When looking at the online world of good bots vs bad bots, it’s clear that spambots are firmly in the bad bot camp.
But most people look at spambots more as an annoyance, rather than a malicious or damaging element. Yes, they fill up your inbox with generic emails for fake viagra, or flood your website comments with mumbo jumbo or spam links.
In fact, spambots have a more insidious element, and one that can be genuinely damaging to your online marketing. Spambots can make elements of your business difficult to manage – for example responding to emails and messages, and can even damage your carefully crafted SEO.
So – what is a spambot?
What is a spambot?
Spambots are automated programs designed to send spam emails or post spam comments on websites. They are capable of sending thousands of spam comments every minute and can account for a large volume of website traffic on some sites.
Although email spam and comment spam are slightly different, they are actually the same kind of bot activity.
Spambots can be used to crawl the web and scrape emails into a database. With a database of emails, these spambots can then be used to flood inboxes with generic emails, which in some instances might contain malware downloads or phishing scams.
Comment spambots can be used to interact with social media sites or websites, often flooding comment sections with anything from gobbledygook, to hate speech and even links to malware-infected websites.
What damage can spambots do?
The main complaint with spambots is that they flood inboxes and comment sections with useless content. This can make managing an inbox much more difficult and can result in missing genuinely useful emails.
But this isn’t the worst that spambots can do…
1. Spreading viruses
By their very nature, spambots often contain malicious elements in the form of spyware and keyloggers, links to spoofed websites, or even viruses such as Trojans and ransomware. In short, a spam email that makes it through you spam filters could be clicked accidentally causing all manner of cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
As for spam comments, although usually just a nuisance, often the links within these comments can lead visitors to malicious websites or contain drive-by installs of viruses.
2. Traffic flooding
Another problem with spambots is simply the sheer volume of traffic. Some spambot attacks can cause websites to go offline, and they can even cause damage by spoofing your own website pages.
In fact, some DDoS attacks use spambots as part of their arsenal.
3. Domain hijacking
Spambots can also be used as part of a domain hijacking campaign. With a business website compromised, spambots can be used to send spam emails from the business domain.
This essentially means that your clients, or general internet users, may receive emails from your company with malicious elements embedded in them. The reputational damage involved in this kind of attack can be irreparable.
4. Negative SEO
If you’ve worked hard to build your website ranking, spambots can undo all of that in minutes. By spamming the internet with your content or your links, you can quickly earn penalties from Google and the other search engines.
They also inflate the bounce rate and lower the session duration on your website, which Google takes as a sign that your site isn’t as relevant as it should be.
The knock-on effect of this is that your hard earned organic page one rankings could disappear in a matter of weeks, days, or even hours.
5. Fake sign-ups
Another effect of spam bots is that they can enter your marketing funnel by generating fake accounts or useless leads.
Spambots can often perform tasks such as completing forms, filling shopping baskets and even signing up for accounts. If you manage a database of customers or emails, you’ve probably spotted more than a few of these in the past.
Fake account creation presents a number of challenges to business owners and marketers, not least dealing with useless leads. But these fake accounts can also be used for payment card fraud, creating fake reviews or using your domain for further spamming.
6. SEO Spambot attacks
If you’ve ever fallen victim to an SEO spambot attack, you’ll know how damaging this can be. Common signs of spambot attacks on your site include:
- Link insertion – usually spammy links too
- Content scraping and spamming, when content is copied and pasted onto other sites or pages
- Page redirects
- User generated content (UGC) spam – typically affects forums or sites with author account capabilities, but can also affect any blog site
- SQL injections on some webpages or site elements
Put very simply, spambots can be used to unleash havoc on your site and can incorporate some or all of the elements listed above.
if you’ve ever been tempted to use spam bots, or wondering if you could accelerate your link building with automation then… Don’t!
As a general rule, spam based approaches to creating backlinks for SEO or increasing domain rankings do more harm than good. Google even state explicitly that they penalise spam comments and link building.
We’ve previously examined how the trade in domain ranking is creating demand for low quality web traffic and automated bots including spambots. And this in turn creates a network of poor quality sites which act as channels for fake traffic.
Sending emails is also a popular and effective marketing tool, but the trick is to only use your own curated email lists. Scraping the web for email addresses to send unsolicited emails is, I’m sorry to say, the very definition of spam. It’s also illegal in most territories around the world, so again… If you’re thinking of web scraping and spamming people – don’t.
Stopping spambots isn’t just essential to saving your inbox or your comments section, it is an important element of cyber security too.
A general approach to bot zapping is the best way to stop spambots.
If you use WordPress, there are a number of spambot prevention plugins that can save you from the worst effects of these annoying bots. Akismet and Jetpack, two of the most popular plugins for WordPress, are effective for blocking much of the most common forms of spam.
But the most damaging forms of spambot are not the most common. Campaigns designed to spread viruses or cause damage to a specific website are usually able to break through these kinds of filters.
Using bot prevention software is the most effective method for blocking spambots.
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