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It’s certainly a challenge for media and publishing websites to attract traffic in the crowded digital media environment today. Of course, there are organic ways such as developing and promoting original and interesting content that attracts readers and increases engagement over time. For many publishers, though, getting noticed and attracting traffic involves a combination of paid advertising on various platforms (through ad agencies, programmatic buying on ad exchanges and demand-side platforms) as well as audience extension services (also known as content syndication services and publisher marketplaces).
Each of these options can bring in traffic to the advertiser, but the quality of the traffic can vary widely, depending on the specifics of the particular campaign, the platforms used, and the targeting methodology used. We analyzed the overall quality of traffic (genuine visitors versus bots) that a group of publishing sites acquired through three paid marketing channels:
As the graph shows, there was a large variation in the amount of bot traffic brought in through these three channels.
Bot traffic is virtually unavoidable regardless of the traffic acquisition channel, but volumes from each one starkly vary. As the graph shows, nearly 30% of the traffic brought in through RTB platforms consisted of bots, with PPC campaigns producing traffic that had about 20% bot prevalence. On the other hand, audience extension services brought in traffic that comprised only around 10% bots.
The higher the bot traffic, the greater the impact on a publisher’s brand reputation and revenue. High amounts of invalid traffic may even result in ad verification vendors flagging a publisher, which could potentially lead to lower rates of ad placement or even buybacks.
Bot networks have greatly increased on ad platforms that are programmatic, highly automated, and full of intermediaries (when compared to direct transactions between advertisers and inventory sellers). The CPC (Cost Per Click) and CPM (Cost Per Mille) advertising models seen across the Internet also lead to nefarious parties gaming the system by using bots to perform click and impression fraud. We are also seeing increased volumes of bot traffic coming through audience extension and content recommendation services, as botmasters look for more platforms to carry out their activities.
One approach that can help publishers evaluate the returns of their paid campaigns would be to deploy or trial run a dedicated bot mitigation solution, which can accurately determine bot traffic and provide granular analytics to pinpoint sources of non-human traffic.
We recommend that publishers run low budget experiments on every new acquisition channel and evaluate the quality of traffic using a bot mitigation solution before reserving large marketing budgets. Before spending on traffic acquisition, it’s worth noting that while the quantity of purchased traffic may be high, there’s a very good probability of a high proportion of that traffic being non-human, which only boosts analytics figures and not actual subscriber volumes or the content consumed. It also means that the purchased audience may largely consist of visitors who may bounce after visiting the landing page, which leads to an increase in the site’s bounce rate. A high bounce rate also hinders a publisher’s ability to attract organic traffic and increase engagement.
As the old saying goes, “Buyer beware!” With the proliferation of bot traffic, it’s always a good idea to learn about the quality of your traffic and where it comes from. Subscribe to the ShieldSquare Blog to stay abreast of developments in the bot mitigation arena.