I help run a fairly large email newsletter. Recently we have discovered that our click through rates have been artificially raised by some kind of bot activity. They are clicking on links in our emails a couple hundred times. I've looked up the email addresses that they use to sign up and they are using the same email addresses to join a couple of other sites. How could they benefit from clicking on links in our email, or is it just a side effect of some other activity they are doing?

The newsletter contains celebrity and shopping information if that helps.


Often when you create an account on a site you get sent an email in which you must follow a link in order to complete the sign up process. The bot could simply be emulating this process, without knowing anything about the context of the email.

Just a thought... if you had a subtle "DO NOT CLICK HERE" link in the email, would that catch the bots out?!

  • They are clicking links from an actual newsletter email , not the confirmation process. Your DO NOT CLICK HERE idea is kinda similar to the honeypot we are going to set up. Thanks for your input! – Vigrant Feb 26 '14 at 21:31
  • 1
    "They are clicking links from an actual newsletter email" - yes, but the bots don't know that - they are (perhaps) simply programmed to click on links in order to complete the registration process. – MrWhite Feb 26 '14 at 21:33
  • They are clicking on most of the links in the newsletters, and in different frequencies. You could be right though. It turns out that we are probably gonna try out your idea along side a honeypot on signup. 1px font in the footer that's a link! – Vigrant Feb 26 '14 at 21:41
  • 1
    Update: Your idea worked! We are catching em very easily. – Vigrant Feb 27 '14 at 18:44

Spammers will do anything to see if they can exploit the system to make money. They could be exploring your site looking for weaknesses. They could be looking to sell their accounts if they discover they have lots of value. They may be following those links blindly because the bot doesn't know any better.

Since they can automate the whole process spammers and other sinister parties aren't concerned whether their actions make a whole lot of sense. It costs very little for their bots to run and as long as the net result of their work is profitable they're not going to optimize their bots actions to avoid sites like yours.

  • In other words: don't try to make sense of what spam bots are doing? – nathangiesbrecht Feb 26 '14 at 20:32
  • 1
    Well, try. If you can discern intent you can better mitigate their efforts and possibly even discover a potential flaw that they are trying to exploit. But if there doesn't seem to be anything more to what you see them doing it's probably just an automated bot "going" until someone says stop. It's kinda of annoying, and sad, but it's how it is. – John Conde Feb 26 '14 at 20:36
  • Interesting, for now we are going to set up a honeypot where they are signing up. – Vigrant Feb 26 '14 at 20:42

If you're using an automated Marketing software like Marketo, you can create an invisible link (like white on white background) and create a smart list to exclude whoever clicking that link. OR you could exclude whoever is clicking on all links (in example: 20 times and more) as nobody is clicking all links... If that's a smart list, then emails won't be sent to that sender again and also be added automatically to the list if in the next newsletter it happens again. In measurements, just create a rule to exclude from counting (if clicked the invisible link don't count). Hope that helps...


Some email services have virus checking software that will open links in an email to ensure that they are safe before putting the email in the users mailbox.

As implementation may be different on different servers and over time it's hard to find a solution that fits all cases.

What you could do, making the assumption that all links would be tested, is put a link at the end of the email saying something mundane like "Terms and Conditions". Have the resulting page record the IP address and exclude all clicks from that IP address from your statistics. One problem with this approach is that bots may ignore links at the end of the email, which are small, or a similar colour to the background.

Alternatively, you could measure how many clicks are made from the time the message is sent. A security bot should in theory open (all?) the links within moments of receiving the email. So: 5:00pm Sent Mail 5:08pm A link clicked 5:10pm 10 clicks already Or: 5:00pm Sent Mail 5:00pm30s Link clicked

There will surely be patterns that can be identified.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.