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It’s estimated that around half the internet is made up of NHA or non-human traffic – bots that, for one reason or another, scour the net. Some of these are friendly, indexing pages for search engines or testing website speeds. Others are slightly more nefarious, phishing for personal details or generating fake ad impressions or ‘click fraud.’

At the end of last year, expert online security firm White Ops uncovered the biggest online ad fraud so far – Methbot. Simplified, programmatic ads work by finding where the most profitable ads should be posted based on traffic. The Methbot hackers created more than 6,000 domains and 250,267 distinct URLs, gamed the system to make these domains attractive to ad-buying algorithms then set loose 570,000 bots to “watch” as many as 300 million video ads a day. The result netted them between $3 million and $5 million a day.

And it’s not just web traffic. Social media is riddled with bots, too. Research from the University of Southern California and Indiana University says up to 15% of Twitter accounts are non-human, while last month influencer marketing agency Mediakix set up two fake Instagram accounts, bought a load of followers and became Instagram Influencers overnight.

You’ve likely experienced this scourge yourselves: a surge in traffic from a strange URL, weird comments on your WordPress blog, a random Instagram like from a buxom Eastern European blonde with two followers and a suggestive bio. Bots are an ongoing challenge for any business online.

The Solution

Adtech has long buried its head in the sand about the possibility of ad fraud, but earlier this year, Procter and Gamble’s Chief Branding Officer Mark Pritchard said he was taking his multi billion dollar advertising purse off the table unless there was more clarity on the results of their spend from agencies.

The problem with adtech is that it’s generally measured on impressions, and guidelines set by the International Advertising Bureau (IAB) class an impression as “50% of the creative asses viewable for a minimum of 1 second”. That, in technical terms, is wank. Can you really say an ad is a success if you’ve only seen half of it for a second? Clearly not. Impressions are a crap guide to marketing efficacy. As a result, the marketing industry is now increasingly interested in measuring outcomes, and not vague, top-line numbers.

Why’s all this important for content marketing? Because in numerical terms, it’s difficult to separate the bots from the humans. If we conservatively assume that 20% of your traffic is non-human, measuring ‘sessions’ is not a metric of success; it’s a superficial – or vanity – metric. The same goes for retweets, likes and followers on social. These stats give a rough outline to a story, but not the whole sordid tale. Businesses need to think about the entire online (and offline) ecosystem when reporting and monitoring marketing success. Do you have any content that requires people to give up their personal details – a regular newsletter or an ebook, for instance? That’s a trackable goal, and should be set up on analytics accordingly.

This begs a deeper question, still: do you have visibility on your whole sales process? If you’re getting enquiries through your website contact form, how did they originally arrive on your site? How many of those turn into qualified leads, and how many of those turn to sales?

Measurement is essential for the success of all your marketing activity, but it has to be contextual. Decide up top on a key success metric (or two) for your content marketing activity. Then, focus your written work on boosting these measures via your calls-to-action, landing pages and otherwise.

Doing so isn’t that tricky. Where are your customer touch points? What is the success metric for each? How do you monitor that data? How do you report on it?

Only then will you have clarity on the success of your content with real people, and not bot twots.

Great content is a balance between fantastic creative work and data driven insights. Find out how we use both to help our clients grow.

Photo credit:

Robot by andreavallejos via Flickr

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I’m the Head of Content for Future Content and the man in charge of words. As a former journalist for a number of publications, from Chat to MailOnline to that’s Shanghai, I have a wealth of editorial experience and a way of making words do good.

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