Are Bots Ruining Your Lead Scoring Model?
In today’s digital era, automation has become the norm for lead scoring and other digital marketing strategies. Bots are something that not every marketer thinks about too closely. After all, marketing automation itself relies on a fair amount of artificial intelligence. In the right hands, bots and automated programmes have the ability to simplify digital strategies in a way that reaches people, converts leads and simplifies marketing strategies like never before. Although automation is great news for smart companies wanting to streamline and automate marketing and sales processes, it is not so great when automation is used to interfere with campaigns.
Bots are slowly and quietly becoming a challenge particularly in the case of lead scoring models. A growing number of medium and enterprise companies have turned to email security systems as a way to firewall emails and prevent potentially harmful links. From programmes that block emails containing potential trigger words to automated programmes that open and read every email received, and even click on every link within an email to verify potentially harmful content, these bots are wreaking havoc on lead scores. As the majority of scoring models are based on clicks and opens, false open and click rates that are driven by bots rather than genuine recipients can end up producing inaccurate results. It’s not just email conversion rates that are affected, either. Bots can also interfere with other metrics, including website visits.
Not all bots are bad. Google uses web crawlers to index websites, while email virus scanners are able to identify viruses and malware hidden within email files. Although some bots are vital to the overall quality of the web, others are used by scammers and spammers to commit ad fraud. Click bots, for example, spoof human behaviour, automatically completing forms on websites. Others scrape the web for information that can be used to replicate or steal data. Others simply give bad readings on lead scores that can lead to wasted time and effort on your part.
How do bots affect lead generation strategies, and how can you ensure that you get the most accurate results from your lead scoring efforts?
How Bots Affect Lead Scoring and Digital Marketing
The biggest way that bots can affect your digital marketing results comes down to lead scoring. As leads are scored according to various factors, from email opens and clicks to website visits and form completions and engagement, inaccurate data can cause discrepancies in your lead scoring reports. You may end up targeting prospects that look good on paper, only to realise that they are nowhere near warm or even valid.
There are a few primary metrics used to score leads, almost all of which can be manipulated. These metrics include the following:
1/ Email opens.
This is by far the most commonly used metric to score leads. Although it seems straight-forward, email opens are one of the easiest metrics to fake. There are many different definitions of what defines an open. Emails can be opened without being read. They can also be falsely recorded as opened automatically by software programmes that automatically open all emails that are sent to email addresses within an entire company domain. If you change reports to list unique opens, you will be able to remove duplicates, which will give you a more realistic view of genuine opens. It is still hard to be 100% sure which opens are completed by email security programmes and which are done by humans. Be wary of using this as your primary metric to score leads.
2/ Email clicks.
Another metric that is widely used to score leads is email clicks. Once again, it is easy for bots to trigger false positives if recipients use an email programme that automatically opens emails and clicks on each link within the email. The good news is that it is easy to spot these results, as they typically have the same timestamp. It is very unusual to have a 100% click-through rate. If you are seeing an unnaturally high click-through rate from a lead, it may be due to the company having an email provider that crawls and scans all emails to check for viruses before they are delivered.
Noting timestamps is a good way to identify these emails. The downside is that excluding these leads from reporting as they result in false positives may also result in genuinely engaged leads from the same company, which is not always good. Although clicks are a bit more reliable than open rates, they may still not be the best metric to focus on for lead scoring.
3/ Web page visits.
A slightly more reliable metric is web page visits. These could include the home page, about page, sales page and pricing page visits, along with dedicated lead pages or landing pages. A high volume of website visits is generally a good indication of interest, but it does not always tell you whether the lead is qualified. You could look at time spent on the website, and also the pages themselves. For example, visits to a career page will likely not be seen in the same way as visits to pricing pages, as the former indicates an interest for working for the company rather than purchasing from the company.
4/ Form completion.
This is also a popular metric used for lead scoring models. In theory, a completed form is a good way to gauge interest. In reality, thanks to the number of autocompletion bots and viruses floating around the internet, forms can easily be completed by humans as well as bots. The most popular tactic of bots is completing forms with dummy data. It is often easy for marketing teams to spot fake forms.
On the downside, forms are not always something that genuine prospects want to complete. Leads need to often exchange more information that some may feel comfortable providing in order to receive a free whitepaper or download. Compared to a simple sign up box that may require an email address, many forms ask for additional information such as occupation, company, position, telephone number and address. Many fields are required, which can be off-putting. Even if fake completions can be spotted, this metric may not always be the most useful metric to determine lead readiness.
5/ Content engagement.
Finally, the most relevant metric to focus on is without a doubt content engagement. It is far harder for bots to fake engagement. Determining how prospects engage with your content, whether they make enquiries, how long they spend on specific pages, how frequently they visit specific pages, how quickly they make contact and whether they view or interact with content such as FAQ and pricing pages will all give you good insight into whether leads are ready to convert. This, in turn, is also a good way to spot qualified leads that are ready to move to sales.
Wondering how to spot bots? Some of the things to look for include unusual patterns such as leads that click on an email link, only to have no further activity; companies that have multiple leads, all with suspicious activities such as email clicks taking place at the exact time of email delivery, email opens taking place after clicks, multiple email clicks at the same time, unusually high open or click rates and form submissions with strange or poorly formatted data.
Spotting irregularities early is key to preventing false positives from ruining your lead nurturing campaigns. The most effective way to ensure that your lead scoring efforts do not go to waste is to test and fine-tune your digital marketing efforts consistently.