’t showing up highly in search results – a key consideration for any small business owner – then you need to know why search bots don’t like your website. And if you aren’t showing up in updated and refreshed Facebook feeds of potential customers, then you need to know why social media bots don’t like your website.
Marketing in the age of bots
Yes, the internet is mostly bots these days. Most likely, many of your social media followers are also bots. And a good percentage of all “engagement” across your web properties is probably propped up by bots posing as humans. As The Atlantic noted back in 2017, bots are both the “worker bees” and the “henchmen” of the internet. It’s time to stop fearing them and put them to work to help your business.