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How Bots Are Impacting Your Dealership's Digital Advertising


Dana Fornasar, Cobalt Senior Product Marketing Manager
by Dana Fornasar, Senior Product Marketing Manager

There’s been some buzz recently regarding the percentage of ad traffic that is artificially generated by bots. (I promise this isn’t a sci-fi article, it’s real stuff.) In case I’ve confused you already, a “bot” (short for robot) is a software application that is built to run automated, simple-to-execute and often repetitive tasks over the Internet.

One of the most common uses for bots are the web crawlers that analyze and index information on web pages. This is how Google (or any other search engine) is able to capture and organize all of the information on the Internet. The great thing about bots is that they will do these repetitive tasks without getting bored and they are able to perform them faster than a human can…these are the good bots.

On the flip side, there are evil bots that are created to generate bogus traffic (among other things) – both on fake websites and on reputable ones. The criminals that create these bots sell the impressions that these bots generate to unassuming advertisers. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, this accounts for up to 33% of online advertising traffic. Now this doesn’t mean that you should pull the plug on your online advertising – it just means that you should keep a couple things in mind when choosing where to spend those online ad dollars.

Measure the Metrics That Matter

At the end of the day, we’re trying to sell cars, right? And buying a car is a big purchase that often requires a lot of online research before a customer is ready to pull the trigger. So rather than measuring if an ad gets clicked or a shopper sees your homepage, we have to dig deeper into those post click consumer actions. Once they got to your site, what did they do? Did they look at 4 different vehicles or have they settled on one? And have they taken it a step farther and now they’re researching your store hours and getting directions? Those actions show how engaged your consumers are and these are also the metrics that aren’t frequently inflated by non-human traffic.

Focus on High Quality Networks and Publishers

You’re smart…you get that today’s auto shoppers are everywhere online and to reach them you can’t just buy ads on one website. So you are advertising on ad networks for their ability to catch shoppers in their inbox, on that parenting blog, or even on their favorite truck forum.

The downside is that you lose visibility into all the sites where your ads are placed – and right now you may be wondering if ad networks are where all this bot traffic is happening. Here’s the good news: if you buy from the right people, you can rest assured your ads are reaching people, not robots. Working with high-quality ad networks and publishers makes sense because they go to great lengths to reduce bogus traffic. They often work with 3rd party companies to weed out sites – or content – in their network that is bogus. These publishers care about the quality of their sites and audiences because their business depends on it. If their ads are clicked by bots, they won’t perform for their advertisers and eventually they’ll lose ad revenue.

Seek Out Rule Followers

The Internet Advertising Bureau’s (or IAB) is the ultimate authority when it comes to online advertising. They create the guidelines and best practices for everything related to online advertising – including auditing bot traffic. If you are looking to really safeguard yourself, work with IAB certified publishers and retailers because these are the rule followers.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

And finally…don’t be afraid to ask. Ask your partners what they are doing to ensure their traffic is legit. Are they analyzing their traffic on a regular basis, looking for any abnormalities that could spell fraud? (i.e. clicks happening too long after the page loads or too many impressions being attributed from a single cookie.) Are they regularly analyzing their traffic filters and making improvements to ensure bots don’t outsmart those filters?


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About the Author

Dana Fornasar, Cobalt Senior Product Marketing Manager Dana Fornasar is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for Cobalt's Digital Advertising solutions. Her first car was a royal blue 1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle. Dana’s VW sadly met its demise during a sorority caravan en route to a Pearl Jam concert in Atlanta, where it fell victim to what was later confirmed to be the first and only rear-end collision caused by a flighty sorority girl. Blaring from her blown-out speakers at the time of the collision was ironically Pearl Jam’s newly released song Rearviewmirror. True story. She brings 10 years of digital marketing experience to Cobalt. Before joining Cobalt, Dana worked with advertising & marketing teams at Expedia, Microsoft, and Paramount Pictures. Feel Free to reach out to Dana anytime at dana.fornasar@adp.com.

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Tags: KPI, advertising, analysis, automotive, dealership, marketing, metrics, moneyball

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Comment by David Addison on September 9, 2014 at 4:49pm

Click fraudsters exploit the bottomless pit of human clickers in the developing world. This stuff is fairly easy to spot in retail automotive because it is geographically isolated from the dealership. Lucky for dealers! Click fraud enabling technologies, on the other hand, like botnets, are growing more rapidly than anti-click fraud technology.

I'm interested to know how Cobalt detects PPC botnet fraud - a series of infected (by malware) computers with different IP addresses organized to perpetrate PPC fraud within a metro code.  Are you using anomaly-based or deviation from the norm based approaches or some sort of other detection?

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