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what are bot farms?

Bot Farms: What Are They & What Are They For?

The demand for online traffic has spawned an entire industry for bot traffic. And the best way to generate bot traffic in bulk is to use a bot farm.

But why is there such a demand for this form of fake traffic? What is a bot farm, and what is it used for?

And perhaps more importantly, how do bot farms affect you as a business owner? And what can you do about it?

What is a bot farm?

Bots are a system of scripts or software designed to click automatically. They are programmed to generate IP addresses and web sessions, and interact with various online features. A bot farm is a collective of these bots, which may or may not be in the same physical location.

Often, a bot farm will consist of a large bank of smartphones or tablets, connected by a controlling device. They will then carry out repetitive tasks, usually engaging with social media, viewing videos or simply visiting websites to boost traffic.

Click farms or bot farms using linked phone devices in China
A screen grab from YouTube of a phone based click farm in China

These farms are built to serve people and organizations looking to buy bot traffic and fake clicks.

We did a full investigation into click farms right here.

Over the years, bot farms have become more advanced so that they are not just simple scripts. Instead, they’ve evolved in intelligence, scale, and cunning and now have dedicated infrastructure with servers, multiple computers, and routers.

The result? They are more effective at generating fake clicks and harder to differentiate from real human users.

The increased sophistication and number of bot farms are partly because more people want to buy bot clicks to boost their online traffic. As demand continues to grow, the number of bot farms and fake clicks will also rise.

What’s the difference between bot farms and click farms?

Bot farms are essentially a form of click farm. The classic image of a click farm is of a large room full of people carrying out repetitive tasks on computers. However, these days a click farm might actually be a bot farm, or could even be remote workers using paid to click (PTC) sites.

These workers are often paid based on how many clicks they perform, which is, as you might have guessed, usually very low paid. Bots can of course conduct many more clicks, but humans will be able to bypass security such as captchas or bot filters.

There isn’t much difference between click and bot farms in the actual work done. They both generate fake clicks for many reasons, including click fraud and ad fraud.

Why are bot farms a thing?

Both farms exist solely for profit. Every time bots execute Google Ads fake clicks, someone profits. The same goes for social media clicks and follows and streaming views.

Here are a few ways that people use bot farms. 

Social media follows, likes, and comments

This is a huge market as people spend six to seven figures annually to buy bot clicks on social media. Bots like and follow accounts to lend more credibility and make specific accounts more popular.  Some research even indicates that up to 45% of Instagram accounts are actually fake – most likely bots.

Twitch/YouTube streams

Streamers’ and vloggers profits are directly related to the number of views they get. Naturally, they buy traffic bots to increase their views, boost their social standing and draw in more potential advertisers and sponsorships. Video viewing bots are known as view bots and can be hired very easily.

PPC clicks

The issue of fake clicks on PPC ads is the main focus when it comes to ad fraud and click fraud. Fraudulent clicks average 14% on Google Ads, although in some industries this can go as high as 60%.

Website traffic

Webmasters might buy traffic bots to increase their site’s visitors and get paid more for advertising. They may also monetize these fake clicks in other ways by charging for “quality backlinks,” for example.

Bot farm crackdown

As people continue to buy bot clicks, anti-bot measures have also increased. Social media platforms are cracking down on bot accounts, and advanced solutions are now available to protect your PPC ads. 

But the problem remains like a giant game of whack-a-mole. As soon as one set of fake accounts are cleared out, or one botnet campaign is shut down, more appear. And usually using more sophisticated methods.

Here are three noteworthy examples of the “war” against bot farms.

Fake Instagram purges

Instagram is constantly cracking down on fake followers and bot accounts. There have been several purges over the years during which the algorithm uses machine learning to identify and remove fake followers. The platform’s bot detection strategies are more sophisticated than ever, and now, these fake accounts’ engagements and likes are also getting deleted.

However, that’s not to say that Instagram doesn’t still have a big problem with bot traffic. In fact, it’s still estimated that 10% of Instagram accounts are automated (i.e; bots).

Ukraine bot farm bust

In March 2022, the Ukrainian government destroyed five bot farms being used to spread misinformation and inspire panic among the citizens during the Russian invasion. During the raid, at least 100,000 online accounts, 100 GSM gateway devices, and close to 10,000 sim cards were discovered. 

The bust gives some insight into how extensive the network of bot farms can be. They can run multiple accounts at any one time, generating mind-boggling amounts of traffic.

Thai click farm

You’ve probably seen footage of the click farm bust in Thailand from 2017. Three Chinese nationals were arrested by Thai police, but not for actually operating the click farm, but for using unregistered SIM cards and illegally imported devices.

However this became one of the most well known images of the click farm, and remains a common model for bot farm operators around the world.

The Thai click farm bust from 2017

What do bot farms mean for you

Hard-to-interpret analytics data

Marketers rely on data to make informed decisions and improve performance. But when half of your traffic is made of bots, it becomes tough to make sense of your reports and harder to improve your strategies.

Strain on your site resources

An increase in traffic means that your website now has to handle more requests at any given time, which is doubly damaging since the increased traffic won’t lead to increased revenue. Attackers use this same strategy during a layer 7 DDoS attack when they try to overwhelm your site resource. 

Increase your PPC campaign budget

Google Ads fake clicks mean that your “visitors” will never make it to the sale. And with you paying for every click, your ad spend will rise while conversions remain stagnant. Is there anything more frustrating for a digital marketer?

Bad ad platform choices

Some ad platforms are less discerning about their publishers, often turning a blind eye to some of the more black hat marketing elements. For example, publishers who buy traffic bot services for their websites may not be penalised on some lower quality ad platforms. The bigger ad platforms are more likely to run their own fraud filters (although they’re not usually as effective as standalone fraud prevention).

What does bot activity look like?

If you advertised on a bot infested website or have been exposed to Google Ads fake clicks, how can you know for sure? Here are four simple ways to tell.

Abandoned shopping carts

Users abandon their carts often; that’s why retargeting is crucial. But when you observe an unusually high bounce rate, something fishy may be happening.

High clicks, low conversions

Upticks in clicks could mean that your campaign is working. But if it’s followed by the same conversion numbers (or lower), bots might be involved.

New and unfamiliar sources of traffic

Is a large chunk of your traffic originating from a new area outside your target audience? If so, you should probably dig deeper. (Or do some bot blocking).

Spam

Another common sign of bot traffic is high volumes of spam comments or fake signups. Spam bots are one of the many ways that bot farms are monetised – but they can be more than just an annoyance. Spambots can carry out serious attacks such as DDoS and SEO spam attacks.

How can you protect yourself from bot farms?

Although many of the ad networks, such as Google and Facebook, are always trying to combat bot traffic, their methods are not always the most effective.

The reason for this is that for the ad giants, they want more traffic, which translates to more ad revenue. Their filters do block obvious fraud sources, but with fraudsters constantly innovating their fake click software, Google and co are usually playing catch up.

Read more about what is bot traffic and how to spot bot traffic in Google Analytics

When it comes to organic and direct bots, you’re on your own – which is why bot zapping is even more important.

Click fraud prevention tools such as ClickCease have become an essential add-on to the modern digital marketer. By using fraud blocking filters that the ad platforms don’t (or refuse) to use, you can proactively stop bots and other forms of fake traffic on ads.

Whether this is on Google Ads or the display network, or on Facebook Ads or Instagram Ads, ClickCease is the most effective tool to block bot farms and bot traffic.

And now you can also block bot traffic on your WordPress sites with Bot Zapping from ClickCease too!

Get a traffic audit and block bot farms with a FREE trial of ClickCease.

Natan Golden

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