What Are The Bots? Unlike assembled by robotics for battles and industrial plant use, a web bot is just simple lines of code with a Database.
A web or internet bot is just a computer program that runs on the internet. Generally, they are programmed to do certain tasks like crawling, chatting with users, etc., faster than humans can do.
Search bots, like crawlers, spiders, or wanderers, are the computer programs used by search engines like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Bing, Baidu, and Yandex to build their databases.
Bots can locate different web pages of the site through the link. Then, they download and index the content from the websites; the goal is to learn what every web page is about; this is called crawling; it automatically accesses the websites and obtains that data.
What is Bot Traffic?
Bot traffic refers to the visitors or activity on a website or app generated by automated software programs, commonly known as “bots”, instead of human users. These bots are designed to perform specific tasks or actions without human intervention. Therefore, any traffic originating from these non-human sources is considered “bot traffic.”
While some bot traffic is legitimate and serves valuable purposes, such as improving search engine rankings or enhancing user experiences, other bot traffic can be malicious or fraudulent. Website owners and app developers must monitor and analyze their traffic to identify and distinguish between bot and human visitors. This helps to ensure accurate metrics and protection against security threats and maintain a fair and reliable online environment.
Are Bots harmful to your website?
Beginners might get confused concerning bots; are they good for the website or not? Several good bots, such as search engines, Copywriting, Site monitoring, etc., are important for the website.
Crawling the site can help search engines offer adequate information in response to users’ search queries. It generates the list of appropriate web content once any user searches into the search engines like Google, Bing, etc.; as a result, your site will get more traffic.
Copyright bots check the content of the websites; if they violate copyright law, they can own by the company or a person who owns the copyrighted content. For example, such bots can check for text, music, videos, etc., over the internet.
Monitoring bots monitor the website’s backlinks and system outages and give alerts of downtime or significant changes.
Above, we have learned enough about the good bots; now, let’s talk about their malicious use.
One of the exploiting use of bots is content scraping. Bots often steal valuable content without the author’s consent and store it in their web database.
It can be used as spambots, and check the web pages and contact form to get the Email address that may use to send spam and is easy to compromise.
Last but not least, hackers can use bots for hacking purposes. Generally, hackers use tools to scan websites for vulnerabilities. However, the software bot can also scan the website over the internet.
Once the bot reaches the server, it discovers and reports the vulnerabilities that facilitate hackers to take advantage of the server or site.
Whether the bots are good or used maliciously, managing or stopping them from accessing your site is always better.
For example, crawling the site by a search engine is better for SEO, but if they request to access the site or web pages in a fraction of a second, it may overload the server by increasing the usage of the server resources.
Types of Bot Traffic:
With their ability to perform tasks rapidly, traffic bots can be employed for positive and negative purposes. “Good” bots can check website links, gather data, and analyze site performance.
On the other hand, “bad” bots can infiltrate websites to steal data, spread viruses, or launch DDoS attacks. Both of these benevolent and malevolent bots have various forms, as listed below –
- Search Engine Crawlers – Search engines employ these bots to crawl (to visit a page, download it, then extract the links to other pages using that page’s links), index, and categorize web pages, providing the basis for search results.
- Website Monitoring Bots – These bots monitor websites for performance issues like loading times or downtime, ensuring optimal site health.
- Aggregation Bots – These bots collect information from numerous sources and consolidate it in a single place, aiding in data collection or content aggregation.
- Scraping Bots – While scraping bots can be used for legal purposes like research or data collection, they can also be utilized for illegal activities such as content theft or spamming.
- Spam Bots – These bots spread unsolicited content, often targeting comment sections or sending phishing emails.
- DDoS Bots – Sophisticated bots can orchestrate distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, overwhelming websites with excessive traffic and causing service disruptions.
- Ad Fraud Bots – Bots are used to fraudulently click on ads, sometimes in conjunction with fraudulent websites, manipulating ad engagement and potentially increasing payouts.
- Malicious Attacks – Bots can be deployed for various malicious purposes, including spreading malware, initiating ransomware attacks, or compromising security.
It is essential to understand that while some bots serve legitimate functions and contribute positively to the online ecosystem, others can be detrimental and cause significant harm.
Therefore, implementing appropriate measures to detect and mitigate malicious bot traffic is crucial for safeguarding websites and user experiences.
How to Identify Unwanted Bot Traffic?
It is essential to get the benefits of all good bots and detect bad bots to prevent them from adversely affecting your website performance.
Using tools like Google Analytics to identify the bot traffic is a good starting point. These tools provide additional insights and make the detection process easier.
When detecting bot traffic, it is vital to be aware of specific indicators that can provide clues, but it can be challenging to find definitive evidence. While examining website data and network requests can help identify potential bot activity, a clear and conclusive clue is required to confirm bots’ presence.
Key metrics can provide valuable insight into identifying bot activity from Google Analytics, which include –
- Page views
- Bounce rate
- Average time on page
Let’s go through them one by one.
Unusually high page view counts:
Bots often generate a large volume of page views in a short period. Look for sudden spikes or abnormally high numbers of page views that are inconsistent with your typical traffic patterns. If you notice a significant increase in page views that cannot be explained by legitimate factors like marketing campaigns or content promotion, it may indicate bot traffic.
Sudden changes in bounce rate:
Monitor the trend of your bounce rate over time. If you observe sudden and significant fluctuations in bounce rate, especially without any corresponding changes in your website or marketing efforts, it could indicate bot activity. Bots often operate in bursts, causing abnormal spikes or drops in metrics like bounce rate.
Unusual Average Time on Page:
A page with:
- A consistently low average time on page values, such as a few seconds or less,
- Or an unusually long average time on page values, such as a few hours or days; may indicate bot activity as bots can remain on the page indefinitely.
Additionally, bots often exhibit consistent behavior, visiting pages in a predictable manner and spending a similar time on each page, regardless of different user behavior. When pages have a high average time on page values but show little user interaction, such as clicks, scrolling, or form submissions, it could suggest bot activity.
Although these metrics help detect potential bot traffic, additional techniques like user agent analysis, referral source analysis, and IP address examination can enhance the accuracy of identifying it.
How to Prevent Unwanted Bot Traffic and Control/Stop Bots Using Robot.txt?
Including a robots.txt file is ideal for primary prevention in managing bot traffic to a website.
The robots.txt file provides instructions to web robots or crawlers about which parts of the website they are allowed to access and crawl. By specifying disallow directives in the robots.txt file, you can prevent good bots from visiting certain pages of your website.
What is Robot.txt?
The Robot.txt file contains the rules that manage them to access your site. This file lives on the server and specifies the file for any bots accessing the site. In addition, these rules define which page to crawl, which link to follow, and other behavior.
For example, if you don’t want some web pages of your site to show up in googles search results, you can add the rules for the same in the robot.txt file, then Google will not show these pages.
Good bots will surely follow these rules. But, you can not force them to follow the rules; it requires a more active approach; crawl rate, allowlist, blocklist, etc.
The crawl rate defines how many requests bots can make per second while crawling the site.
If the bot request to access the site or web pages in a fraction of a second, it may overload the server by increasing the usage of server resources.
Note: All the search engines may not support setting the crawl rate.
For example, you have organized an event and invited some guests. If anyone tries to enter an event outside your guest list, security personnel will prevent him, but anyone on the list can enter freely; this defines how web bot management works.
Any web bot in your allow list can easily access your website; to do the same, you must define the “user agent”, the “IP address,” or a combination of these two in the robot.txt file.
While allow list allows only specified bots to access the site, the blocklist is slightly different. Blocklist blocks only specified bots while others can access the URLs.
For example: To Disallow the crawling of the entire website.
You can define simple rules in the robot.txt file to block a URL from crawling.
For example: In the user-agent line, you can define a specific bot or asterisk sign to block all of them for that specific URL.
It will block all the robots from accessing index.html. You can define any directory instead of index.html.
However, it is essential to note that the robots.txt file is a voluntary protocol. Good bots typically adhere to their rules, but malicious bots may ignore them. Therefore, more actions are required than relying solely on the robots.txt file for managing all types of bot traffic, especially those with malicious intent.
To further manage and mitigate bot traffic, here are some additional steps you can take –
- Implement CAPTCHA or reCAPTCHA:
Adding CAPTCHA challenges or reCAPTCHA verification to forms or login pages enables you to distinguish between humans and bots. This helps prevent bots from submitting spam or performing malicious activities.
- Implement IP blocking or blacklisting:
If you identify specific IP addresses associated with malicious bot activity, you can block them from accessing your website. However, you must be cautious as some bots may mask their identity by using dynamic IP addresses or proxy servers.
Bot traffic is undeniably a crucial part of the online ecosystem, which you cannot entirely ignore or avoid. While good bots may work in your favor, bad bots can cause unwanted damage to your data or website. By combining these measures & continuously monitoring & adapting security approaches, you can better manage the impact of website bots.