Are Bots Good or Bad For Marketers?

When most of us think of bots, we think of the irritating spam bots that create fake accounts on Twitter, or that bomb online forums with spam links. Sure, hackers and spammers probably get some benefit out of sending out these bots to wreak havoc on the internet’s general population. For ethical and reputable marketers, though, what genuine benefit could bots ever have?

Marketing Bots: How Bots assist Marketers

Online bots present a massive growth opportunity for online businesses, a way to offer "seamless user experience", and a means of creating "emotional connections" with users. Bots can make digital marketing easier for the marketers and more satisfying and helpful for the consumers.

The rise in marketing bots can be associated with the increase in popularity of messenger apps in general. Since 2013, mobile apps that allow users to send messages outside of their native texting apps-programs such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, We Chat, and Kik-have more than doubled in popularity. Marketers looking for new ways to reach and engage with customers naturally looked to these apps, which has contributed to the growing prominence of marketing apps.

Indeed, according to an article that was published in the MIT Technology Review in 2016 , social networks and messaging apps are ready to "welcome bots into their networks". The article notes that some messaging services-such as Kik and Telegram-already have so-called "bot shops" in place. Not all of the bots available in these bot shops have anything to do with marketing. On the contrary, some users just use them to get daily horoscopes or regular news updates sent to their inbox.

However, these services also allow brands to design bots for marketers. For instance, retail brands have created Kik bots designed to solve a range of different problems. Victoria’s Secret’s Pink line has a Kik bot that helps users find the ideal bra, while H&M has a bot that assists users in building the perfect outfit.

Clearly, these are major brands and properties, and they are seeing fit to use bot technology to interact with their customers. Some of these marketing bots are quirky and "just for fun". Others are meant to offer helpful and practical shopping advice. In either case, it’s not difficult to see how a well-built bot on Kik or any other messaging service might help create a more positive relationship between brand and user. And now, with companies like Facebook and Microsoft planning to add some sort of bot shop, the marketing bot movement seems like it will only continue to pick up speed.

The Diverse Impacts of Online Bot on Marketing

The problem, though, is that the fun and sometimes helpful bots available from Kik and other messenger apps occupy just a small subset of the total bot population. While these types of bots do have the potential to help your brand interact with and engage with customers, other types of bots could be wreaking havoc on your marketing campaign. Worst of all, it’s tough even to know what sort of negative impact bots could be having on your digital marketing endeavors, making it difficult to prevent them.

According to a InfiSecure bot report 2016, "nonhuman traffic accounted for roughly 52 percent of all traffic" in 2016. Right from the outset, that number is an issue because of how much it could be inflating your page view statistics and skewing other marketing analytics data. Of course, some of those "nonhuman traffic" are essential to digital marketing. After all, search engine crawlers are bots.

Your analytics software won’t include the numbers for clicks that bots make on important pages on the website. When traffic is coming from a source that is known to be nonhuman, programs like Google Analytics will just filter it out of their reports so that you aren’t getting skewed data. Marketing analytics products and a host of data analytics tools are lacking human vs bot traffic identification capabilities, not to mention they do not give you much insight into good and bad bot analysis, the origin of such traffic and what bots are looking at on your site. Since advanced persistent bots can perfectly mimic human behaviour , even when captured as human traffic, distort visitor tracking and reporting, rendering critical business marketing tools ineffective.

However, modern bots can do a lot more than just click, which is where marketers tend to start having misgivings about the technology. Indeed, bots today can create user accounts, make posts, interact with other users, fill out forms on your website, like or retweet Twitter posts, download stuff, scrape content and make purchases. If you are dealing with bots on your own website, these behaviors can drain your bandwidth and render your site slow or even inoperable. CAPTCHA technologies and other "prove you are a human" safeguards help websites to prevent this kind of fake, cannibalistic traffic, but bots are becoming more sophisticated with every passing year, which means that the old technologies are no longer sufficient to keep them out.

As it becomes harder to detect whether a user is a bot or a human, more bots are going to break through the levees of the internet. Advertisers might include bot stats when coming up with their cost per click and cost per impression numbers, thereby forcing companies like yours to pay more for advertising than it is actually worth. Similarly, bots might drain your pay-per-click budget without delivering any conversions or beneficial results. These are just two possible consequences out of many.

So, Are Bots Good or Bad?

The correct answer is somewhere in between. Bots have the potential to give brands way more power and flexibility in communicating with and engaging with customers. However, they can also be malicious, bogging down your website and making online advertising efforts less efficient. With companies like Kik, Telegram, and potentially even Facebook embracing bots, it’s likely that robotic web presences are here to stay. Learning how to reap the benefits of bots without succumbing to the threats, then, is going to be a key goal for marketers to approach in the next few years.

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