Buying Bots: What’s It Like On The Dark Side?

September 21st, 2021

We spend a lot of time talking about protecting ads from bots and malicious intent. But have you ever wondered what’s it like to be on the other side of things? It’s interesting to think about the character profile of who’s behind these attacks, their motivations, and how they get started. 

Let’s take a walk on the wild side…

It’s Not My Problem

The main reason invalid traffic sources get away with it is that they rely on two things: advertisers being unaware of what they’re doing, and if they have knowledge of their nefarious activity, they assume it’s not something that affects them.

This is what makes ad fraud so easy. We hear “I don’t think I have a problem” every day from potential clients, and it’s understandable why people would think this. They assume Google has their back – something which has been proven to not be true. In fact, clients are using the data we unearth for them to demand money back from Google. 

Every account has some level of invalid activity, and bots are a common reason why. What’s interesting is that these aren’t just created and controlled by faceless shadows of the internet – you can buy them off the shelf. 

‘Returning The Favor’

Bots aren’t just at the hands of those who can write code; they’ve become so commercialized that they’re readily available on the internet. For $97, you can add this Google Ads bot to your basket and pay for it with your debit card. Within minutes, you can be attacking ads on the internet; they even have handy YouTube videos to show you how. 

Anyone can easily control this Google Ads bot. The way it works is simple: it searches your chosen keyword on Google and then clicks on the ads that appear. You can even dictate exactly how many times you want it to click. And these are sophisticated pieces of software: this Google Ads bot proudly shouts of its ability to solve reCAPTCHA forms, change its IP address each time, and maintain anonymity with every click. 

The sales message of this company is very vengeful. It promotes the bot by stating you should “return the favor” if you know someone who’s been targeting your ads. This is interesting because if someone was to take the time to determine exactly where their non-converting clicks are coming from, then looking into bot protection rather than purchasing one would be a much better use of their time… 

But, while this definitely feels like a morally grey area, it appears that these bots are entirely legal. So, if you were to buy this Google Ads bot, what havoc could you wreak on those with unprotected ads?

What Exactly Can These Bots Do?

The short answer is pretty much anything you want. The feature list is extensive, and this bot has been designed to hurdle any barriers it encounters. You could aim it at whatever keyword, industry, or business you like and sit back and watch. The only exception would be if they were running some form of PPC protection. 

Now, this isn’t a sales pitch for buying this product (can you imagine!) but rather to showcase how blurry the line is between white and black hat behavior. 

These bots are so easy to purchase and use, it almost feels entirely okay to make the most of what’s on offer. After all, it’s from a legitimate company based in Preston (UK), you can pay with your debit card, and isn’t it what others are doing to you anyway? 

See, you don’t have to have a specific skillset to dip your toe in the murky waters of ad fraud. Bots like these are accessible gateways to attacking brands that have annoyed you and lead you down a path where you can feel powerful by costing people you dislike money.

Who’s Buying Bots?

Clicking on ads isn’t the only motivation at play. These bots also scrape websites for information, package it whichever format is most handy for you, and allow you to download it to see exactly what your competitors are doing.

For example, right now, holiday prices are shooting up across the globe. For a small airline, it would be beneficial to know precisely how much the larger airlines are charging customers to position themselves appropriately. After all, recovering from a pandemic is an unprecedented time, and so surely no one could blame you for receiving a little help to get ahead? Oh, and while you’re here, we might as well click on their ads a few thousand times – they can afford it, after all. 

This example is brought to life through Norweigan Air Shuttle. This low-budget airline knew they had a bot and fraudulent traffic problem but wasn’t sure what to do about it. We monitored their campaigns for 2 weeks with a Free Traffic Audit. This gave our algorithms time to learn their unique search data and create user profiles for legitimate, suspicious, and fraudulent traffic. The clicks categorized as fraudulent, including bots, were blocked in real-time, and anything flagged as suspicious was closely monitored until their nature was identified. In two months, we blocked $27,484 worth of invalid clicks.

The main reason advertisers believe they don’t have a bot problem is down to the lack of transparency surrounding where clicks originate. This makes it difficult to know how legitimate your traffic is.

To find out if a bot has clicked your ad, you have to trace the suspected interaction back through your weblogs manually. It’s a very laborious process, made even more challenging because bots closely mimic human behavior. Worse still, you do all this after the fact, meaning the fraudulent click has already happened and cost you money.

Dan Higson

Account Executive @ Lunio

Causing A Bot To Malfunction

Invalid clicks aren’t from people hiding behind cloak and dagger; they can be ordinary people who’ve bought a bot online for $97. Being aware of how easy it is to buy a bot helps you to protect your business, and brings us another step closer to stopping them completely. 

It’s worth checking if you have an invalid traffic problem. Every account we look at shows different levels of low and no-value clicks, but they’re always there. In fact, approximately 75% of the accounts our Account Executives look at have problems with bots specifically. 

Our Free Traffic Audit is open to everyone and is an easy way to show you what’s going on with your traffic, with no strings attached. 

So, when faced with invalid clicks, you can spend $97 on a Google Ads bot and seek revenge, or you could be like Norweigan Air Shuttle – save $27,484 (and more), protect your ads, and focus on how to turn that reclaimed ad spend into more customers. 

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