Building an attractive, efficient and popular website is no easy task and the build isn’t over when the website goes live.
Webmasters need to be aware that bots lurk around every corner, looking to infiltrate a website, alter their stats, change their metrics, and garner important information for another website or company’s gain. Bad bots are a common problem, and there are several that can legitimately ruin your website.
- Content Webscraping
They Steal Your Content
Every second of every day, bots run through websites and steal content. The content is “scraped” from you website by a bot, then it is illegally re-posted on other websites. When scraping content from websites and re-posting it, back links and credit are never given. In fact, most webmasters will never know that their content has been scraped, unless they go seriously searching for it.
Webscraping is particularly troublesome for websites that are looking to get noticed by raising their search engine rankings. The duplicate content reflects poorly on your website, and lowers its rankings.
This means less people will happen upon your website via web searches. The lowered page rank, will lead to fewer visitors, which in turn leads to lower sales, or less advertising opportunities. In short, webscraping can severely impact a website’s ability to thrive and survive on the World Wide Web.
- Form / Comment Spam
Filling Out Your Website Forms
Website forms are incredibly useful. They offer valuable insight into the customer base, the traffic coming to and from the website, and the demographics visiting the site.
Form information however, can go awry when bots infiltrate them and send information that is incorrect. Without realising it, your web forms may be sending information that completely skews the actual data and can change the face of your metrics without anyone being the wiser. Form spam happens when a bot infiltrates the form and starts sending completed forms with incorrect information.
Comment spammers are just as pesky as email spammers, except they are targeting your audience not you. They want your readers to buy their product, advertising for free on your site and keeping all the profits. They’re not even asking your permission first. Right now someone is offering to sell links from your blog to anyone willing to pay a few dollars (or a few cents).
If your blog is well known, it may even be listed by name, with backlinks for sale at a set price. They do this to game the search engines and trick your readers into visiting dubious websites.
Their clients are sometimes seemingly harmless, but are often peddling fake pills, porn, scams, and malware. Sometimes they’ll use “buffer sites” – that is, innocent looking web pages intended to disguise the fact that they’re really advertising something more sinister.
- Price Scraping
E-Commerce Price Automation
Price scraping, or the act of using a bot to gain valuable information about the prices of products, is regularly used bot code.
This type of bot is developed specifically to garner information from your website about the prices of your products, and changes in products and prices. This information is then used, by competitors to remove any advantage your site and products may have.
Companies who are victims of price scraping generally don’t realise it until after they have lost customers. Companies that deploy the price scraping bot gain as much information about your products and pricing as they need. The information is then used by the company to price their own products, or used when talking to customers who may be familiar with your products.
Price scraping is a problem for businesses both large and small. Amazon, for example, famously released a statement that they would focus heavily on removing bot traffic from their website, as price scraping was a common practice.
The Amazon marketplace is one of the largest in the world. Bots were sent by re-sellers in an attempt to garner a competitive edge on the large market place with lower listing prices, and better product descriptions.
- Click Fraud
Clicking Your Ads
Click Fraud is incredibly crafty, costing your website and business a lot of money in the long run. Click fraud occurs when bots survey your website, then find your ads, click on them, and essentially make your advertisements useless.
These bots focus on clicking your ads to ensure you do not receive as many, or in some cases, any true clicks from interested consumers. In many cases, the bot focuses on exhausting the daily ad impressions for a website to ensure they do not get any actual customers.
This type of bot not only alters your stats and your click-through rates, but it also can cost your business a lot of money. When ads are on a pay-per-click platform each click costs the company money.
The trade-off, in this case, is that the clicks are generally from interested customers, so the company is essentially paying for interested customers to see their ads. When a bot infiltrates considered a double whammy in a very negative way.
- Data Aggregation
Aggregating Site Data
Data aggregators are free-riding, reselling and profiting from the factual information gathered by other organisations at great cost.
Some have gone so far as to call the aggregation “theft.” Indeed, by taking your hard work and combining it with other sources, aggregators can quickly become more valuable to end users than the sum of the parts.
Aggregators have spring up in just about every industry, quickly diluting the value of data in each sector. Travel, News, Reviews, and more have all fallen victim to the rise of the aggregators. While some, like the AP, have stood their ground in court, not everyone can afford to bring on multi-million dollar lawsuit.
- Personal Information Theft
Harvesting Private User Information
Personal information theft is one of the biggest concerns of web users, and should be a huge concern to website owners. Bots can be designed to harvest the information that users put into web comments and forums for later use.
For example, if your customers share any information in a comment or on a message board, a bot can then take that information and store it elsewhere.
The information may then be used for a spam campaign, or several other uses. It is also possible for credit card data to be skimmed from websites using bots for more nefarious purposes. The goal of every website should be to protect their customer’s data. The first step of protecting such data is to ensure bad bots cannot gain access to this type of information.
- Slowing Down your Site Load Times
Causing Trouble for the End User
All bot scripts are hefty and check data on a frequent basis and download it. Because of the invasive nature of bots, they slow down the load times of the websites they infest.
Think of it this way: if you are alone in a car, you should have no problem getting to 60mph, however, if you pack the car with 1000lbs of goods, the car will be slower and take longer to get to 60mph. The bot scripts are like the 1000lbs of goods to your website, making it difficult for the site to load quickly and efficiently.
This leads to frustration from customers who are trying to navigate the site and can lead to a loss of sales, traffic, and customer retention.
Good Bots vs. Bad Bots
While bad bots are plentiful, there are plenty of good bots as well. It is important to note that legitimate site scraping is important to building a web presence.
Search engines, for example actively index content by using bots. Webmasters can also install good bots that garner important site information. With that being said, website owners need to take caution to wipe bad bots from their system, while allowing good bots to scrape their site peacefully.
Rami Essaid is CEO and co-founder of Distil Networks.