Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

Don't Boost Website Traffic With Bots (and Beware Those That Do)

No matter what your small biz does, you want eyeballs on your website. Whether you're trying to sell your products or services online, or trying to sell ad space on your pages, more eyeballs equals more revenue. Just make sure those eyeballs are the human kind.

Website traffic bot scams are rampant, defrauding small businesses and advertisers of millions each year. Here's what you need to know.

Bots IRL

If you're unfamiliar, a bot is a computer program that performs automated tasks. Some bots are good: so-called "web crawlers" systematically browses the internet for indexing purposes so we can find what we need more easily. And some bots are not-so-good: organizing distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, stealing data, and sending spam.

One version of the traffic bot scam inflates a website's traffic numbers so the site can charge more for ads. Known as "click fraud," scammers employ traffic bots which mimic human interaction with the website, generating ad revenue for the sites' creators. According to The Verge, "22 percent of desktop video ads were viewed only by traffic bots," generating an estimated $6.5 billion fraudulent revenue in 2017 alone. That same year, CNBC reported that one such ad bot was costing businesses between $262,000 and $1.28 million a day.

Fortunately, there are cybercrime services out there to make sure your ads are reaching eyeballs, and not bots.

No Ifs, Ands, or Bots

Another version of the scam comes courtesy of marketing services who promise small business owners increased traffic to their websites. While "Multi-Channel Marketing" services claim to boost traffic using emails, mobile contacts, advertising campaigns, and other database marketing, for too many simply use bots to convince clients that they're getting more eyeballs.

One victim of this kind of fraud is fighting back, though. California-based Western Dental Services recently filed a federal complaint against DigDev, a marketing company out of Florida, claiming they used "non-human 'bots' to artificially inflate website traffic data of its customers ... and thereby misrepresented and/or concealed the efficacy of [its] advertising services, the number of unique human users visiting Plaintiff's website, and, ultimately, whether DIGDEV had performed the services which it represented would be rendered as part of any contract." Western is alleging breach of contract and fraud, among other claims, and seeking around $2 million in damages.

So, whether you're selling ads or seeking eyeballs, make sure that website traffic isn't all bots. And if you need help, talk to a local commercial attorney.

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