Purging (and Blocking) Bot Traffic From Email Reporting Metrics

How many “fake” email metrics are out there — spurious traffic measured in opens, clickthroughs, and other engagement metrics? How many of these email reporting metrics may be built into service-level guarantees offered by some email service providers (ESPs)? And what should we do about it?

How many “fake” email metrics are out there spurious traffic measured in opens, clickthroughs, and other engagement metrics? How many of these email reporting metrics may be built into service-level guarantees offered by some email service providers (ESPs)? And what should we do about it?

For those of who pay attention to such metrics (thank you for reading this far), perhaps we need to do more data investigation, working closely with our ESPs to make sure there’s nothing “fake” in our marketing performance reporting.

This was essentially the point of Stirista Global CEO Ajay Gupta in a blog post he shared after a competitor’s operations were reportedly shut down by its new parent company this summer. I’m using this post to share some of his observations  which may be helpful as we look to our email campaigns, and read the engagement data in order to best ascertain accuracy. [Disclaimer: Stirista is a continuing client. My interest in amplifying this content is intended to serve email marketers, at large.]

A Cautionary Tale: Take 5 Media Group Shutdown

Gupta gave permission to share his Aug. 9 post:

Ajay Gupta
Ajay Gupta

Stirista Global CEO Ajay Gupta has something to say about email reporting fraud.

“Tongues have been wagging in the marketing world ever since the New York Times’ shocking exposé in early 2018 about how easy it is to buy social followers. And, how most of the followers you buy turn out to be ‘bots’ or fake accounts, and not real people.

“I was not surprised, because I work in digital media and knew about this practice. So, I cried, screamed, and wrote about an even bigger epidemic in the world of email. My articles were received with polite applause and not much more in terms of action.

“But then last week happened. One of our competitors, Take 5 Media Group, shut down operations with a ‘ceased operations’ message on its website. While details are still murky, one of our partners shared an email from them that mentioned the parent company had completely shut down the business after discovering inconsistencies in how open and clickthrough rates were inaccurately reported to its clients.

“The parent company did the right thing, in after discovering these inconsistencies, took immediate action to first, take responsibility, and subsequently, offer its clients reimbursement for payment of services already rendered. Kudos to them for standing up for the right thing, but there are still at least a half dozen companies masquerading as legitimate entities that continue the practice.

“This incident is but a sobering reminder that bots remain a big problem in email marketing today. Sadly, when you order up a prospecting campaign from an email service provider, chances are that the large part of the campaign is being sent to fake bot accounts. And nobody seems to care.

“We have, as an industry, created a fake floor of 10% open on acquisition emails. When marketing managers of Fortune 1000 companies ask Stirista to guarantee 10% open just because some guy from Florida said so, we know we have a problem.

“Now, it should be clear to any marketer worth his or her salt, that if the bulk of the clicks come through bots, that conversion rates will be dismal. So, I can only assume that the marketers ordering up these campaigns aren’t keeping their eyes on conversions. They must judge them on clicks and opens. Or, maybe they don’t care. We are here today because many large data companies that outsource email campaigns have subsidized fraud.

“Let Take 5 serve [as] a cautionary tale, but realize that this is not an isolated incident. The pressure to deliver fake open, fake clicks, and fake form fills transcend one company and one incident. Collectively, this industry has turned a blind eye to fraud, just because ‘so and so’ is a nice guy and a vegetarian who loves animals.

“These fraudulent providers often work quietly, behind the scenes, for a reputable agency or data provider. Many times, marketers are shielded from the dirty dealings underneath the hood. But all parties involved — the providers, their partners, and the marketers themselves — should be ashamed of themselves. And, the FCC should be on their case. Until then, we must all be responsible for fighting back against bot fraud.

“I urge all marketers to shun this practice. It’s wasting your company’s money. And it’s given honest, transparent providers like me a bad name. Open rates are a terrible metric to track as in you can’t track it that well.

“So, if you hear a guarantee that sounds too good to be true, very likely it is. Walk, make that RUN, the other way, FAST.”

Back to Chet. I remember the first time I saw a data provider advertise a way to “buy” 5,000 followers on this-or-that social platform for some CPM, some 10 to 12 years ago and I thought then, “here we go again with the shysters living on and off the fringes of direct marketing.” In each and everywhere data is in play, and the compensation from it, we must guard ourselves from the “fake” and the “fraud.” Better to measure conversions, sales, and metrics that are real.

MarTech Profile: How to Turn Anonymous Website Visitors Into Leads With Stirista

Collecting information about website visitors, a standard practice in B2B marketing, is now becoming available to consumer marketers. I recently had a chat about it with Karl Van Delden, who heads product management at Stirista.

Collecting information about website visitors, a standard practice in B2B marketing, is now becoming available to consumer marketers. I recently had a chat about it with Karl Van Delden, who heads product management at Stirista.

His latest product is Visitor ID Graph, which allows consumer-driven companies to identify the visitors to their websites. Using VIG, site owners can now capture the contact information of as many as 45% of their visitors, for analysis and ongoing marketing communications.

Ruth P. Stevens: Karl, I’d like to ask you some details about the new Visitor ID Graph capability from Stirista and why it’s such a powerful tool for consumer marketers. As I understand it, VIG lets website owners identify the actual names and contact information of visitors to their websites. Please explain how it works.

KVD: We start by enabling the site owner to do first-party visitor tracking. It’s a small piece of code they can quickly attach to their site’s header. It doesn’t capture any PII, or personal information. It’s the same scope of data used with Google Analytics and similar reporting tools.

The real value happens when we match those captures back to our opt-in consumer data file, to provide the name, email, and postal information. This also allows us to enable the user to leverage additional insights, such as demographics and geolocation, to help the site owners to further segment their visitor audience.

RPS: So you’re delivering both the contact info and the demographic of visitors. This has big implications for consumer marketers, right?

KVD: Yes, this data is really valuable. These are people who have come right to your online front door, with a clear interest in what you are offering. You get everything you need to re-engage them effectively through your preferred marketing channels.

RPS: Traditionally, the only way to de-anonymize your website visitors was to make an offer and persuade visitors to fill out a form or sign up for a newsletter.  But you typically only get a small percentage of visitors to do that — like maybe 1% or 2%, if you’re lucky. With VIG, what kind of match rates can we expect to get?

KVD: Typically, for a consumer-facing business, we see anywhere from 25 to 45% match rates.

RPS: So, I can expect to identify 25% to 45% of my site visitors and add those names to my marketing database. And what does it cost?

KVD:  Subscription plans start out at $500 per month, to activate one website and download up to 2,000 contacts. That’s the base, so it really only gets cheaper from there, whether you need more contacts for your site, or to activate another site entirely. These plans cap out at 12,000 contacts, which can support up to six sites, but it’s also possible for us to create custom plans above these volumes.

RPS: So, $500 gets you 2,000 names. That’s a great deal; especially since these people have already visited your website. So they’re much more qualified than an ordinary list. What kinds of clients are using the service so far?

KVD: All manner, really, but I’ve been surprised with its popularity with retail, brick-and-mortar shops. Everything from furniture stores, to auto dealers, and beyond. They can then retarget or even just identify some of the countless visitors that bounce off their site.

RPS: You’re offering a free account, like a free trial, right? So I can set VIG up for my site, or various sites I own, and see the names of the visitors as they match up, and then when I want to download the names and use them in my marketing, I can choose a payment plan.

I can see marketers salivating at the chance to identify visitors who come by from all kinds of sources, from campaigns, from SEO, over the transom, whatever. Now that VIG is launched, what other features and functionality do you have planned for it?

KVD: Well, so far, we have a pretty good hold on the essentials — setup, reporting, getting the data, and some supporting features to give flexibility to users. The next big focus will be providing new options for how to use it. This will include a built-in CRM and integration points for popular third-party CRMs and CDPs.

RPS: And if users want to get help, or find out more, or give you suggestions for how to make the product better, how should they get in touch with you?

KVD: We would welcome anyone who is interested to email us at info@stirista.com, to set up a consultation or demo. You can also visit visitoridgraph.com if you want to jump in for yourself.

As I mentioned before, everything shy of the data purchase step can be done on a free account, so I would invite anyone even remotely interested to check it out, see how simple it is to begin tracking your site, and, of course, see how many data matches you get.

A version of this article appeared originally in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.