Forms are critical to lead generation, site engagement, and even user research. They allow your visitors to indicate interest in your offer, opt-in to special services, and provide useful feedback, all without any additional effort. But bots can turn all of that upside down and make your lead generation forms useless.
Imagine that you launch a new lead magnet campaign and invest as much as possible in pushing it – PPC ads, influencer marketing; the works.
But instead of pulling in high-quality leads that match your investment, your forms are bombarded with fake leads or, worse, the info of real individuals who have no actual interest in your offer. That’s the reality of form bots.
What exactly is a form bot, why is it a problem, and how can you stop them from disrupting your business? Let’s get into all of that.
What is a form bot?
A form bot is a bot program specifically designed to fill out forms on your website. They access sites autonomously and bombard the available forms with spam information for the purpose of accessing restricted/gated content.
Here is how form bots work: they crawl your website, searching the code that indicates a form field. When found, the bots populate the fields with pre-programmed data and submit. These answers may be real, stolen user data or complete gibberish. Yes, they are technically a form of spam bot.
When you put a free downloadable pdf behind a data collection form, form bots will fill the available fields with fabricated answers so they can access your information.
In other situations, fraudsters may use form bots simply to create fake leads for you. This is common in situations where they can claim credit for the leads you generate and receive some form of payment.
Form bots might also be used by a competitor with malicious intent to throw off your lead generation and slow down your business.
What are the dangers of form bots to your business?
Expensive and useless leads
The cost impact of form bots can really stack up as more of them target your website. The leads they bring are worthless, which means every dollar you spend acquiring them is a wasteful expense.
But your business will also spend resources to chase down those leads. These might be inexpensive measures like an email campaign, but you might employ more sophisticated methods like ad retargeting. Since you can’t retarget a form bot, that is a costly dead end from the get-go.
Finally, every time you chase down a form bot lead, you’re ignoring actual hot leads. Over time, those may grow cold and become just as worthless.
Form bots, like every visitor to your website, will engage your server. They will submit connection requests, visit pages and interact with your content – all activities that can place a greater demand on your site’s resources.
If you get a large influx of form bots at a period of peak traffic, your website will start to become unresponsive to actual users, which may drive them away.
For every fake lead your business chases down, your competitors could be chasing down the real leads, putting you at a competitive disadvantage. This may not be a problem if you’re in a slow-moving industry.
But businesses in highly competitive markets could lose more than just time to the menace of form bots.
How to protect your website from form bots
Google reCAPTCHA is your first line of defense against form bots. It’s free and easy to set up, and more importantly, it’s the bane of form bots. Google reCAPTCHA is an intelligent program that analyzes your visitor behavior to determine if they are bots or humans.
If the system thinks they are human, it presents them with a simple check box to click. Otherwise, they’ll have to complete a straightforward puzzle that includes finding and identifying the correct picture.
The beauty of reCAPTCHA is that you don’t need to do much to implement it. Simply add it to your website and let it do the rest.
Use a double opt-in form
Have you ever filled out a form on a website only to receive a confirmation link in your email? If yes, then you’ve seen double opt-in forms in action. These are pretty easy to set up but are highly effective for filtering out form bots.
Every time someone enters an email address in yoru form, they’ll receive an automatic confirmation link in that inbox, and they have to click it before their submission is recorded. Form bots can’t complete this step because the email is either fake or belongs to someone else.
Add form bot traps
These are also called honey pots and are specifically designed to draw in form bots. Honey pots are fields that are invisible from the user side but are fillable by form bots. Since real users can’t see or interact with these, you know that every submission was made by a form bot and can comfortably disregard it.
Form bot traps like these only have pros – they don’t interfere with your lead generation in any way and can be a clear indication of form bot activity when filled. Anyone on your team with basic programming skills should be able to implement these honey pots.
Use simple spam protection
WordPress webmasters know about blocking spam comments too well. Plugins like Askimet and Titan are very effective for this, and it’s a good idea to install these on your website.
They are designed to filter out spam comments, and that will give you one less thing to worry about with form bots.
Use IP and geolocation measures
Geolocation measures are also quite effective for keeping form bots off your website. For starters, you can block all fraud-associated IP addresses from accessing your website. Most web security solutions will have access to a list like this and can easily integrate them into your website.
If your website has also had a significant influx of form bots, you can monitor their activity, identify areas with the highest risk, and block your forms in those locations. The only downside to this is that you could also be preventing potentially high-quality leads from accessing your forms.
Protecting your website with ClickCease
ClickCease’s Bot Zapping is an always-on detection service that monitors your WordPress site, detects bot activity, and actively keeps them from interacting with your website.
The beauty is that Bot Zapping doesn’t just work for form bots; spam bots, click bots, and even fake traffic bots will get a 403 unauthorized page instead of your actual website.
That means they won’t register in your analytics or throw off your business in any way.
Try ClickCease for free for 7 days – including Bot Zapping for WordPress.