Bot traffic and SEO performance has been a contentious issue in the search engine optimisation community for more than a decade.
In that time, the prevalence of bot traffic or bot spam has increased dramatically. Whether it is through intentionally negative or deceptive black hat SEO practices, or as a by-product of other online marketing practices. In some cases, bot traffic is used by unscrupulous marketing companies that deceive their clients into thinking that their marketing campaign is more effective than it actually is – but that’s a story for another day.
This article will look at how bots impact SEO and whether you need to be worried about bots harming your organic search presence.
What are Bots?
Before we dive into the question of whether bot traffic impacts SEO, let’s first establish what we mean by the term ‘bot’. Bots are programs that are used to run automated tasks or scripts over the internet, collect data, or perform specific duties such as crawling and indexing. Bots can be loosely divided up into two distinct categories:
1. Good bots that perform roles that are essential for the internet to function as we know it – including crawling websites, indexing pages, and performing a range of other tasks in the background.
2. Bad bots, the kind that get the most attention, are used to run illegal or damaging tasks that can cause damage to online web properties and perform tasks at a much higher rate than a human can. Bots can be used to hack or crack a website and gain financial or intellectual property.
Examples of Good Bots
• Search engine bots (Google, Bing, Baidu, Yahoo)
• Marketing Tool Bots (Ahrefs, Semrush)
• Social Network Bots (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest)
• Site Monitoring Bots (Pingbacks, Network Monitors)
Examples of Bad Bots
• Click Fraud Bots (Used to manipulate & exhaust CPC spend)
• Scraping Bots (Used to steal or scrape web content)
• Spam Bots (Blog comments and general web spam)
• Malicious Attack Bots (DDoS bots targeting websites and apps)
Is Bot Traffic Bad for SEO?
Bot traffic is not inherently bad for SEO. Bots describe any non-human visitor that comes to a website through a referral or direct source. Some bots are essential for website usability and visibility in search – such as Google search bots. While other bots are designed to provide valuable data – such as the Ahrefs or Semrush crawl bot.
Other bots, on the other hand, may be malicious. Some bot traffic is designed to scrape valuable website information (data scraping), or to obtain valuable information.
In 2022, it is estimated that almost half of all internet traffic comes from bots. Of that, a large portion is comprised of malicious bots that are looking to extract valuable website information.
So, what does that mean for SEO? Well, to address the question, John Mueller responded in a tweet to a user asking about the implications of bot traffic and SEO:
Question: We are noticing a lot of bot traffic coming in and it’s tagged under organic traffic, will this have an adverse any effect or does google ignore this.
Answer from John Mueller: That has no effect on Google Search.
So then, quite simple. Straight from the horse’s mouth, bot traffic has no impact on SEO performance.
What Are the Symptoms of Bot Traffic?
There are a number of tell-tale signs that your website is receiving bot traffic. Some of the easiest ways to detect if your website has been affected by bot traffic include:
Unusually high number of page views – this usually happens to one or a number of select pages on your website – particularly notable when these pages do not rank well in organic search.
Low session rates – bots will usually visit one page for a few seconds and then leave the website.
High bounce rates – bots are known to visit one page, and immediately bounce away from your website. Bot traffic can impact the bounce rate across your site.
Spikes from one location – bots will often share one IP address which means that you can expect all of your visits to come from one or two locations. This is especially noticeable when the traffic comes from countries that you do not typically appear in.
Server performance – a significant slowdown in server performance may be a signal of increased bot traffic. Given the correlation between server speed, website speed, and SEO performance, there may be a correlation between server overload and bot traffic impacting SEO.
If you are not sure about the origin of bot traffic, the best place to start is by Googling the traffic source that you find in your Google Analytics report. In most cases, there will be reports from other webmasters who have encountered the same problem in the past. Based on the feedback from them, you will be able to judge what steps need to be taken.
So then, does bot traffic impact SEO?
Bot traffic is not inherently bad or damaging. According to John Mueller – the highest authority on SEO that we have available, bots have no direct impact of search engine optimisation or your Google rankings.
While there are certain types of bots that may impact the data that you see through reporting tools, non-malicious bots do not have a negative impact on the way that you rank and appear search results in 2022.