From The Editor | October 26, 2022

Bots, Clicks And Faulty Metrics: What Elon Musk's Bid For Twitter Has Exposed

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By Perry Rearick, Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer

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Chief Editor’s Note. This is part one of a two-part series on a significant issue that B2B companies face, faulty marketing results-metrics based on the existence of bots and inaccurate, outdated email lists.

Six months ago, Elon Musk grabbed headlines with his bid to buy Twitter and this acquisition has been grabbing headlines ever since. The latest headlines indicate the deal has closed. While being drawn toward the drama of the story around money, wealth, conflict, potential litigation, and politics, we may have missed an important lesson.

Shortly after Musk’s offer to buy Twitter, it was rescinded citing that the number of users claimed by Twitter was falsely high. This sent news outlets into speculation mode attributing Musk’s actions as an attempt to devalue Twitter, they did by the way.

However, Musk’s claim is probably correct and the user numbers cited by Twitter likely included an unknown number of bots, those automated programs that spider their way around the internet and can look a lot like human beings. Although sometimes malicious, bots perform a variety of useful functions, but they are not real human beings.

Bots, Clicks and Opens-A Digital House of Mirrors

According to the cyber security experts at Kaspersky, up to 50% of web traffic today is made up of bots.1 They not only masquerade as website visitors and Twitter users, but they also show up in social media platforms, digital publications, and email marketing. That means that the monthly website visitor stats and the open and click data that we B2B marketers track and report so closely are artificially high.

For B2B companies, email marketing is the largest and most common channel used to reach target audiences. According to Snov.io, a provider of email marketing automation solutions, 89% of marketers use email as the primary channel for generating leads.2 Marketers are reporting email open rates of 18% and click through rates of 20%. Wow, sounds pretty good!

But wait a minute, how many of those opens and clicks can be attributed to bots rather than real human beings and members of the target audience you are trying to reach? According to newsletter platform provider, Paved, 20% of clicks are being generated by bots and some publishers are reporting as high as 80%. And this is coming from publishers with, presumably, managed circulations.

This casts a weighty dose of doubt on our email delivery metrics and all those opens and clicks are far less than we’re reporting or is being reported to us by service providers and media organizations. Navigating our way to the truth is like being in a house of mirrors. What is real and what is not? But that’s not all, there are even more challenges to effective email delivery.

Your target audience doesn’t want your emails!

There are several impediments preventing B2B marketing emails from reaching members of your target audience: crowded inboxes, corporate and government privacy restrictions, and user digital communications options. Jim Pomager, Vice President of Community Engagement at Life Science Connect, says that most of the challenges in email delivery “stem from the broad implementation and rising sophistication of corporate email security systems, also known as email gateways or filters.”

There is a growing list of providers like Proofpoint, Barracuda, Mimecast, as well as tech giants like Google and Microsoft with technology solutions, according to Pomager, that have a singular focus of protecting their clients’ networks and employees from potentially harmful or unwanted emails. I know what you’re thinking, I’m not sending harmful emails, the people in our email data base have agreed to receive them, and we also include an option to unsubscribe. That’s all good, but that only means you’re complying with privacy laws.

Corporate email filters are designed to prevent email threats, not allow delivery of legitimate emails and the filters are changed and updated continuously. Just because your intent is to deliver a legitimate email that your target audience recipient wants, doesn’t mean it is getting to them.

What does this mean for B2B marketers?

As already stated, email marketing is the most common and primary channel for B2B companies in their efforts to generate business and it isn’t showing signs of slowing down. Abandoning your email marketing campaigns, including the ones you purchase from publishers and media organizations, is not a feasible course of action. That means the quality of your email marketing list is directly tied to business development and the growth, maybe even the survival, of your organization.

When was the last time you cleaned your email marketing list? Your current list likely contains old addresses, unsubscribes that were not removed, and bots that look like active people. If you’re like many of the B2B marketers I speak with, you add new contacts to your database, and you’re done. The longer we engage in this practice, the faultier and more outdated our marketing lists become.

Our traditional method of tracking and reporting opens and clicks, what we often refer to as vanity metrics, are pointless. If 40% of our marketing email list isn’t real and 20% of our opens are bots disguised as human beings, our level of engagement with our intended target audiences is much lower. This data likely feeds other reports like total cost of sales and how we assess the impact of marketing. And these faulty metrics drive marketing budgets too.

When Elon Musk rescinded his offer buy Twitter because of falsely elevated user data, he did us all a favor and exposed a common problem we all have as B2B marketers. A certain percentage of our website visitor and email engagement data is comprised of bots, not real people. Our target audience companies are investing in technology that prevents our emails from reaching them. This has a significant impact on the quality of our email marketing lists, effectiveness of business development, and the way we are measuring results is flawed.

However, it isn’t all bad news! In part 2 of this series, we’ll offer advice on what B2B marketers can do to clean up their email marketing lists, achieve better delivery results, and better engage target audiences with email campaigns.

  1. Kaspersky, What Are Bots & Are They Safe?, Kaspersky website resource center, What Are Bots & Are They Safe? (kaspersky.com)
  2. Snov.io, 105 Email Marketing Statistics You Should Know In 2022, 29 September 2022, Snov.io website, 105 Email Marketing Statistics You Should Know In 2022 (snov.io)
  3. Paved, Email Bot Clicks, Are They Hurting Your Newsletter?, Paved blog, Email Bot Clicks: Are They Hurting Your Newsletter? - Paved Blog