Affiliate Marketing: Is Bot Traffic Costing You Money?
1,298 impressions on your landing page…
But 0 people clicked on your CTA?
Surely at least a few people would click. Even people clicking by mistake.
Are you that bad at creating landing pages?
…More likely your site is getting slammed by bot traffic.
What is bot traffic?
Before I explain bot traffic, you need context.
Affiliate marketing is a CONSTANT tug of war.
- Affiliates want to make as much money as possible from the publisher and traffic source
- Publishers want to make as much money as possible from the affiliate and the traffic source
- Paid traffic sources want to make as much money from the publisher and the affiliate
Everyone is trying to make money off each other.
And at some point, one party will try and screw the other over.
Hey, it’s the internet. Everyone knows that shit happens online sometimes.
It’s not like anyone’s out there mugging grannies at Whole Foods, but it’s still serious.
We’ve all been ripped off on Ebay/Craigslist before, but bot traffic is where things get a bit more sophisticated.
I wanna show you how to make a ton more money by learning how to detect and get rid of bot traffic from your campaigns.
First up, What is bot traffic?
Pretty much any time your ads appear on a ton of other websites, there is a chance that bot traffic is there.
So with mobile pops, your popups will appear on “placements” or “SiteIDs”. These are websites that other people own.
The owners of the websites are called the publishers.
There are a ton of shady publishers who want to make more money from the ads people are buying on their site.
Instead of trying to get more traffic in natural ways, they cheat.
- They will write a script that automatically visits their site
- This triggers a popup, or a click on one of the ads (say if it was native ads or other display ads).
- Then the bot exits the page immediately.
- The traffic source sees that someone clicked one of the ads, so it charges you (the affiliate who pays for the ads to be shown)
- The traffic sources pays the publisher a percentage of what the affiliate pays for the click, and keeps the rest.
So the traffic source and the publisher both win – you lose.
A piece of code loaded your landing page.
Now you have to pay for the bot that looked at your landing page because it’s counted as a visit. A few dollars and cents here and there is bearable, but when 50% of your campaign traffic is bots, you need to do something about it.
There are good and bad bots though. Google’s search bots crawl the internet 24/7…
But you shouldn’t be letting ANY bots crawl your landing pages anyway 🙂 Make sure you have a robots.txt file that doesn’t let any bots into your landing page.
How to Detect Bot Traffic?
If you run mobile or native campaigns, you HAVE to know how to detect bot traffic. It’s unlikely you’ll ever get profitable if you don’t.
Large traffic sources try to detect bots from publishers, but it’s you who ends up paying for it, so YOU need to know how to deal with it.
#1 Clickthrough Rates on Placements
One giveaway is a large number of visitors and zero or very low clickthroughs (check your Voluum stats by placement/siteID to find the ones most likely to be bots).
Figure out what a good standard landing page CTR is for your landing page / traffic source combination so you can get an idea if it’s your landing page that sucks, or the placement.
How do you know what a normal CTR should be for your landing pages? It’s going to be a lot different on mobile pops vs GDN vs native ads.
- There are tons of threads on this on STM – search for your traffic source, or look for other people doing follow alongs and see what data they get, and then look at the responses from advanced users/mods.
- You can hit up your traffic source manager and ask them what a normal CTR.
- Ask your affiliate manager (they won’t have as much insight as TS manager)
- The best is to ask your affiliate mastermind group. Example: If you’re running app installs on PropellerAds, you should have a group of other affiliates doing similar campaigns so you guys can bounce ideas off each other.
#2 Creating Bot Traps
A lot of the bots are really stupid. They click links, and that’s about all. They have some conditional programming, but you can beat it easily.
Here’s one easy way to create a bot trap.
- You set a tiny image link in your landing page that’s virtually invisible to the human eye.
- Place it just before the closing </body> tag (right at the bottom of your landing page). Don’t place it near the header tags as people might accidentally click because it’s right at the top.
- Anyone that clicks on that link = a bot, and you can blacklist that placement, or look into the IP that it came from and blacklist that.
Note: You don’t want to blacklist a placement that has SOME bots. You only want to blacklist it if it’s unprofitable.
I don’t care if a placement has 30% bot traffic but it still makes me money. So you still want to test placements as you normally would.
This is the code to insert before the closing </body> tag:
<img src=”http://yourdomain.com/4×5-pixel.png” />
Note that /click3/ is just a dummy offer that you’ll configure in Voluum that goes to anywhere (e.g. http://www.google.com).
You don’t care where it goes, you just want the stats that a bot clicked – so after your test finishes you can drill down into your stats and block the mofo.
In your stats you should be able to drill down and see which bots clicked this link, and the blacklist as normal.
Protip: Don’t set it as a 1×1 pixel because most bots are more sophisticated than that. Set it at 4×5 pixels or something.
Another tip: Make the pixels a SIMILAR color to the rest of the text, but not exactly the same. Most bots are sophisticated enough to ignore links that are the same color as the background.
The idea with the bot trap is that a normal human would never see the link because it’s the same color as the background. But the bot sees the link and clicks it.
#3 Redirect The Bots
Why do you do this?
This is similar to the trap above, but we are running a test to see if they are human or bot. If they are human we will redirect them to the right place. If they are a bot, we will leave them on the blank landing page.
Here’s how this works:
Here’s some sample code that goes anywhere inside the <head> tags on your blank landing page:
Make sure you swap in your own Voluum link.
Replace your <body> tag with this code:
<body onload=”setTimeout(bottrap, 200);”>
This redirects to your actual landing page after 200 milliseconds.
The Technical Side – Bot vs Human
How does the redirect example above know if it’s a bot or a normal human?
Here’s the breakdown of what happens.
First, the traffic source sends a bot OR a human to your Voluum link, then the bot or human gets into your bot trap page.
(The blank landing page with the code above).
If they are a real user…
They get automatically redirected to your REAL landing page via “click/1” after 200 milliseconds
- The reason why we put the ClickURL (“click/1”) in the redirection is because we want to know the CTR to our second landing page.
- If we get 100% CTR, this means ALL the visitors from that placement are CLEAN as they ALL get redirected by that bot trap above…
- If we get 50% CTR, 50% of the traffic from that placements are bots.
- Obviously if we get 0%, it’s ALL bots.
You may be thinking. “But we already used the ClickURL from our tracker in the blank landing page… Then how are we going to going to track users and allow them to click to the offer that we are promoting at our real landing page??”
That’s where you use “click/2” on your REAL landing page to send to the Offer Page.
Note: This means in Voluum… You NEED to configure 2 offers on your campaign.
Offer #1(technically known as click/1) –> Goes to REAL Landing Page
Offer #2(…click/2) –> Goes to ACTUAL Offer
We use the new code: <a href=”http://voluumlink.com/click/2”>Click me To Go Real Offer</a>
- So…When we analyze ALL of our placements in Voluum, it may look something like this:
- Placement #12345 (No bots)
- Click/1 → 100% CTR
- Click/2 → 10% CTR
- Placement #23456 (Some bots)
- Click/1 → 50% CTR (only 50% of traffic went through…)
- Click/2 → 10% CTR
- Placement #34567 (All bots):
- Click/1 → 0% CTR
- Click/2 → 0% CTR (obviously 0% on Click/2 because they didn’t get redirected to our REAL landing page anyway)
- Placement #12345 (No bots)
If user is a bot…
Some bots are designed to just open for 100ms to get a “registered impression” on the traffic source.
Next level douche publishers would know the timing that the traffic source needs to register them as a “legit” impression.
Assuming the publisher finds out it only takes 50ms, they will reduce their bot to 51ms… then they double their money overnight.
It’s a lot to take in, but if you’re a mobile/native/display affiliate, it’s a big part of the game.
#4 Hire External Muscle
There are companies that specialize in helping you detect bots.
One example is https://forensiq.com/ but they are not really for small time affiliates.
A good company for any size affiliate is MagicChecker. They are doing a trial for Ngo readers so see if their software can help you out.
If you’re having trouble with bot traffic and can’t figure out how to deal with it the examples I’ve mentioned here, a quick fix is to hire someone from Upwork who’s a good programmer.
Explain to them that you want to detect bot traffic, and work with them to set up a system. Point them to this article and they’ll have a better understanding of what you’re looking for.
What Can You Do About Bots?
You can get upset. You can say that this traffic source sucks. You can skip around until you find that perfect traffic source.
Or you can do something that’s actually going to help.
Here are some ways to deal with bots once you’ve detected them.
#1 Block Bots and Request Refunds
Easiest thing is to block the obvious bot placements. This is affiliate marketing for dummies. Then you can record their SiteIDs, and take screenshots of them in your tracker. If you have other placements that are profitable, or showing a more normal CTR, you can talk to the traffic source about it and ask them for a refund.
Have screenshots to prove it to them, and make sure the low CTR is not just because your landing page sucks or your link tracking software is set up wrong 🙂
Bot placements will never go away, but one strategy is just to keep on top of blacklisting and keep asking for refunds when you get slammed.
If a traffic source is profitable, but there are tons of bots, just build the system and SOP to deal with it and keep running there. Bots are just one of the parts of doing business if you’re in mobile marketing / native.
#2 Build A Traffic Source Blacklist
As soon as you start your bot tests you will find dozens of bot placements. You can build up a list of all the bot placements on a traffic source. Then when you go to run new campaigns you can upload this bot blacklist straight away so you never have to deal with those bot ridden sites again.
This is one of the methods of building a competitive advantage on a traffic source.
Whenever a newbie comes in they have to go through all of this crap, and they’ll probably quit and give up.
But you’ve got a master list of all the hot places with converting traffic 🙂
What if this all fails?
#3 Move To The Next Traffic Source
There are THOUSANDS of mobile traffic sources – here’s a PDF with some of them.
This is one of the best parts of being an affiliate.
The traffic source is 90% bots? Ditch them and move on.
What if you meet another affiliate who’s trying to get profitable on that traffic source?
The money you spent discovering that the traffic source is full of bots isn’t wasted – now you can use this info to get you street cred.
People will respect you for sharing knowledge bombs that save them money – this is how affiliate marketing masterminds and connections start for affiliates.
This article about how much of a problem bot traffic is shows you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Millions of dollars every week are lost due to bots.
Don’t Get Mad, Get Even
Dealing with bots is part of being an affiliate.
We figure out a solution, implement it, and move on.
If the traffic source isn’t going to do anything about it, you can hit them up for refunds.
If placements are full of bots, blacklist them straight away. Another strategy is to build blacklists with a friend that you trust.
Say you’re both running on Propeller Ads (which is massive), you can both be working on building up a blacklist of the bot placements and move at twice the speed.
Know that bots are there and be prepared for them. Build up a system to detect them and deal with them like all other parts of your campaigns.
Bot traffic is just another variable to optimize and a competitive advantage for you if you know the good and bad placements.