How to Detect Bots, on Your Website or Apps - a Guide

Bots and automated behavior can cause havoc for your site or app - from fake users & listings to spam, and much more. Detecting bots is simpler than it seems and can be achieved with a simple bot detection tag placed on your site.

Bots have evolved to be one of the most popular topics across the internet. Although in their basic form they are computer programs trained to behave like humans, they have several other functions. As bots become even more human like every year, it has made it more difficult to accurately detect bots crawling your website.

Detecting Bots Guide

This means that bots can be both good and bad and so the detection of bad bots comes into play. This article will give you a list of effective methods on how to detect bots on your websites.

But first, let’s get a quick list of how to detect bots, then we’ll dive into a bit more detail.

The Game Plan for Bot Detection

How to Detect Bots? Below are some effective methods of bot detection

  • Direct traffic sources
  • Reducing server performance or website speed
  • Faster browsing rate 
  • Inconsistent page views 
  • Increasing bounce rate 
  • Junk user information 
  • Content scraping and stealing
  • Spike in traffic from an unexpected location
  • Passive/active fingerprinting

What Bad Bots Do?

On the positive side, bots were made for increasing the convenience to perform tasks. With bots, many tasks can be automated - helping companies save time and money. Using bots reduces the additional manpower required to carry out tasks or accomplish task-related goals.

There’s even this functionality in our most common use of virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa - which many of us know to contain bot functions. It’s through these bot functions that it’s possible to automatically gather weather and traffic reports.

What Good Bots Do

Here are some tasks that bots do which are good for your website...

  • Index your Pages for changes in content
  • Monitor your websites performance and health
  • Obtain RSS feed data

However, their negative side - which gives them a bad reputation - is that “bad bots” are often used for ill purposes, or harmful and defective purposes, which is a significant problem plaguing virtually any website.

Bad uses range from price scraping, DDos attack accounts takeover, and many other ways bad bots can defraud a brand or a website.

Bad bots can also distort website traffic from search and direct channels, causing incorrect metrics and disturbing the accuracy of reports, causing brands to invest unnecessarily on additional infrastructure. These effects and influence of bad bots are corroding the website marketplace.

This is continuing to make brands second-guess the validity of their impressions and other data. Even the true value of an influencer can seem questionable with the effects of bad bots.

This is because currently, it’s become a challenging task to validate the number of bot users a website has.

What Bad Bots Do

Here are some tasks that bad bots do which are not good for your website...

  • Scrape your content, scrape links or worse still - your data
  • Attempt to disrupt your site performance
  • Post spam content and spurious form generation
  • Click your PPC adverts or other costly activities

Bot Detection 

The real question is how to detect these bad bots and how to avoid their effects or influence.

When it comes to bot detection there are plenty of ways. Most of them tend to mimic human behaviors to achieve their goals.

Some bot detection methods are easy, with a less technical side to them. The easy methods will give you a quick overview of your website if and when it’s visited by bots.

Several other methods take a little longer in order to fully analyze the data and apply fixes accordingly, these methods require a greater amount of technical expertise.

That being said, here are some of the most effective means to detect bot traffic on your site.

Direct Traffic Sources

Under normal conditions, most of the traffic for websites comes in from a variety of channels (or sources), like direct, organic, social, referral and paid campaigns.

But when there’s a “bot attack” on your site, or to a particular page, the only channel contributing to the traffic will be direct traffic. This can be an obvious and perhaps an easy sign to detect bots on your website.

Reducing Server Performance

A slowdown in your hosting server performance mainly comes from bots.

So a server slowdown should always be viewed from the bots perspectives. This is mainly because the server resources and bandwidth become stretched from the multiple bot hits received within a short period.

We should also mention, that the knock-on effect of a bot attack means the slowing down of your server performance directly impacts the user experience on the website for your “normal” traffic, those being organic, referral and social.

Speed of Your Website 

This is another way that you can easily detect the activity of bots. When your website experiences a massive onset of bots, then as we alluded to previously, your website will slow down.

One bot is unlikely to make much of an impact on the speed of your site overall, but site speed can be affected when numerous bots enter your website at the same time. This is because lots of bots entering a website at once is often an attempt to overrun the server capabilities and take the site, or the server down.

This attempt is also known as a DDoS attack. These attacks can have a disastrous effect on your website performance and harm your overall brand and business. The effects of such a bot invasion are therefore worse if your website is the only primary source for doing business and sales. 

Faster Browsing Rate

Machines can browse a website much faster than humans. So when you experience a huge amount of traffic in a short period, it’s mostly because of bots.

Sophisticated bot attackers can, however, slow down their bot speed to match more to human speed. This is done deliberately to fool your system to believe these requests are coming from different and valid sources.

This method of entering websites is done through a botnet that consists of a huge amount of different IP addresses.

The good thing about these IP addresses is that many companies collect information about these suspicious IP addresses. These companies then sell this information as “threat intelligence”. 

Junk User Information 

Any increase in the weird, unusual account creation or sign-ups with weird email addresses, accompanied by potential fake names and phone numbers is a huge indicator of bots on your website. This unusual activity of form filling and strange submissions are performed by form-filling bots or spambots.

Content Scraping

Bots are often designed to steal content, making it easier and cheaper to extract data without paying for premium databases or subscription feeds. For example, a bot may scrape popular coupon sites to steal coupon codes and display them on their own website. Coupon sites often pay thousands of dollars per month for premium subscriptions to coupon feeds.

Similar use cases exist, even IPQS is targeted by bots that scrape IP address lookup results to avoid paying for our service. So bots can target a wide range of data to gain a competitive edge over your business. This is why it's so important to implement proper bot detection on your site to maintain your company's success and prevent competitors from gaining an advantage.

Inconsistent Page Views 

This is where you can check your Google Analytics stats for any inconsistencies in the visits to your page. By checking the number of page views, referral traffic, and average session duration. Comparing this against your normal track record, you can easily detect if bots are visiting your website and how often.

One easy and obvious thing you’ll be able to see when bots are visiting your page is an unusual increase in page views. This is because when bots enter a website, they tend to load up a large number of pages all at once.

For example, if on average, you have a page visited by 3 users at one time, then you see a spike in page views that suddenly increases to visiting 70 pages on a single visit. Then there’s a good chance this is probably a bot.

Increasing Bounce Rate 

When a user leaves the website without visiting another page or performing any additional action or interaction on the page, Google considers the visit as a “bounce”.

Another thing you can check on your website is the average page duration, as well as the bounce rate. If the average page duration for a website (time spent on-page) reduces, and the bounce rate increases (visitors not viewing other pages or interacting with the page), this is a clear indicator that your website is being visited by rogue bots.

Bots generally are incredibly fast, this enables them to take just a few seconds or so to perform a multitude of actions. So bots only need seconds to crawl around your entire website and collect all the information they need.

Because of this, when you compare the time spent on the page (the page duration) by users, the time taken by a bot will generally be much lower than that of a typical user. When a bot has finished crawling the page needed, the bot will then leave and move to the next website. This could have a huge impact on your website's bounce rate.

Over time, if this bounce rate increases, it can dumb down your Google metrics. So by carefully observing the changes and inconsistencies in these metrics, it can give you an easy detection point for bots that visit your site.

Spike in Traffic from an Unexpected Location

Meaning any sudden increase in users from a particular region, country, city or other location, which you may not be familiar with, or not related to your website. This is where your website gets visits by a large number of users from a specific location that will rarely be fluent in the native language of your website or has a high concentration within a specific locale. Such situations are another indication of bots.

Easily solve abuse issues from bots and automated behavior.

Passive Fingerprinting

This concerns identifiable metadata. For example, particular browsers always send certain header messaging to identify themselves. Bots from unsophisticated attackers or sources do not include these types of identifying headers. In some instances, many basic bots may use the attack tool as their actual name. In such circumstances, it's easy to detect bots through their header information. 

Active Fingerprinting

Web browsers are generally complex and packed full of information. so it's hard to duplicate them. And for bot attackers to try and build a bot that could represent all the attributes and specifications of a browser and its behavior is a complicated task - often too complicated to bother with.

Your system will send a request to every browser, querying this information on the browser as an identifier. Utilizing a solution like device fingerprinting can access deep information about a user to easily identify bots.

The request would require that the browser perform a task that would identify your “fingerprint” attributes - usually, this goes on in the background. By analyzing the corresponding response from the browser, it’s easy to detect if it’s a bot or not.

This is the way in which a system can identify if a request is coming from a real human - or a bot. 

In addition to these requests, if you ever notice unusual metrics or slow page load times, then we’d always recommended you delve a little deeper into the stats and look to identify if it’s a bot attack or not.

It’s also important to mention here, that amidst these indicators you can look at to detect bots, sophisticated bot attackers will undoubtedly try to duplicate all the possible and potential attributes of a genuine or real browser, bots can fool many systems, even when you cover all bases.

Also, in addition to these, there are plenty of other advanced tools, techniques and even services provided by specialized companies for bot detection.

Professional Bot Detection

This is where IPQS comes in. Often, you may not always have the time to run these kinds of analytical tests, even then, they can take specific software, techniques, and experience to understand the data they present.

If you suspect you’re systems are under constant bot attacks, or are merely concerned, then why not create a free account so we can investigate further. It's very likely we can instantly solve your fraud issues while saving your company money at the same time.

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