The Bots Are Taking Over

Solve Media warns that bogus traffic is on the rise, resulting in billions in waste

It’s Solve Media’s job to help make sure you’re not a cylon. Or a Borg, or a Dalek, or some kind of Web scraping robot. So when the company says that bot traffic is on the rise, there might be reason for Web publishers, advertisers and e-commerce companies to worry.

The company, which delivers text ads that take the place of those annoying Captcha security tools (where you have to type an illegible word to prove you’re not a robot), has released its latest Bot Traffic Market Advisory. The numbers are troubling.

According to Solve, the amount of “suspicious activity” on the websites it tracks jumped from 26 percent in Q3 2012 to 40 percent in Q4. At least a quarter of that suspicious activity is from bots, per Solve’s data, which is pulled from the 6,000 or so publishers that employ its Type-In technology to prove their users are indeed human.

What do these increases mean? One effect: Potentially more advertisers are paying to reach people that aren’t truly people. According to Solve, bot traffic cost marketers between $1 billion and $2 billion in display advertising in Q4. That theoretically drives up ad rates and drives down the effectiveness of ad campaigns—while also leaving publishers vulnerable to fraud, content theft and spam.

Naturally, Solve has reason to tout such data. The company claims its tools and products can help publishers against bot-driven traffic. But they're not the only ones talking up the robot scourge. Many publishers, advertisers and researchers including comScore have warned about a massive surge in nonhuman traffic, particularly in the exchange space.