Tips on how to detect and block fake and bot traffic

What Is Fake Traffic and How Does It Affect Your Website?

What is Fake Traffic? How Bot Traffic Affects Your Website

Every publisher dreams of driving the highest traffic possible to their website. After all, traffic translates into revenue, and that’s the end goal. Some webmasters resort to bots to automate fake traffic to their sites, making it look as though they have more viewers than they do. Long term, this is a terrible approach. Today we will explain why fake or bot traffic is nothing but a disaster and how to tackle it.

This guide will walk you through all there is to know about fake or bot traffic, how to identify the sources, and how to remove them. After reading, you will have answers to these questions: 

  • Is faux traffic all that bad?
  • What are the consequences of using bot traffic?
  • How do I detect bot traffic?
  • How to stop fake traffic?; etc.

Let’s get you started with the basics.  

Contents

Fake traffic explained

When you classify web traffic with terms like “bot” or “fake,” it means that those numbers of visits were generated by automated software or bots. So they are not natural traction; they are not real people. The goal of this manipulative approach is to boost the website performance and potentially increase its earnings.

While many publishers buy fake traffic intentionally, others are victims of fraud. These groups usually buy traffic from third-party providers who automate the process to create an artificial value to monetize better or put the site, blog, or social media channel for sale at a higher price. But the amount of traffic artificially generated to a site is not as valuable as real people.

Based on data from Adweek (retrieved via BusinessOfApps), 78% of marketers mention bot traffic as one of their key concerns.

78%

Marketers identify bot traffic as one of their major concerns.

Key fake traffic statistics and insights

As of 2017, 1 in every 5 pay-per-clicks was fraudulent. This makes websites with high faux traffic prime targets for Google penalties and suspensions. Such traction has lots of effects on website health and contributes no long-term value.

Below are some of the ways fake traffic affects both publishers and marketers.

Why bot traffic is bad for your website

The stats above are convincing but not enough. Here are some of the reasons you should never engage in buying bot traffic and why you should remove any false numbers on your analytics:

Instability of traffic

The massive traffic generated by bots is not stable and does not align with your overall traffic behavior. Imagine a sharp rise in metrics within 24 hours and an equally sharp fall afterward.

On the contrary, legit traction provides stability that is easy to monitor and predict over time. Stable traffic is a guarantee that your site is trusted and used by humans.

No conversions

The ultimate aim of your website shouldn’t be just to drive traffic. A small percentage of your viewers should be convinced to convert or take necessary actions that will justify your ad campaign or some other marketing effort.

Reversing it: fake traffic can’t be monetized and contributes nothing to your conversion rate.

Risk of sanctions and penalties

Getting bot traffic on your website exposes you to possible sanctions from ad networks. These networks are responsible for protecting their advertisers from fraudulent activities and would not hesitate to ban you from their services once they notice. You’re also at risk of getting Google penalties and demotions on search platforms, and other equally serious deeds.

Bad for SEO

Another critical area where fake traffic affects your website’s health is SEO. Fake clicks make it difficult for you to analyze your site’s search engine performance.

Poor web performance

Fake clicks are bound to affect your overall web performance, including slow load time and vulnerability to DDOS attacks.

Loss of integrity

Bot visitors could cost you trust and integrity with your real customers, clients, or partners. Advertisers can easily spot fake viewers, and they wouldn’t hesitate to terminate their contracts with you or blacklist you as a traffic source.

How to detect bot traffic

Having listed the reasons why fake traffic is harmful, let’s move on to the techniques of detecting it.

Faux traction is quite easy to spot, but the recent Gen 4 bots require some more technical efforts because they can mimic human internet behavior. Notwithstanding, here are some of the most basic ways to detect false traffic on your website:

Important!
Please don’t visit those suspicious websites you trace with your analytics tools. This might damage your computer and end up in the OS reboot.

1. Trace the sources and find the one with soaring traffic

Using Google Analytics, you can trace all sources of your visitors. Sometimes you will discover that the surge in traction comes from a single source. When this happens, some malicious bot could be working against your site somewhere. 

Your web stats usually reveal sudden traffic spikes

Real traffic comes through many channels, like search engines, referral links, paid traffic, etc. In most cases, a sudden sore in traffic from one source is a bad sign.

2. Check your bounce rate and session duration

This rate represents the percentage of visitors who leave your site after viewing just a single page. An engaging website should have a very low bounce rate, but if you notice that your rate skyrockets, the chances that most of the supposed visitors are artificial is very high.

Many visits and a 100% bounce rate is a signal for you that you’ve been attacked by traffic bots.

High bounce rates and suspicious session duration detected by Google Analytics

3. Check new sessions for peaks of visits

Apart from bounce rates, what else can alarm you? The number of new sessions. A session refers to the number of interactions a visitor has with your website within a given time, typically about 30 minutes on Google Analytics. When you notice a surge in the number of new sessions, it could be an indication that something odd is happening, and you should never let it slide.

4. Trace the geographical location of your traffic

The next efficient way to detect faux traffic is tracing the geolocation of your viewers, particularly if you run a localized website. Imagine that your site is targeted at people in Denver, Colorado only, but a large percentage of your visitors are from some other country entirely (or worse, non-English speaking countries). There’s no mistake about it, those are fake visitors. The next method is similar, but here you will filter visitors by other parameters.

5. Try checking browser versions or devices

Along with the above-mentioned suspicious geolocations, multiple repeated visits and outdated browsers (and device) versions should alarm you as they may signify fake visits. If you see, say, 2589 visits from Nokia N8, is a reason to worry.

Spambot attacks often come from common browser versions and devices. It means you should also check if there was an unusual traffic leap from one particular browser or device.

In one of his ingenious posts, Mike Sullivan, an expert and top contributor in the Google Analytics community, shares how his team detected fraud traffic by the Browser Size dimension.

6. Filter referral traffic sources

As you may have guessed, statistics tools are your main means of detecting fake traffic. Which other filters can you apply? Try filtering your traffic by source or medium. Websites that refer to your can sometimes be hijacked, which makes them stream false traffic to your inventory. Open the referral traffic section and check the marker you already know: website name, number of sessions, bounce rate, session duration. Here, on the image below, things are more than obvious:

7. Use fake traffic detection tools

It is important to add that some bots are now so sophisticated that they generate traffic that imitates customer behavior. They could be difficult to detect using the techniques suggested above. Not to worry, fake traffic detection software comes to the rescue. Check out any of Forensiq by Impact, BitNinja, Imperva Bot Management, Radware Bot Manager (former ShieldSquare), and others.

Now that we have broken down the ways of detecting fake traffic, let’s see how you can stop it.

The first aid set to stop and block bot traffic

We carry on tackling suspicious traffic, and now we will list some proven ways of blocking bots and making your life easier.

1. Use the Bot Filtering feature by Google Analytics

Google Analytics allows you to block malicious traffic with several features. But not all of them are transparent and practical. We’re going to spotlight one that works in most cases – the bot filtering feature. It cuts off all harmful traffic saving you time for further investigations.

How to find and switch it on?

From your Google Analytics Admin section, navigate to View Settings (they’re on the View tab).

Scroll down till you see a Bot Filtering checkbox. Put a check if the box is unchecked. Then click Done.

Note!
This feature has advanced to filter spam referrers, too.

2. Using filters to cut off bot traffic from your reports

Afterward, you can try to cut off all current faux traffic. These Google Analytics settings have been quite effective over the years. They allow for saving your statistics from further attacks but can’t prevent them. So, how to create a filter?

Note!
Before you add any filters, you need to make sure you have an unfiltered View of your website. If not, you will have to create a View with no filters at all. Otherwise, you won’t be able to track changes and compare your reports. Also, it is better to clone your Main view to test all filters safely.

Creating a filter to exclude spam referrals

After you created a Test view that is a clone of your Main View, you can add a filter to exclude spam referrers you have detected previously, so have the list of their domains available.

1. Go to the Admin section, then navigate to the View you need to create a filter in.
2. Find the VIEW column and hit Filters. Choose Add Filter. You need to have Edit permission to add filters.
3. Select Create new filter and enter its name.
4. Pick Custom for the Filter type.
5. Choose Exclude for Filter field and then pick Campaign source from the list.

In the Filter pattern field, you will need to enter all bot domains that you traced before. Enter them one by one using regular expressions. See all instructions by Google and check the list of regular expressions.

Example: botsource\.com|secondbotsource\.com|.*badbotsubdomain\.com

Finally, click the Save button.

3.  Turn on Google Analytics alerts

Though it’s not a means of blocking bot traffic it is a way to keep everything under control. You can create alerts for each of your Account’s Views. What’s really practical is that you can set not only the frequency of alerts but also add the conditions on which Google will notify you.

4.  Monitor your website health regularly

This piece of advice is also may seem corny, but it is always helpful. The way you take care of our daily sport and health activities, you should pay attention to your overall inventory state. You won’t miss a sudden surge in traffic or a heavy bounce rate.

5.  Use CAPTCHA to protect your web forms from attacks

CAPTCHA is the first level of security as it helps you get rid of primitive bots that imitate human behavior. It is strongly recommended to use it on subscription forms.

6.  Use third-party services the Comments section

The last but not least tip from this list is about protecting your feedback forms. Many websites and blogs offer their visitors to leave comments. What seems to be perfect for social interaction, becomes a nightmare during bot attacks. Instead of building your own comment section on the website and connecting it to your server, you can use third-party solutions that keep all interactions on their premises. Hence, they will have to fight back in case of a surge in bot traffic. Here below is an example of a Comments section by DISQUS.

Third-party services for feedback store all data on their servers

Bonus part: a checklist for getting quality traffic

After all discussed, growing your site, increasing conversions, and making the best of your referral traffic boils down to proper human traction. Below are some suggestions on how to drive high-quality traffic to your site:

Use long-tail keywords to boost organic traffic

Use long-tail keywords, i.e., phrases that refer to smaller groups of search queries but usually more specified. These phrases bring more purchase-oriented users.

Examples:
buy jewelry (too common)
buy promise ring in Denver (more specific)

Use convincing, relevant ads from trusted ad networks

When you put ads on your website, your only purpose is to get many clicks to be paid enough. When you advertise a third-party product yourself like an affiliate marketer, it is easier to match the promoted products to your visitors’ needs. But when it comes to placing ad codes, you can’t
With Adsterra, you can filter the unwanted ad types right from your Publisher’s account.

Moreover, we train our in-house algorithms to send you the most appropriate ads, those that match your visitors’ search patterns and interests.

Working with advertising platforms that enforce multi-level security is an easy route to gather real clicks and conversions. Advertisers enjoy a large community of legit, relevant website owners who promote products or services. Publishers stay safe from malware.

Build a community on social networks and forums

Share your updates, stay in touch with your following, foster user-generated content as a part of your everyday activities. Timely replies on Quora, Reddit, and industry forums help score a point in generating quality traffic.

Maintain cordial relationships with related webmasters

A strong backlinking strategy is the key to better SEO performance. Usually, it takes time to find, sort, and make arrangements with your partners. But in the end, you have a bunch of trusted sources sharing traffic with you.

Optimize your site for fast load and responsiveness

Even when all previous activities have been done right, traffic may fade. That’s because visitors hate to wait! Design your web pages to be responsive on all devices and make sure they load fast! Check with the Google Core Web Vitals as these are top search engine’s priorities for ranking websites.

Understand your competition

Studying your competitors gives you an edge. Use it. Subscribe to their newsletters, follow them on social networks, and use SEO tools to analyze the keywords they use for their content.

Grow with experts

One more thing to learn about the fastest ways to advance your knowledge: follow your industry influencers. Check their tweets and take up a habit of reading their blog posts. Experts catch and distill trending activities. Some of them you might apply to your website traffic growth strategy.

Conclusion

Driving traction to your website requires concerted efforts, and bot traffic is never the answer. If your site/blog has fake traffic—with or without your knowledge—it is vital to identify and block such numbers before they waste the efforts put into your website monetization.

Solid web traction depends in part on the ad networks you partner with. At Adsterra, we are committed to providing high-quality traffic from publishers and driving safe no-fraud advertising.