Web Analytics 101: Is Your Audience Human or Bot?

April 11, 2022



Quality publishers work hard to create meaningful, informative content for their readers. In turn, those loyal audiences return and support publishers’ good work through subscriptions and interactions with advertisements.

Approximately 40% of all web traffic is invalid.But of the millions of sites on the internet, how many real people are publishers reaching? According to a recent report, robotic or invalid traffic (IVT) makes up approximately 40% of all web traffic. Material amounts of invalid traffic mean the data collected about what articles visitors read or the pages they visit might not be accurate. Without accurate data, it is challenging for publishers to determine what content performs well and what promotions drive human traffic.

As an independent auditor with more than 25 years of digital auditing experience, AAM has analyzed billions of page and ad impressions and worked with hundreds of the top digital publishers to audit their properties, ensuring their traffic is accurate, reliable and consistent. In this article, we explain the types of website traffic, how to identify invalid traffic and the impact inaccurate data has on publishers’ businesses.


Website traffic 101

Publishers provide readers with engaging information that encourages them to return for more insights. These readers might visit a publisher’s website directly if they subscribe, or as the result of a Google search or through marketing efforts by the publisher. Publishers want real people to visit their websites and interact with their content, but if steps aren’t taken to protect their sites, a significant portion of a website’s traffic can be robotic.

checkWhat is valid traffic?

Valid traffic is any human user who visits a website and engages with the content or converts. While bots can click and visit pages, they cannot buy products, request and attend demos or perform other actions of value. Human traffic provides value to marketers, which makes such traffic valid.


exWhat is invalid traffic?

The Media Rating Council (MRC) defines invalid traffic (or IVT) as “traffic that does not meet certain ad serving quality or completeness criteria, or otherwise does not represent legitimate ad traffic that should be included in measurement counts.” Examples include spiders and bots. There are several reasons why a bot might visit a site:

  • There are harmless bots such as those sent by search engines to learn more about a site to inform their search results.
  • Bots also visit websites for malicious reasons including scraping content, inserting malware to steal user data, or injecting spam.
  • Publishers also unintentionally invite bots to their website through purchased traffic. Traffic vendors sell cheap traffic that publishers buy to boost site visitors. While these vendors might claim the traffic is human, often this traffic is robotic and created to look human enough to pass through fraud detection software.

How to identify invalid traffic

Identifying IVT is aided by using sophisticated technology, but it's also helpful to know your audience and ask common sense questions to determine if traffic patterns look abnormal.

Traffic patterns are unique to each publisher and may be affected by characteristics such as the region in which your readers are located, the times of day they typically view content, or what seasons see the most activity (think snowbirds heading to warmer climates and reading local publications).

Since bots often exhibit non-human characteristics, there are several signs to determine whether traffic is robotic. Some examples include:

traffic-from-one-locationHigh volumes of traffic from one city outside of your readership area

traffic-spikesSpikes in traffic at an unusual time of day when your readers are likely not online

large-number-visitorsLarge numbers of visitors coming from an unusual website or unfamiliar referral source

Analyzing traffic spikes might also uncover surges in legitimate traffic. For example, if an article sees a traffic surge it could indicate that it was picked up by another news source, shared on a popular website or received a lot of attention on social media. Identifying unusual traffic patterns can reveal why an article performed well, which can also inform publishers’ content decisions.

Many analytics programs have built-in bot filtering capabilities. While these tools eliminate some bot traffic, it is challenging to detect all IVT since bad actors create new bots designed to pass through bot detection software. It is important to stay vigilant, know their characteristics and how to filter them from analytics.


The impact inaccurate website data has on publishers’ businesses

Invalid traffic can negatively impact publishers’ internal and external decisions. Questionable data leads to inaccurate assessments of what promotions are driving traffic and what content is performing well, which can skew future business decisions.

Inaccurate data also interferes with publishers’ relationships with advertisers, who may be unable to determine if their ads are reaching their intended audiences if the data contains bot traffic. Separating the humans from the bots help publishers get better, more accurate data that can strengthen advertiser relationships.


Topics: Digital

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