These aren’t the droids you’re looking for: How to get past bots and understand the actual performance of your email campaigns

Email is one of our favorite B2B marketing channels (read why), but optimizing this channel depends on your ability to get an accurate read on what’s working and what’s not. Email bots are one of the most common (and most annoying) roadblocks that keep B2B companies from having a clear picture of whether their emails are working.

Email bots are a problem for basically every B2B company that depends on email to engage potential buyers. (We’ve seen companies where half their email engagement was from bots.)

In this post, we’ll share how to fight these bots — and get more accurate stats that will lead you to email marketing victory.

What are email bots, and why does finding them matter?

Companies – especially large enterprises – employ bots as a spam filter, scanning inbound emails for malware, bad links, phishing emails, and “spammy” content. In order to do their job, these bots open emails and scan through every link. Some are gentle; others are aggressive – so much so that they trigger an open and register a click on every link. The kicker? Some will even send your email to the spam folder after registering it as opened or clicked – never to be looked at by an actual person.

Bots get in the way of clean, meaningful KPIs by inflating overall engagement numbers – leading teams to potentially underinvest in building their marketing database. Also, inaccurate data might create the false impression that email marketing doesn’t work (e.g. hey, all these people are clicking my emails but no one’s scheduling a demo! Must be a bad channel).

Over time, some of the real human contacts in your database will unsubscribe themselves, and you should remove others due to low engagement (read more on why you should do this). Unless you’re actively prospecting to grow your email database, over time your contact list will skew more and more towards bots – reducing your audience size and making it hard to figure out what’s actually resonating with leads. Rooting out as many bots as possible from your database will help keep your KPIs accurate and give you a better sense of how well your email marketing is working.

Signs that bots are opening and clicking your emails

There are several ways to test for contacts that might be bots. You can analyze your email engagement data and flag contacts/domains that register 100% open and click rates, but this takes time if you don’t have the right infrastructure in place and risk flagging hyper-interested leads. Another option is to employ companies that offer to screen emails for bots, but they can become expensive and oftentimes don’t have enough data to analyze a majority of your email database.

Our favorite method is to send out a trap: Create a transparent 1×1 pixel CTA button in one of your marketing emails. If this CTA button is clicked by a contact, you should suspect that a bot is going through their emails, as it would be highly unlikely that a person could find the invisible trigger.

What to do with contacts flagged as bots

No system is 100% foolproof. So even if you’re 95% sure that a contact is a bot, you might be in a position where the downside (accidentally deleting a relevant lead) is worse than the upside (a cleaner marketing database). You should consider putting these emails in an isolated list and conducting some further testing.

Send emails to your suspected bot list separate from your main mailing list, and see if net opens are greater than unique opens for each contact. If the former is higher than the latter, that should be a good sign that people are still engaging with your emails even after the bots have screened them – you should keep those contacts in your database. On the other hand, if the two metrics are identical, then more than likely your emails are strictly opened by bots. These are contacts you should unsubscribe, as it may be possible that the bots are classifying your emails as spam.

The bottom line

Email marketing is more critical than ever for B2B companies, but doing it effectively depends on getting an accurate read on performance. Though (often) well-intended, bots distort your KPIs making it difficult to optimize an already complex channel. But rest assured; there are tried and true ways to identify and remove bots – freeing you up to be an email ✨ superstar ✨.

Tim is a Marketing Director at Blue Seedling, avid surfer, and proud cat dad.

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