Bot Traffic Is Taking Over. Here’s How Brands Should Respond

Are you a bot?

Traffic research has found that there’s a 60 percent chance you are. No—a 40 percent chance. No, wait—a 30 percent chance. And those odds are increasing by 30 percent a year.

However convoluted the numbers, the message is clear: Bots make up a large share of Internet traffic, and that share is constantly growing. So, is the future of publishing one where we just accept that we don’t know how many actual humans are consuming content?

The answer: No. And as a result, pageviews and display ads probably aren’t the future of publishing, either.

Consider these revelations by an anonymous publishing executive who admitted to buying fraudulent traffic in Digiday’s “Confessions of a Bot Traffic Buyer“:

“While we were eager for the chance to make an extra $100,000 of incremental profit per month, it turned out the bots couldn’t render video players. We’d send bot traffic to pages with video content but they couldn’t load our player. They were set up to fool display ads, but weren’t as tuned for other types of advertising. It seemed as if they were optimized to load pages, load display ads and not much else.”

This might just seem like some typical Wild West-Internet hustling, but it’s quite revealing about what bots can and can’t do. They can count as impressions against display ads, but they can’t actually engage with content.

That’s why brands that publish original, engaging content that gets readers to share, scroll, and spend time on a page (and measure it effectively) are at an especially big advantage over those that rely on display ads. Display ad impressions are so easy to game that anyone can do it. True reader engagement is much harder to manipulate.

This should lead brands to one essential conclusion:

Building up strength as a content marketer will set you apart from the cheaters.

Good stories require good storytellers—there’s no getting around that. Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” or BuzzFeed’s best listicles win because they actually, really make readers feel good and inspire them to share that experience with their friends. And that effect can be measured through shares, engaged time spent with content, and brand lift, among other metrics. Right now, those are things that bots can’t do.

Of course, that might not last forever—robots are already teaching each other to play Pac-Man, so it’s probably not long before they start taking a break with a BuzzFeed quiz. But at least for the time being, the way to have the greatest impact on a large audience is with great content.

Everybody likes Johnny Depp. But nobody wants an audience of robot Johnny Depps. (Via ForFashion)

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