Is Your Medical Organization's Digital Advertising Budget Being Wasted on Bot Traffic?

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Bot traffic poses a threat to medical marketers everywhere. Here’s how they gobble up your ad budget — and how to avoid them.

In cybersecurity circles, it’s common knowledge that half of all internet traffic comes from bots. Though some bots perform vital functions across the web, others have the more malicious job of stealing advertising dollars. The scale of this problem is immense, but with the right preparation, medical marketers can protect themselves, their ads, and their bottom line.

What is Bot Traffic?

Simply put, bots are computer scripts that “live” on personal devices and servers all over the world. Bots can serve useful purposes — helping answer patients' health-related quetsions or improving the quality of search results, for instance — but they’re frequently used for more malicious purposes. Almost every company contends with ad fraud, where publishers serve ads to bots instead of actual humans, on some level. As a result, advertisers waste marketing spend and miss out on potential revenue.

To make things worse, it’s become harder to detect and prevent fraudulent activity as bot technology has advanced. Because they’re associated with real IP addresses, cookies, and other identifying information, bots can easily emulate human behavior in nearly imperceptible ways. These scripts can search for a specific site, mimic mouse movements, and even click on ads, fooling marketers into thinking they’re reaching real people.

Why is the Healthcare Industry So Susceptible?

The healthcare industry attracts bots and ad fraud for one specific reason: money. The hackers that develop these programs target industries with high ad spends, and medical organizations spend more per impression than the average advertiser to reach their highly niche audiences — usually doctors or patients with specific conditions.

But no matter how much money medical organizations pour into digital marketing, the audience won’t increase in size. There are only so many medical professionals or sick patients browsing the internet at any given time. Most of the time, bots fill the gap between demand and supply.

How to Bot-Proof Your Marketing Strategy

The bot problem isn’t going away, no matter how good our detection and prevention technology gets. So how do advertisers like hospitals and clinics avoid ad fraud?

First, don’t fall prey to wishful thinking when launching a new campaign. For example, if you’re a hospital in San Francisco trying to advertise to people with epilepsy, keep in mind that there are roughly 400,000 epileptics in California overall, and that only a percentage of them will be on the internet at any given time. If the numbers you’re seeing are grossly out of proportion with the size of the actual audience, bots are more likely the cause than humans. Ensure, too, that you’re seeing an increase in conversions along with increased traffic — they should follow each other proportionally.

Another way to avoid bot pitfalls is to purchase ads directly instead of through a programmatic platform. Only buy from reputable publishers and check URLs closely before bidding; scammers often “spoof” domains to make them look like popular websites. We recommend buying search ads through Google, which eliminates the possibility that your ads will end up on a different site.

As long as we publish ads on the internet, bots will present an issue for advertisers from every industry. But, with vigilance and smart investment, medical organizations can mitigate their impact and protect their ROI.

Medical Marketing Guide: Google Advertising