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Filtering email bot clicks in Marketo.

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As digital security becomes more robust, more email clients are running checks to identify spam or malicious content. In turn, this is further skewing email reporting within Marketing automation platforms like Marketo. These checks are often referred to as bot activity. 

Bot Activity is any action taken by automated systems within someone’s email server. For example, many email servers have a system in place to check emails and the links within emails to ensure they are all safe and aren’t spam. These tests involve ‘clicking’ links which then appear in Marketo reporting as link clicks, as well as ‘opening’ the email to ensure the email as a whole is safe. These activities greatly inflate click and open rates in Marketo, making the email reporting less reliable. 

Marketo’s answer to email bot clicks

Adobe released a bot activity identification setting in 2021 to try to address this, however it was fairly limited at the time. In May of 2022, the 2.0 version of the tool was released. It’s more robust and Adobe plans to continue to develop updates in the future.

Once bot activity identification has been enabled, all email clicks and opens are checked as potential bot activity moving forward. There are two different methods Marketo uses to determine if something may be bot activity.

  1. Match with IAB Bot list: Marketo will check the user agent and the IP address of the activity against the  Interactive Advertising Bureau bot list. User Agent and IP address are both unique backend information that tells Marketo where the activity came from. The Interactive Advertising Bureau bot list contains a record of known User Agents and IP addresses that are used by bots.
  2. Proximity Pattern: Marketo will check the behavior of the links and clicks against behavior that bots do and humans do not, specifically when more than two activities happen in under a second. As this feature continues to be developed and updated by Adobe, Proximity Pattern will become more robust and identify activities based on additional actions bots are known to perform. 

What happens with the activities once they have been identified? They can be filtered out, or logged.

  1. Filter Bot Activity: This setting prevents the bot activities from being written to Marketo at all. This means they won’t appear in a leads activity log or report  and cannot be filtered for in a smart list.
  2. Log Bot Activity: This setting allows the email click and open activities that are identified as coming from bots to be written to a leads activity log, but flags them as bot activity. Marketo will also record how the bot activity was identified as Activity Pattern “Match with IAB list”  or “Match with proximity pattern”. These activities will then be available for smart list filters, but will not appear in any reporting.

Should you log bot activities? 

As Marketo consultants, we recommend that you do. Logging bot activities will allow you to use smart list logic to isolate this data.  That data can then be used to identify if there are any emails that are getting checked more often than others. This would allow you to identify emails that may appear as potential spam to email clients. Like all email click and open data, these activities would be preserved for 25 months per Marketo’s data retention policy

The bot activity settings will only apply to activities that occur after the setting has been enabled, so any pre-existing email clicks and opens will not be checked for potential bot activity.

After enabling bot filtering you will likely see a shift in click and open rates, so it is recommended to enable this setting at the beginning of a reporting period and to alert all parties who check and rely on these reports. It is best to enable both settings at the same time. 

Logged bot activities can continue to trigger smart campaigns with “Clicks Link in Email” and “Opens Email” triggers, and can qualify for the “Clicked Link in Email” and “Opened Email” filters. When activity logging is enabled, two new constraints will be available to select in these filters called “Is Bot Activity” and “Bot Activity Pattern”. If you do choose to log bot activity, Iron Horse recommends reviewing existing campaigns that rely on email clicks and email opens to add these constraints. 

Logging bot activity is not necessary if you won’t be using the data in smart lists. For any business that exports activity data using API, filtering bot activity would reduce the data that is being exported which would in turn reduce the size of the extracted files. Filtering activity will prevent bot clicks and opens from appearing in Marketo entirely, so they cannot trigger smart campaigns or qualify for any smart list filters.

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