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5 Ways Malicious Bots Can Devastate Your Online Presence

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    Written by Richard Kahn
    on July 12, 2018

    Every second, thousands of bots roam around the web. Many are helpful, but others are malicious. Some bots crawl pages and catch content thieves, while other bots serve spam, scrape information, and generate fake ad impressions.

    You know malicious bots are bad, but do you know exactly how these bots are damaging your online presence?

    How Malicious Bots Damage Your Brand

    1. They Tarnish Your Brand Name

    When customers give you personal or financial information through forms or online purchases, they’re trusting your company with keeping that data secure. But bad bots can steal that data from your site, potentially putting your customers and your reputation at risk.

    Learn more: What The Heck Are Bots Anyways?

    Bots Can Spam You With Questionable Backlinks

    Spammers may use bots to sell backlinks from your site to clients and then comment on your blog posts with poor-quality links from their clients. Basically, they’re selling backlinks from your site to their clients without your permission.

    Sometimes, the links the bots post can be fairly benign, but they could also send your readers to questionable websites run by scammers selling anything from malware to fake pills.

    Bots Can Steal Sensitive Information

    Many web users are wary about sharing their personal information with even the most trusted of websites. So, when users do willingly give away that data, having it stolen becomes a huge concern for website owners. They want to make sure the trust of their customers isn’t at stake.

    Unfortunately, lots of bots out there are built to steal any information that users put into forms and comments. They’ll use that information to build a spam campaign, or they’ll sell it to a competitor.

    Some bots are even advanced enough to harvest your customers’ financial data. You need to take extra precautions to make sure bots can’t access your customers’ sensitive payment data by regularly updating your site security.

    Bots Can Get You Blacklisted

    From killing your site’s load time to spamming your visitors with unwanted download links, bots can discourage any legitimate visits you might get from potential customers.

    Malware If you don’t take proper steps to block malicious bot activities, your site may be flagged and blacklisted by search engines, such as Google. Visitors landing on blacklisted sites are met with a security warning message that they must review before proceeding. Blacklisted sites usually see a dramatic drop in traffic, thanks to these warning messages.

    2. They Damage Your SEO Ranking

    How well your site ranks on a SERP depends on many factors: fast load time, content quality, trustworthy backlinks, etc. However, some bots can cripple your website enough that it’s no longer functional or reliable, which causes your SEO ranking to plummet.

    Bots Can Crash Your Website

    Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks occur when botnets are used to target and overwhelm a single system with the intention of crashing it.

    Related Post: Beware the Botnet: When Zombie Computers Attack

    Most DDoS attacks last less than four hours, but some can exceed over 200 hours. A shorter DDoS attack, while still bad, won’t hurt your SEO ranking too much, but a longer one will. In the event of an attack, you’ll want to secure your website as soon as you can to help prevent any future attacks.

    Bots Steal and Plagiarize Your Content

    Bots can easily steal all of the high quality content you’ve carefully crafted for your site. They’ll post it elsewhere without your knowledge or permission, and they won’t give you any credit for it, either.

    Search engines consider duplicated content as plagiarized. Your site’s SEO ranking could drop as a punishment for copying, even if you’re the original publisher.

    Related Post: How to Protect Your Blog From Fraud

    It’s hard to catch these bots, too. The only way you’ll really know your content has been scraped is if you’re actively checking for it.

    Bots Can Slow Your Site Speed

    When bots invade your website, they bring hefty chunks of data with them. They’re extremely invasive, and they’ll automatically slow down your site. Not only will this cause your users to go elsewhere out of frustration, but it’ll also damage your quality score.

    3. They Corrupt Your Analytics

    Every site owner wants their analytics to be accurate. You need analytics to know how much traffic comes through, how successful your marketing efforts are, and how well your site is doing as a whole. But bots can mess with your analytics by interacting with your site and giving you false data.

    Bots Can Click on Your Ads

    Known to advertisers as click fraud, bots interact with your ads by clicking on them, ultimately falsifying your click-through rate (CTR). Bot interaction basically renders your ad campaigns useless, because you’re paying for ads that only attract false bot clicks. These clicks drain your advertising budget, and then your ad no longer shows to legitimate traffic.

    Bots Can Fill Out Customer Forms

    Beyond just clicking ads, more sophisticated bots can actually fill out forms on your site. Phony form fills flood your database with fake customer information, which can alter your conversion statistics and make it seem as though you have more leads than you really do.

    Related Post: Why Do Bots Fill Out Forms?

    Even worse, if you’re collecting information like phone numbers and you’re not properly vetting each lead you receive, you could risk TCPA noncompliance if you call the number without proper consent.

    4. They Affect Your Revenue

    Any security threat carries a potential loss of revenue. But when it comes to bots, there’s an even greater risk: bots work harder and faster than a hacker who’s trying to bypass security manually. And unlike a human working on a single task, bots can be programmed to harm you financially in more ways than one.

    Bots Can Spy for Your Competitors

    Certain bots, either working on behalf of a competitor or a data reseller, are designed to crawl your site and gather information about your product details and pricing. No matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to gain an edge over the competition, because these bots are constantly sharing your information with others looking to exploit it.

    Bots Can Collect Your Data

    Data aggregators are a specific type of bot who can steal any research you’ve done or data you’ve spent money gathering and release it for free. The value of your now-public data will essentially be nonexistent, so you’ll no longer be able to profit from it.

    Bots Can Skew Your Advertising Costs

    When bots mess with your analytics, that can affect the cost of your advertising. Publishers will be able to charge a lot more for ad space, because they’ll reference your inflated traffic traffic numbers (even though they’re bots). This means that advertisers will probably end up paying inflated prices for artificial traffic.

    Learn More: Maintaining Compliance: 3 Things Not to Waste Your Q4 Budget On

    Bots can also mess with any A/B testing you do. They’ll automatically click on everything, as they’re programmed to do, so you won’t know which ads are actually performing well.

    5. They Target Your Customers’ Devices

    Anyone who visits your site can become a victim if your website is full of injected ads or download prompts for spam and malware

    Bots Can Clickjack You

    Clickjacking occurs when bots trick you into clicking on a site and filling out a form by making the legitimate website transparent and layering it over a fake website. The visible page looks completely normal, but when you click, you’re actually interacting with the transparent page.

    Clickjacking AttackSource: Smart Techverse

    On a clickjacked page, anything can happen. You may be giving hackers and fraudsters access to sensitive information as you click around on the visible site. Clickjacking bots can also trick you into activating electronic bank transfers, liking social media pages without your permission, downloading malware, or even making online purchases.

    Bots Can Infect Your Site’s Code

    If your site’s security isn’t up-to-date, it’s pretty easy for bots to inject malware codes into your HTML header. The code is usually hard to detect, too, because it could look similar to your site’s real code.

    It’s possible that these injected codes allow bots to redirect your traffic to sites your audience never mean to visit. This is exactly what the MosQUito jQuery script does to Joomla or WordPress sites. The MosQUito script takes traffic coming into your site, either from search or paid advertising, and then directs it elsewhere.

    How to Combat the Bad Bots

    Catching the bots is just the first half of the challenge, and fighting them can be impossible. The best approach is to take preventative measures so bots can’t touch you in the first place.

    Related Reading: How to Protect Your Brand and Consumers From Bad Bots

    1. Search for Copies of Your Content

    Pull a quote or two from your content and do a search for it. If you see a match from a website that you didn’t give permission to use your content, you’re probably a victim of content scraping. Or, you can use a site like Copyscape to do the heavy lifting for you.

    2. Delete Spam

    Browse your blog’s comments regularly and delete any comments that contain spam or questionable links. It might take a while, but it means your readers are at a lower risk for malware schemes.

    3. Block Untrustworthy IP Addresses

    It’s not 100% effective, since some bots have multiple IP addresses, but you can block the known addresses of bots to keep them from coming back for another attack.

    4. Block Known Bots

    On top of blocking questionable IP addresses, you can also copy a starter list of known bots to your site’s .htaccess file to block them from accessing your site.

    5. Test the Speed of Your Site

    If you’re continually testing, you’ll know when your site slows down, which could be a sign that bots are infecting your site’s code.

    6. View Your Site in Incognito Mode

    You can keep tabs on your SEO rank this way, and you can also see how your website appears to customers. You’ll know if they’re being served any spam or if they’re getting redirected to an unfavorable site.

    7. Filter Your Traffic

    Traffic filtration helps you block the bad bots before they interact with your site and cost you time and money. You’ll be able to make sure that your ads are appearing to real people and not bots.

    No matter what you do, some bad bots will slip through your security net. However, you can make sure that you’re educated about bots and taking every precaution you can to prevent a bot attack. It’ll keep your stress levels down and your customers’ online experience positive.

    This article was originally posted in August 2017 and has been republished with new information.

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