If you have the feeling that bot clicks seem to be an increasing problem in the email marketing world, well, you’re not alone. Email bots, also referred to as server bots, are automated systems which click on the links contained in email. Whether there has been a dramatic increase in actual bot clicks, or just in the awareness of them, they are definitely a thing.

So just from where do these bot clicks originate? Primarily they are done by anti-spam and other cybersecurity filters and services, they are the server at the other end checking to make sure that the links in your email don’t go anywhere malicious. And this means that generally speaking they themselves are not malicious either, and that’s important to understand.

The issue then, for email senders, is most usually one of metrics: bot clicks artificially inflate your numbers. So, for example, if you see a sudden spike in your click rate (“click through rate” or “CTR”) but you do not see a corresponding increase in engagement, whether it be visits to your site, orders, or what have you, then it’s a good bet that those clicks are bot clicks.

Of course, we have dealt with the issue of inflated rates before, for example when we discuss Why Email Open Rates are Still Important in a Post iOS 15 World, and in large part our advice there is the same here: first, relax and take a deep breath, because it’s not the end of the world, and it happens to everyone, to a greater or lesser extent.

Then, what you do about it depends on the magnitude of the issue, ranging from ‘ignore it’ (if it’s not really causing you much indigestion) to ‘sign up for an anti-bot service’ if it’s causing real headaches.

Here are a few things that you can do to try to ameliorate the effect of bot clicks:

  • Make sure that all of the links in your email go to your site. You may have heard us say before that your email is the place to drive people to your website, your website is the place to send them elsewhere, such as to your social media accounts, your partners’ pages, etc.. Not only does this give you more control of your traffic, but with respect to bot clicks, these security bots are much less likely to click on a link that just goes right back to your website, the website that is in your ‘from’ address, because it’s already trusted. It’s when you start adding squirrelly, unrelated links, or links that go to URL shortners, that it starts to look suspicious and so may trigger the bots.
  • Consider the source. If the bot clicks are coming primarily from one property (this is more likely to be the case if you are sending email to corporate servers, where they are more likely to have security software which clicks links in email), then it’s a fairly simple matter to simply disregard the clicks from that domain when you calculate your numbers, and assume that your rates at all of the other places (the ones that don’t have lots of bot clicks) are fairly reliable.
  • Consider the source redux. If you are able to determine that the bot clicks are coming from a certain set of email addresses, and if those email addresses are not otherwise engaging in any meaningful way (i.e. not contributing to your bottom line), don’t feel even a little bit bad about removing them from your mailing list.
  • And last, but definitely not least, use confirmed opt-in (also known as ‘double opt-in’). Opted in subscribers are more likely to be active subscribers, and active subscribers are less likely to lead to bot clicks. Win-win!

Email Bots and Server Bots and Bot Clicks, Oh My!

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