What are email clicks bots? Is your click data in danger?

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It seems simple: you put together an email campaign, send it out, and watch the click data pour in.

You can count on the fact that the click data you are watching and analyzing (aggregate counts, percentages, WHO is clicking, heatmaps, etc.) is representative of a real person that is interacting with your super well thought out email marketing campaign, right?

Wrong. 

Those of us deep in the world of email understand that – in addition to the actual people interacting with our email campaigns, and the email campaigns of our thousands of customers – there is another force at work that is impacting our click data.

So what is this additional force at work?

In short, it’s email bots clicking links in emails as a security measure.

What is an email click bot?

An email click bot is a program that automatically clicks on links within emails to determine if they are safe or not, preventing spam from reaching the recipient’s inbox. However, this can affect metrics such as email clicks, as it may appear that recipients are interacting with the email when it is actually the anti-spam filter doing the clicking.

What is the difference between an email spam bot vs an email click bot?

Email spam bots and email click bots are two different types of bots that can affect your email marketing metrics.

Email spam bots are designed to send spam emails to a large number of email addresses. They can be used to spread malware, phishing scams, or other types of malicious content. Email spam bots can also be used to inflate email marketing metrics such as open rates and click-through rates by artificially generating clicks on links in emails. This is also also known as ad fraud. 

On the other hand, email click bots are designed to click on links in emails as a way to explore, find, and exploit potential vulnerabilities, as mentioned previously. 

What are email security gateways?

Email security gateways, or email security systems, or email spam filters, are just a few of the common terms for the services that organizations employ in order to scan their inbound email content for viruses and other IT security threats.

These solutions typically consist of several technologies working together to enforce a set of rules around inbound email. One way for these software technologies to “scan” incoming emails by clicking on the links within the emails with email security bots.

And in some cases, these click bots can do a lot of clicking.

So much so that each link in an email to one user could be clicked, for example, five times within just a minute of receipt of that email, that’s a lot of fake clicks.

What types of emails do these spam filters impact?

The short answer is all of them.

Bot activity affects the big players in the email space like Mailchimp and Sendgrid all the way down to mom-and-pop email service providers. Mailchimp says this about users who notice sky-rocketing click rates: “Unfortunately, there’s no way for us to see if a link has been clicked by a spam filter or your intended recipient, but if you see an unusually high number of clicks from a single domain, it’s likely to be a spam filter.” 

And this is not a data and analytics problem that will disappear soon.

These software providers are gaining popularity as they become less expensive and easier to implement. Of course, these services are ultimately performing essential and much-needed functions to eliminate IT threats, but they give email senders far and wide quite the headache. 

What does this mean for interpreting my click data?

Keep in mind that even though it might be tempting, filtering out what you think are from suspect IP addresses and/or domains entirely from your email analytics reports could cause you to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. 

That is, you might be ignoring some real, natural click data as a result.

Furthermore, any IP address associated with these spam filter clicks will constantly be in flux and never published for certain. These providers want their services to continue to perform as under the radar as possible. 

At rasa.io, we recommend a few things to any email sender in order to get a better grasp of what their reports are telling them:

  • Observe your marketing email metrics: pay more attention to unique click rates over total click rates, as the validity of the total rates is the greatest victim of a security spam filter
  • Validate the click data: validate the click data on links to your own website content by looking at Google Analytics and other website analytics reports. Google Analytics likely will not register any corresponding bot traffic from these artificial clicks. However, you do need to be wary of discrepancies between analytics tools and email tool dashboard data: whereas your email service might have higher than normal numbers because of email security gateways, tools like Google Analytics often underreport data due to a few factors, including analytics opt-out tools, and their inability to thoroughly track traffic from all email browsers.
  • Ask the right questions: Your email service providers will likely have some insight as to how they identify and treat bot activity.

If you’ve got any questions about email data or sending a more successful email newsletter, schedule a demo with us today.

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