From The Editor | November 4, 2022

What B2B Marketers Can Do About Bots, False Clicks, And Inaccurate Metrics

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By Perry Rearick, Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer

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issue that B2B companies face, faulty marketing results-metrics based on the existence of bots and inaccurate, outdated email lists.

For B2B companies, email marketing is the largest and most common channel used to reach target audiences. 89% of marketers use email as the primary channel for generating leads.1 The most common way we determine the success of our email campaigns is by tracking open and click-through data. However, for many B2B companies, this data is woefully inaccurate.

In the first article on this topic, I explained the problem, why it exists, and the negative impact it is having on your marketing and sales operations. In this article, we’re going to look at what you can do about it to better engage your target audiences and more accurately measure the results. If you don’t believe that you have a problem with your email marketing campaigns and those >40% open rates are accurate, I invite you to read the first article before this one.

I don’t want to belabor the bad news, there are things we can do to improve our email marketing efforts by assessing the quality of our email marketing databases, cleaning up our lists, and transforming the way we measure results.

Gaining Ground Truth

The first step in improving our email marketing effectiveness and the quality of our databases, is to understand what we’re dealing with. Jason Cramer is the CEO of Cultivise, a company that helps marketers effectively integrate technology with their marketing operations. He says that it is important for companies, who have adopted email marketing tools, to seek ground truth on the outcomes they are achieving. He applies the analogy of looking under the hood of a car to see how the engine is running.

The challenge is that car engines have become increasingly complex and so have your email marketing databases. If you’ve looked under the hood of your car recently, you may only recognize a few things, they have become mysterious black boxes. When we think something may be amiss, we take it to a shop that has the expertise to run diagnostics that tell us specifically what is wrong. The same can be said for our email marketing lists. So don’t be afraid to reach out to some experts to help you. But there are some things we can do to get started if we’re willing to become intimately familiar with our technology and data.

If you are conducting email marketing campaigns, you are probably using one of the many technology tools to automate this operation. Many of these solutions come with capabilities to help you manage your mailing lists by detecting and removing duplications from your database, reporting undeliverable emails and addresses, and even detecting and filtering bot activity. 

Look for the obvious signs that are pointing to problems. One of the most obvious issues that most email marketing automation tools can detect is undeliverable email addresses, but you should also be looking for duplicate recipients, especially with different email addresses. People change jobs regularly and they don’t often notify us to update their email address so they can keep getting our promotional blasts.

Organize, understand, and accept the truth that you discover. If you are like most of the B2B marketers who have gone through this process for the first time, or the first time in a while, you may find that most of the people in your email marketing lists are not real people with active, accurate email addresses.1 Don’t be surprised if you discover that over 50% of your clicks can be attributed to bots, or you have a significant amount of outdated, inaccurate contact information.

Clean Your Data

After gaining ground truth with email marketing databases, the natural next step is to clean it up, but that isn’t always the case. We are often reluctant to remove anyone from our lists and explaining a reduction in prospect engagement, even if inaccurate, isn’t a conversation we want to have with our bosses. So, we conclude that it would be too much trouble to make any changes and our databases become the digital equivalent of a hoarder’s basement.

Data analysts rank among the fastest growing professions, and they are becoming a valuable part of the best B2B marketing teams. Cleaning and the on-going maintenance, or cleanliness, of data can be a full-time job. Technology can help, but it cannot do the job alone. Even if a fully reliable AI solution is developed, this work requires that a human being be involved in interpreting our ground truth and making decisions.

Cleaning databases must be intentional, on-going, and requires some guiding principles to keep it on track. Define what “dirty data” is. Emails reported as undeliverable are obvious, but what about valid, yet inactive recipients? Consider determining how long to keep an inactive contact on your mailing list before removing them. Better yet, you may try to reengage inactive contacts in a more personal way.

Measure Results Differently

If you haven’t already, I urge you to begin looking beyond opens and clicks and the trap of chasing vanity metrics. While that may be a good place to start to see how your content is generally engaging audiences, digital marketing can deliver far more than numbers and percentages. And using opens and click to determine how and where to invest more resources for better success is terribly imprecise.

Target audiences are comprised of real people and we B2B marketers take great care to understand their companies, job titles, where they live and work, and the interests they have so we can create engaging content. But, do you capture and measure each of these characteristics when examining the results of your email marketing? You should!

Try using a scoring system based on how well an engaged prospect aligns with your target audience descriptions. Additionally, assess each engagement based on where you think they are in their buyer’s journey. This can be easily done by coding each piece of content as early, middle, or late phase of the buyer’s journey. Over time, this builds a body of prospect engagement data that helps better engage your buyers and provides feedback to continuously improve your marketing communications.

And finally choose your media partnerships and agency support wisely. I still speak to far too many publishers and agencies that cannot, or do not, deliver metrics with much precision for the services we’re paying for. A fundamental component of a publisher’s business model is to maintain an active subscriber base. If you are paying a publisher for email engagement with their audience using content you created, or paid for, you should expect results-metrics beyond how many people it was sent to, or the open and clicks it achieved. Same for agencies you use to do your media placement.

The fact is that our email marketing lists are inaccurate, but there are things we can do about it. Check under the hood and become intimately familiar with what we do have and how big the problem is. Clean up our databases, remove bots, remove inaccurate contact information, and reengage the inactive recipients more personally. Transform the way we measure results and look beyond opens and clicks and partner with publishers and agencies who do the same.

  1. Kaspersky, What Are Bots & Are They Safe?, Kaspersky website resource center, What Are Bots & Are They Safe? (kaspersky.com)
  2. Paved, Email Bot Clicks, Are They Hurting Your Newsletter?, Paved blog, Email Bot Clicks: Are They Hurting Your Newsletter? - Paved Blog