Automated traffic can be defined as “traffic generated by non-human means”.
This can be in the form of an automated script, software or algorithm.
Most commonly, automated traffic is created with the aid of a bot that browses websites in order to follow links and thus create unnatural ranks in search engines.
These bots do not interact with people and cannot experience human emotions such as tiredness or discouragement: they simply work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This gives them an unfair advantage against real internet users who may have other time constraints.
How to fight automated traffic
Websites with an automated traffic problem usually have a common issue: their website content may be of very low quality, despite the fact that they appear to rank well in organic search. While for some people artificial traffic can be seen as something positive, it is not when this traffic generates profit by just following ads or links without actually being interested in what is being offered. This kind of activity can damage websites’ reputation much more than improve it. The best solution to this problem is blocking or at least hindering the bots from indexing websites by using a CAPTCHA. This forces the bot to solve a simple test in order to continue its task. This way, the website owner can be sure that only real humans interact with his/her content and it won’t be considered spam or devalued because of its unnatural ranks in search engines.
As a rule of thumb, a good website should not have more than 5% traffic generated by automated means. If there are too many bots crawling your site, you may lose control over which pages they visit and hinder other users’ experience on your site.
Why you should be cautious of automated traffic
There are two kinds of automated traffic that may concern you:
- The first kind regards websites that can rank very well in organic search, but only because their content is not visible to real users. This kind of website generates most of its profits by using ads or links and does not have a positive effect on the internet as a whole. Websites with this type of traffic usually have a negative impact on all other sites whose rankings decrease or become less stable as a result of this non-human activity.
- The second kind regards malicious bots which may be used for various purposes such as hacking into your website or stealing private information from your visitors’ computers (such as passwords).
In order to protect yourself against these threats, you should install a security solution that is able to record and block anomalies or threats as they happen. At the same time, it will notify you of any suspicious activities so that you can take a course of action.
Types of automated traffic
The most common automated traffic types include:
- SEO bots (also called web crawlers, spiders or worms). These types of automated traffic are used by search engines to assess websites. These include Google’s spider “Googlebot” and Bing’s crawler “BingBot”. While these bots usually have the best intentions, there is no way for you to know if third parties created their own versions with bad intentions in mind. For this reason, it is recommended that you treat all unknown bots as potential threats.
- Scrapers. These types of automated traffic are used by some sites to copy content from other sites so that they can use it on their website without giving proper credit to the original author or properly linking back. Scrapers usually do not have any positive effect on the internet as a whole, since they merely copy-paste content without adding anything to it.
- Spammers. These types of automated traffic are used by sites that rely on user engagement in order to make money. These include comments spammers which create fake profiles which automatically place links into comments or “like” spam bots that try to increase the number of likes/votes for certain websites or products. Spam bots usually do not have any positive effect on the internet as a whole, because the activities they perform are mostly undesired and not real actions taken by real people.
- Malicious bots (also known as web crawler exploits). These bots have one purpose: performing unauthorized activities on other sites without permission. These include hacking into sites, spamming ads or stealing private information from the visitors’ computers (such as passwords).
Frequently Asked Questions about automated traffic
How can I prevent automated traffic from accessing my site?
There are a few techniques you may employ to block bots from your website, depending on the type of automated traffic you want to block. If it’s SEO bots or scrapers that concern you, you’ll need to make sure your robots.txt file is set up properly and instructs search engine crawlers like GoogleBot not to index certain pages (you can read more about this subject here).
If you want to block other types of automated traffic such as spammers or malicious bots, an easier method would be installing security solutions that provide both bot detection and protection against them.
How can I identify automated traffic?
In order to identify automated traffic on your website, you will probably first need a security solution that can accurately detect bots. A professionally designed bot detection service should be able to record every visitor from the moment they land on your site until the moment they leave it or close their browser tab. This information should then be recorded for further analysis into a form that is easy to understand and analyze.
How does automated traffic affect my SERP rankings?
Search engine crawlers like GoogleBot might ignore URLs which are not indexed by other search engine crawler or completely omit them from their database if they were found to contain scraped content (which they usually do). At the same time, all spammers and malicious bots perform actions on your website regardless of whether your site is indexed or not. This can lead to a great deal of undesired effects on your website’s performance, the most notable of which include:
- More load on your server and slower page speeds
- Additional workload for you (spammers and malicious bots will try to perform actions which need manual intervention)
- Negative SEO (if an attacker wants to harm you, they may create spam profiles or launch a large scale attack against your site in order not to let you detect their automated traffic)
What are the best practices for fighting automated traffic?
What kind of criminal penalties can I receive for having spikes in automated traffic?
There are no specific penalties for having spikes of automated traffic on your site, however you may face legal problems if these spikes cause damage to other parties.
Is automated traffic safe for my computer or network?
Automated traffic should not damage your computer or network, however you may face problems if these bots visit websites that contain malicious code which can lead to malware infection. This is why it’s always a good idea to install security solutions that can protect you from this kind of risk.