An industry-wide challenge
If you work in email marketing you’ve probably had some kind of experience with email bots; a form of spam filter that protects inboxes by opening emails and scanning/clicking each link to check for viruses. Sure, this is a helpful security feature for email users, but it has started to become something of a nightmare for B2B marketers as well as an industry-wide challenge. In the last few months alone, we’ve begun to build game plans that can address how bots are compromising valuable data. Data that we use to make business decisions for our Clients.
The Problem Facing Email Marketers
Email bots create inflated metrics when scanning and clicking the links in your email. Don’t be fooled when you see a strong performance. While it may be actual, you’ll need to look deeper to be sure. The majority of marketing automation (MA) platforms available to us today will include bot clicks in their reported click-through and CTO metrics, compiling what is commonly referred to as ‘false clicks’ alongside clicks that were triggered by real, engaged contacts. The result is a highly inflated click metric. For example, a reported 50 clicks may be just 5 ‘real clicks’ and 45 ‘false’, bot-initiated clicks.
The key problem is that most MA softwares cannot decipher the difference between real clicks and code-driven email bots. Since click-through and CTO are typically used as the lead metric in evaluating the success of an email campaign, oftentimes, marketers are left unable to truly evaluate the performance of their campaigns. If you’re like our team at Venuiti, you’re troubled by the difficulty this creates when it comes to analysis or the development of strategic recommendations. Clients rely on our teams for direction, so this is something to take very seriously.
How Do You Know if your campaign is experiencing Email Bot Activity?
The most obvious indicator of email bot activity takes the form of an uneven ratio of clicks to opens. For example, if your email open metric is significantly lower than clicks it’s likely that a group of contacts in your list are protected by email bot software. Email bots will often open and scan an email without downloading the images, therefore an ‘open’ may not be triggered but multiple clicks will be (assuming there are multiple links in your email). Ultimately, if you’re seeing data in your reports like “opens: 5, clicks: 30”, you likely have bots. There are steps that can be taken, we’re here to help show you the way…
Address Email Bot Activity Head-on
Sadly, despite dealing with bots for roughly 5 years now, there isn’t a perfect solution to this e-marketing problem at this time. However, there are some areas you can explore to manage the issue and likely improve your data:
- Filters and suppression lists.
You’ll need to verify if your MA software is capable of filtering and isolating specific metrics which is to say opens and clicks. For example, we know that bots usually register a click but not an open, when looking at client data. We take careful steps to address who has clicked on email ‘x’ but did not open email ‘x’ to determine a preponderance of bots.
Be careful though, if your MA software doesn’t have the ability to filter such parameters, you’re not going to see a change. Often, it’s the more expensive enterprise-level platforms that offer this type of segmentation. Many platforms don’t offer the necessary list-building features required to automate such a function, making this task incredibly manual and time-consuming. That being said, we have the ability to work through that process with you and have put steps in place to help clients that we work with at all levels. Contact us to find out more about what we do.
2. Hidden Link:
Not only do we love this word, because it’s rare that back-end terminology makes us giggle, but adding hidden links or ‘honeypots’ is a neat trick we’ve been employing expertly of late to identify contacts who are using email bots. We’re not here to trick anyone, we’re here to ensure the performance and reliability of our Client’s programs. Essentially what it does is isolate any clicks on that specific link that are from bot-protected emails. This can help you create a more robust list because you’re able to slowly cleanse email bots from it-. However, be careful again as you’ll still be removing valid prospects and potential leads from your database and reducing your overall list if you’re choosing to remove all the bot-protected emails from your audience. We’re putting this into practice extensively and can show you the way. Contact us to learn more.
3. Alter success metrics/KPIs:
This is less a solution and more a change in strategy really. Here, you may be in a situation where your MA software will not get you where you need to be and it may just be wiser to accept email bots rather vs. trying to eliminate them from your database. At Venuiti we are addressing bot inflation for multiple clients, both big and small, and it’s clear that email bot software has seen aggressive adoption rates. Enabling confident KPI reporting may just mean changing the key performance metrics you use to evaluate your campaigns.
This is just sound advice to everyone reading this, if bots are present, they are typically clicking a link and bouncing. So, change how you look at the program. Do you have landing pages in your program plan? Are you looking at page views/visits vs CTO? If not, we’re here to help. The end goal is to enable you and your team with the ability to evaluate performance through a more reliable, less inflated statistic. We speak from experience when we say even back-end solutions can benefit from our reinvention philosophy.
We have case history stories to tell about how we’ve observed a positive change in data across multiple campaigns from just this simple step, and while in some cases the numbers are lower, the benefit is a stronger prospect list that can be moved to sales-qualified leads. Who doesn’t love that? We’ve found that changing course from traditional email KPIs really does become a better indicator of true prospect engagement. Still, it’s not full-proof and just adjusting your plan doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be 100% clear of bot activity. Benefit from experience and from a laser focus on solving the situation as best as possible. Contact us.
While it may not be regarded as a perfect solution, we’re now seeing, and using, tools with some MA companies which offer very practical solutions to managing email bots. This comes in the form of built-in features and settings that can be configured to identify and separate bot clicks from real clicks on the reporting side of the software. Imagine being able to look at reporting that provides a total number of clicks – broken down by clicks that were triggered by bots vs. real, engaged contacts. If email is important to your business plan, this will, unfortunately, require some optimization or augmentation of your systems as only the MA giants have solutions like these readily available. It’s expensive upfront, but the end benefit, if managed properly, can make a major change in the outcome of your go-forward ROI. Learn more about how.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Handling the email bot onslaught is a topic we’ve discussed extensively at Venuiti. We’re not afraid of the escalation, but it has impacted the end-game of many of our clients that we partner with on e-marketing campaigns.
To make a prediction (because we’re on top of this 24/7 as it takes shape) is that B2B email marketers will likely have to shift focus from the industry standard ‘click’ metric. Further, and while we can’t hope for this because everyone wants to make money, ideally, MA software giants would release their code to the masses through an open-source format but we know they’ll protect their ‘secret sauce’ algorithms to ensure their marketplace advantage. As we often see with technology, other companies will eventually discover the key to replicating the features of the industry leaders and the game-changing information will become a common must-have component of every marketing automation product suite. Until that day comes, we’ve made a conscious decision to help everyone and anyone who wants to see their email marketing programs stay on track and provide useful, lead cultivating data. Just ask us how.
With any business relationship, your outsourcing company is your partner – not your enemy, and it helps to work with, not against each other. Based on our experiences at Venuiti, maintaining a well-communicated project ensures a healthy business relationship. Make sure you apply these tips in your next project and you’ll ensure a smooth and successful outcome.