Dotdigital blog

Customers should be ready for at least a 100% more bot link checks than last year

Privacy and security when interacting with technology is top of mind these days. Consumers are wanting to make sure they’re using the online world while maintaining their safety.

It’s no different for mailbox providers. They want to keep you and me (their end users) safe and make sure digital messages are not being used for malicious purposes. Sometimes, their efforts to do this seem to get in the way of what marketers are trying to do. Instead of viewing it that way, we should embrace their efforts and look at how we can work with them to achieve our business goals with digital messaging.

We know that many security filters automatically visit every link in an email to assess the validity and risk of the URLs. This is one of the ways MBPs protect their users. This non-human interaction (NHI) has been a topic of conversation in the industry for a long time. Security providers believe this automated link checking is a necessary precaution to prevent end users from downloading something harmful (like malware) or falling victim to phishing attacks. What’s more, link checking carried out by security providers is ramping up. In a recent industry report, as much as 20-80% of link clicks for B2B senders can be NHI (with B2C fairing much better with less than 10%). We’re seeing a distinct change with B2B domains protected by Microsoft Office 365 and Barracuda, where they’ve begun checking links more frequently than ever before. Many businesses are accelerating their migrations to cloud mailboxes during COVID-19. This surge of businesses turning to cloud services helps explain the increase in NHI.

The situation becomes even more complicated as security providers are looking to hide the link checking they’re doing. They do this because they don’t want ‘malicious senders’ to be able to detect their checks. Malicious senders are known to either change the URL redirection after the checks have been performed or present harmless content to known security filter IPs, but the harmful content to recipients. Security providers continually adjusting like this creates a moving target for those of us providing services to legitimate senders when it comes to differentiating between NHI and real recipient clicks.

How does this affect customers?

1. Increased traffic to websites

The increase in NHI can send a sudden (and unexpected) amount of visitors through to a sender’s website. This surge in visitors can cause some websites to become overwhelmed, suffer performance issues, or even go offline as a result.

The good news is there are some solutions senders can implement…

  • Throttling sends: Sending a large campaign immediately may result in 1,000s of website visitors (which includes NHI clicks) over the course of just a few minutes. It’s possible to use our throttling feature to control the spread and send rate of a campaign (sends can be steadily completed in small chunks over 1 to 24 hours). Packaging up sends into smaller chunks and controlling the subsequent website visitors will reduce the risk of website performance issues. We’ve recently made our throttling feature more sophisticated which is explained in this article.
  • Website robustness: Sender websites have to be fit for purpose. Investing in a solid website infrastructure that can cope with larger numbers of visitors is becoming increasingly important. A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is often an effective strategy for managing high traffic and allows speedy delivery of website content to visitors. Whichever strategy is used, it’s important security providers can successfully access links to websites. Attempting to block or interfere with these checks will have profound negative impacts for senders.

2. An increase in click and open metrics

Of course, security filters are doing what they’re designed to do: protect end-users. But, as a consequence, open and click rates are artificially inflated in reporting data.

How can we solve this problem?

  • Re-think engagement measures: Senders are re-thinking how they measure the success of campaigns and moving away from traditional open and click metrics to other more sophisticated engagement measures. There are many other useful metrics to measure email performance. Here at dotdigital, we often talk about holistic indicators. It’s about using all of the available data points to paint a picture. Senders need to redefine the click metric and where that belongs in that picture of holistic indicators. Holistic indicators are often described as using all the metrics available regarding the emails being sent together to get an accurate idea of how emails are performing.
  • Exclude NHI from campaign reporting: Dotdigital has functionality (currently in beta) that searches click data for signals of NHI and stops them from reaching your reports. We’re still developing the feature, but it’s already showing signs of being very effective, which is why we’re offering it to a small set of customers now. If you’re interested in knowing more, see this help center article.
  • Focus on building a positive reputation: We know sender reputation plays a huge part in the amount of NHI experienced. Senders with highly engaged recipients will receive less NHI. Building and maintaining a positive sending reputation is vital in reducing the overall impact of NHI. Using our sender reputation feature is a great way of keeping a pulse on it. If you’re looking for guidance in taking your reputation to the next level, we have a highly skilled team of deliverability consultants who can provide the best advice on achieving a great sending reputation. If you’re keen to learn more, ask your account manager/customer success manager.

We’re all working hard to solve these conundrums. There isn’t a single solution to these problems. Instead, there will be several mitigating actions senders can take themselves. In addition, an cross-channel marketing engagement platform like ourselves should provide useful advice and technological advances. In summary, senders should be ready for more NHI and website traffic than ever before, especially with the busy holiday season just around the corner.

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