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Bots Marketing Digital

How to keep marketing human

By Dan Lowden, chief marketing officer


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December 10, 2019 | 6 min read

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Up and to the right. That’s the goal of virtually every metric we track as marketers. We want our numbers to go up and to the right. It’s where success lives, where big sales numbers live. We want more website traffic, more conversions on the site, more MQLs, more, more, more. More is, however, not always better. It’s the quality of the engagement with real humans that’s important.

Keep marketing human in 2020

Keep marketing human in 2020

Here’s my prediction for 2020: marketers are going to shift from focusing on the volume of traffic and leads they create to the humanity of that traffic and those leads, with the goal of driving higher conversion rates and business results.

But we’ll come back to that; let’s first look at why ‘more’ is not necessarily ‘better’.

I’m a big baseball fan; I’m from south Jersey, and I grew up with the Phillies. We’re talking the Mike Schmidt/Steve Carlton era here, back when there were only a few stats that people really paid attention to: for hitters, batting average, and for pitchers, ERA. But in the last few decades, the sabermetrics movement in baseball has told us those stats don’t mean nearly as much as we thought they did. Now we’re looking at stats like BABIP (batting average on balls in play), which measures – believe it or not – how lucky you are as a hitter, and WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), which measures how many people get on base against you as a pitcher.

The reason I mention those is because our perspective on the most meaningful metrics can change over time. If we turn that thought toward performance in digital marketing and look at our up and to the right metrics again, we think about how we consistently get up and to the right to hit leadership goals. Drive more website traffic than last quarter. Convert more new leads than last year. Generate more MQLs. So, we begin adopting tactics that accomplish those goals.

Are we just chasing bots?

The challenge, though? Those marketing tactics may not be sending real, human traffic to your site, but instead bots that wreak havoc on your marketing performance metrics.

We’re not talking run-of-the-mill, stopped-by-a-Captcha-form robots; these are sophisticated bots. They live on the same mobile devices and laptops that you’re using right now. They look and act and have the patterns of real-life humans. They’re visiting websites at surprisingly high rates, as high as 35%, according to a study we performed this past year.

What’s even more troubling is those bots are also filling out forms, which ends up being a big waste of time and money. Your sales team is trying to contact leads that don’t exist. Your remarketing platforms are trying to chase bots all over the internet to get them to come back. Your marketing automation platform is tanking your email deliverability by sending messages to fake (or worse, stolen) email addresses.

This is a bigger problem than marketers have been giving it credit for. Sophisticated bot traffic is an invisible monster: in the three months we conducted a pilot program with a few big brands, we found that more than $30 million was wasted trying to capture or follow up with sophisticated bots.

I predict the rise of humans

Here’s where my prediction comes from: in 2020, that invisible monster is going to become a whole lot more visible. Marketers are going to see sophisticated bot traffic for what it is: a leech on their digital marketing efforts. Next year is when marketing leaders are going to finally say, ‘enough is enough’ and put in place the right mechanisms to ensure they are driving high quality, human leads.

Your conversion rates will go up. Your conversion-to-opportunity rates will go up. Your remarketing success rates will go up. You’ll look at different metrics than you did before, and you’ll look at metrics differently than you did before. Most importantly, the efficiency of your marketing spend will drive better business results and your marketing will be more human. Literally.

What is a ‘sophisticated bot’?

Contrary to popular belief, sophisticated bots are not simple bots with top hats. While simple bots are easy to detect, sophisticated bots are so human-like they become much harder to find and stop. These types of bots can move around websites, fill out forms, and get through Captchas all while appearing to be human.

And they’re not coming from data centers, like their predecessors. Botnets can infect millions of personal devices – stealing the credentials of real people and using that information to carry out fraud. In our study, we found that on form-collection pages, there was often more than 40% sophisticated invalid traffic (SIVT), aka traffic from sophisticated bots. Run-of-the-mill bot detection techniques and software cannot catch this type of fraudulent activity as those solutions are optimized to find simple bots. It’s going to take a lot more than a simple Captcha to capture a sophisticated bot.

To see White Ops speak further on this topic, register to attend The Drum's UK predictions breakfast on January 21 or The Drum's US predictions breakfast on January 23, 2020.

Dan Lowden, chief marketing officer, White Ops



Twitter: @WhiteOps

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