Often we perceive the term “bot” as negative. However, not all bots are bad. The issue is that good bots can share similar characteristics with malicious bots. Therefore, good bot traffic get labeled as bad and get blocked.
Bad bots are only getting smarter, and it’s hard for other bots to stay block-free. This creates a lot of issues not only for site owners to ensure a healthy performance of their website but for the web scraping community as well.
In this article, we’ll go more in-depth about bot traffic, what it is, how websites detect and block bots, and how it can affect businesses.
What is bot traffic?
Bot traffic is any non-human traffic made to a website. It’s a software application running automated and repetitive tasks; however, much faster than humanly possible.
With this ability to perform tasks very quickly, bots can be used for both bad and good. In 2020, 24.1% of bot traffic online were malicious bad bots. That’s +18.1% more than the previous year of 2019.
Whereas good bot traffic is also decreasing (compared to 2019, the numbers dropped by -25.1%). With the increase of bad bots and the decrease of good bots, website owners are forced to strengthen their security. Hence allowing more bots to get wrongfully caught.
To better understand what are good and bad bots, here are some examples:
Search engine bots – these bots crawl, catalog, and index web pages. Such results are used by search engines such as Google to provide their services effectively.
Site monitoring bots – will monitor websites to identify possible issues such as long loading times, downtimes, etc.
Web scraping bots – if the data being scraped is publicly available, the data can be used for research, identifying and pulling down illegal ads, brand monitoring, and much more.
Spam bots – used for spam purposes. Often for the purpose of creating fake accounts on forums, social media platforms, messaging apps, and so on. They are used in order to build a social media presence, create more clicks on a post, etc.
DDoS attack bots – some bots are created to take down websites. DDoS attacks usually leave just enough bandwidth available to allow other attacks to make their way into the network and pass weakened network security layers undetected to steal sensitive information.
Ad fraud bots – these bots automatically click on ads siphoning off money from advertising transactions.
So a “good” bot is a bot that performs useful or helpful tasks that aren’t detrimental to a user’s experience on the Internet. Whereas a bad bot is the exact opposite and in most cases has malicious or even illegal intentions.
To prevent bad bot traffic, websites have created various bot detection techniques. Here are several ways they do that:
Distinguishing bot traffic from human behavior online has become a complex task in itself, and the bots on the internet have evolved dramatically over the years. Currently, there are four different generations of bots:
The fourth generation of bots are tough to differentiate from legitimate human users, and basic bot detection technologies are no longer sufficient. For such bot traffic to be detected, it will take a lot more than simple tools and behavioral interaction analysis.
Bad bot traffic is predicted only to increase each year. As for good bot traffic, the chance to not get mixed in with the bad crowd is slowly dwindling. Amongst good bots there are a lot of web scrapers that use gathered data for research, pulling down illegal ads, market research, etc. All of them may get flagged as bad and blocked.
Fortunately, solutions implementing AI and ML technologies are being built to overcome false bot blocks.