How knowledgeable are you about survey bots? If you have limited knowledge, then just know they can ruin your survey. The article below provides you with an ultimate guide to understanding survey bots and how to block them from running your survey campaign.
Online survey is one of the ways businesses can understand how they are doing and the need of their customers. As with most tasks, surveys are now done online. It is important you know that about 7 percent of small businesses use surveys to understand their customers.
However, your online survey might generate the wrong data for you. And aside from the issue of the way the questions are structured, there is another evil you must take care of — survey bots.
These automated tools will most likely ruin your survey campaign and provide you with the wrong data to act upon, thereby leading you astray. To help you avoid falling into the hands of survey bots and the kind of effects they can have on your survey campaign and even your business at large, and we have written for you a guide. This guide will describe what survey bots are and their effects, as well as show you the steps required to keep them away from your sites.
What are Survey Bots?
Survey bots are automation bots developed to complete online surveys. These online automation tools, known as bots, are developed replicate human interaction on survey sites, completing surveys and doing so at a speed humans can’t operate.
They are a complete menace that must be kept very far from any survey that needs to collect only the correct answers as bots, for whatsoever reason, are not good candidates for completing surveys. And their operators, in 100 percent of the cases, have malicious intend why they release their bot on a survey.
Considering a good number of businesses online depend heavily on surveys online to understand their customers, it is easy to see why survey bots are a menace. When not curtailed, survey campaign owners will be acting on the wrong data. But that is not all. There is also a lot more that can go wrong if survey bots get involved in your campaign.
Yes, it is possible to automate the process of taking surveys using technology such as software programs and bots.
However, it is important to note that automated surveys may not always produce accurate or reliable results, as the responses may be coming from a machine rather than a human.
Additionally, the use of automated technology for taking surveys may also be restricted or prohibited by laws such as the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which regulates the use of automated calling systems and the sending of unsolicited text messages.
It is always best to ensure that any automation of the survey process is done in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
How do Survey Bots Work?
The working mechanism of survey bots can be quite simple but complicated. It works on the regular web bot principle — visit a page and interact with the specific elements on the page to carry out certain actions. What makes it complicated is that a survey bot needs to be tailored toward the structuring of the specific survey. If there are about different 10 surveys a bot operator needs to complete, he needs to custom-develop 10 different bots, 1 for each of the surveys.
And when there is a change in the structure of a survey site, it automatically breaks until updated to reflect those changes. Even though this might look like a lot of work from their end, the economics of survey bots, when done right, actually makes them attractive and profitable. Only when they start getting blocked and had to put in a lot more that they reconsider leaving your site.
Impact of Survey Bots on Survey Campaign
The impact of survey bots on survey campaigns is never a good one, and that is why they need to be prevented. Below are some of the most devastating effects of survey bots.
Waste Survey Budget
The number one effect of survey bots is the wasting of your survey budget. There are two ways to look at this. One, if you will pay users money or offer some form of reward, the operators of the survey bots will claim those rewards, which is malicious and just a waste as they do not represent the kind of audience you want. Second, if the survey has a lot of bot interference, then the chances of you generating bad data, thereby making your spending waste your budget too much.
Contaminates Survey Results
Surveys are designed for certain audiences and intent in mind. Bots, when allowed, will contaminate the result. Businesses engage in surveys in other to get data to act upon, as we are in a data-driven decision era. When survey bots are heavily involved in your survey campaign, the data generated is going to be wrong. With this, decisions made will most likely be bad for your business which is detrimental to you.
Get You to fix the Wrong Thing
If you carry out a survey to find out what customers think about your product and service, then you need to be careful. This is especially true if you need the survey data to fine-tune your product and service. If survey bots are involved, the wrong responses they provide might outweigh the responses of the actual audience, thereby getting their take to be the real issue. This will get you to fix the wrong thing, thereby causing more harm to your business.
Give You a Bad Name
While many survey bots are only there for the money, some of them are not on your site to complete surveys for the money. They are there to give you a bad name. Your competitors can engage in your campaign to give you the wrong data to work on in a bid to get you to take the wrong decision. For campaigns hosted by a third party, competitors engage it in and skew the data in such a way that you might look less popular than you are or even make your product look trashy.
Cause your Website to Slow Down
Most small businesses do not expect to get a lot of online visitors, and as such, they host their websites on low-powered infrastructures. If you are one of such, then just know that survey bots are bad for your site. Bots, by design, send too many requests within a short period of time.
While this is not a problem for websites hosted on high-powered infrastructure, it will slow your own site. And your regular visitors will notice the slow speed, which will get some of them to bounce away. In an extreme situation, survey bots used excessively can even shut down your website.
How to Identify Survey Bots
How do you know your survey campaign is being attacked by survey bots? There are some pointers that can tell you a survey bot is behind some of the responses you get. Let's take a look at some of these pointers.
Look at the Response Meta Data
Aside from the survey result you get from each respondent, you should also have access to the metadata. Data such as the IP address of respondents, the devices they use., their location, and even their language are all important in revealing the identity of the true audiences. If any of the responses are coming from the same IP address or even the same IP subnet, then there is a high chance that a bot is behind the responses. It is important you know that survey bot users can use residential proxies to bypass this. But it helps for low-quality bots.
Monitor Time Taken for Each Respondent
One of the features of bots that make them powerful is speed. Survey bots can complete surveys at a speed that humans can only dream of. And right there is the catch; if the speed of completing the survey is faster than the expected time duration, then you are dealing with bot responses.
While bot developers can integrate the logic to slow things down, they almost always are in a hurry as they need to complete more tasks. This can be one of the best methods to detect survey bots. But the time duration has to be carefully chosen to avoid mistaking fast responders as bots.
Examine Responses to Open-Ended Questions
While it can be difficult to catch bots with their responses to closed-ended questions, you can get them with open-ended questions. Even if you do not have the need for one, you can introduce it just as a way to catch survey bots. Many survey bots will avoid responding to open-ended questions, provide generic responses, or even nonsensical responses.
You can also look out for identical responses in open-ended questions. Unlike in the case of closed-ended questions, there shouldn’t be identical responses for the open-ended questions and the moment you notice such, especially in their numbers, you can tell you are dealing with a survey bot attack.
Inconsistent responses to Identical Questions
Sometimes, you need to trade off User Experience a bit to detect survey bots. How you do that is simple — repeat a question twice. You can ask for the age of the respondent twice in the same survey and see the response you get. The age of a respondent should not change, no matter what.
Considering a survey bot will attempt to fill your survey multiple times, it will have to choose responses randomly from its database, and for the most part, it does not even keep track of the responses it provides. You can use this as a pointer to a survey response from a survey bot.
High Number of Response within a Short Period of Time
Even surveys with cash gifts take time to complete. And if you have been conducting surveys online, you can tell the number of responses you get within a period of time — all things constant. However, if a bot actor is completing your survey, it does not just complete it once and leave.
It will complete multiple surveys for the sake of getting the reward or ruining it for whatever reason it has to ruin your survey. Look at the analytic data of the completed survey and look for a spike in response rate. Can you explain the reason for the spike? If you are not responsible and you can tell where the traffic came from, then just that a bot is behind it.
How to Block Survey Bots
From the above, you can see the negative impact survey bots can have on your survey campaign online. If you own a website where you host survey campaigns, below are some of the ways to block surveys.
Use Captcha Services
Survey bots are just like any other automated bots, and as such, captchas can be lethal to them. In fact, the average simple bot developer will avoid your site once he senses the presence of a captcha. This is because while they can be solved using anti-captcha farms and Computer Vision, the stress and financial cost aren’t worth it for them. There are a good number of captcha services, each with its unique features. I will recommend Google’s ReCaptcha service to you as it is easy on humans but hard on bots.
Setup Honeypot Questions
Honeypot questions are questions that are not visible to real human users but are present on the page and, thus, can be viewed by bots. They are developed to be invisible using CSS styling. For real humans, these questions are not visible.
However, since it is available in the HTML of the page, the average survey bot will respond and, by doing this, announce itself as a bot. There are some sophisticated survey bots that lookout for honeypot questions to avoid, though. So this might not always work for you.
One way to prevent survey bots from messing with your survey is by getting potential respondents to go through screening. Of course, this is a big turn-off for many respondents, and you will need to make it up with a reward. The pre-survey exercise will help you screen out potential bots, with many not even bothering to enter. Selected users are then sent personalized URLs. While a bot developer can effect all of this logic, it is just a lot of work for most of them that your survey will be kept off their radar.
Include Attention Check
This tip will work not only for bots but for respondents not serious about the survey. An attention check will use words to direct the respondents to carry out certain actions, such as skipping a particular question. The difference between this and a honeypot is while honeypots can be detected programmatically by experienced developers, it is hard to detect this.
In fact, this can also help you weed out responses from users who weren’t paying attention to the survey and would introduce the wrong dataset into your survey. When collating the result, you can keep responses from responders that didn’t pass the check out of your analysis.
Use Open-Ended Questions to Weed Out Bots
Just like in the case of including attention checks, open-ended questions can be used to weed out bots. However, they are not stopped from completing the surveys — this technique is used to keep their responses away from the responses used. As mentioned earlier, open-ended questions require respondents to provide answers without options given, usually in descriptive form.
Bots are not capable of answering questions, and as such, they provide generic responses. Aside from the generic responses, spotting identical responses from different respondents will point to the fact that a bot is behind those responses.
FAQs About Survey Bots 101
Q. Is the Use of Survey Bots Illegal?
As a survey owner, you need to know that the use of survey bots to complete surveys is not illegal. Yes, it may be unethical, and you are even within your rights to refuse to pay the revenue claim of anyone found wanting. However, there is really no legal implication for those that engage in it.
To make things even worse, most of the perpetrators do so outside of the region you are which makes it harder for you to even press any charges. The best thing or you to do is make it difficult to get survey bots to access your site.
Q. Can Survey Be Stopped?
Yes, with the tips provided above, you should be able to stop a good number of survey bots from ruining your campaign. However, you need to know that you can’t 100 percent stop bots. There are some complicated survey bots out there that can mimic human interaction on a site.
The bot developers can study your campaign and the page layout to know what to do and how to get the bot to behave. The goal is to keep a good number of the bots away and make your campaign unattractive to bots. This should help you in most cases. For situations where it won’t, you can weed out the anomalies to only deal with the correct surveys.
Q. Are Survey Bots Undetectable?
From the above, you can tell how lethal survey bots can be. There is some insinuation that survey bots are undetectable. However, while their developers can hide bot footprints, you just need to know that with the right bot detection techniques, you can detect and block them from your site.
For the most part, using effective anti-bot systems will put a good number of them out of your site as they wouldn’t want to deal with it. For the sophisticated survey bots, you will have to use some of the sophisticated methods described above to keep them away from your campaign.
From the above, you can see that survey bots are a menace to every survey they target. While they can be difficult to deal with, there is still a fix for them. In the article above, we have been able to show you how to deal with survey bots so they would ruin your survey campaigns.