Don’t Elf Yourself, Identify Emails on the Naughty List: Why You Should Give a  $#@& about identifying Email Bots


Have you ever seen a sudden spike in your email newsletter sign-ups and thought, "Yes, we finally see success with our email list growth!" Congrats, and you also generated a high click-through rate, or did you?

You're not off the naughty list just yet. While list growth is something to celebrate, a sudden spike in new sign-ups could mean you're experiencing an email bot attack.

What is an email bot? Let me first start by stating, there is no one true definition of an email bot on the internet or in a dictionary, but since this article is around email bots, let's start with an overview.

What is an Email Bot?

Short for Robot, email bots are computer programs created to crawl the internet to locate your email sign-up forms. Then they enter a large number of email addresses and other information. Email Bots are not real humans, customers or prospects.

Bots!?  Come On, Are they really causing harm to digital marketers?

Today’s reality is that Email Bots are becoming more common, especially as large enterprise companies are their top targets. A few bot sign-ups may not be harmful, but as they accumulate, it can lead to a negative hit on all email performance metrics, causing a false sense of success.

Here is where it gets tricky; if there is one thing that we can all agree on in the email marketing space, email bots are real. The controversy is whether marketers should worry about them being on or getting on their prospect or customer list. There are usually three different ways to view bots:

  1. “Hope” (as a strategy) Marketers - those that have heard about them but really have no clue what an email bot is and choose to ignore them until the email bot causes an issue and they are forced to deal with them.
  2. “Smart” Marketers - those that say "Identify the email bots in my CRM system or as they come in from my email acquisition forms. I've never experienced them, but I understand they can inflict damage to my sender reputation”.
  3. “Denial” Marketers - those that say you shouldn't waste your energy on bots, they are for phishing attempts and account takeovers; they can't harm you.

The email channel has always been about the last click. Bots are made to change the ecosystem, and if email marketers are continuing to send emails to bots because they click like humans, you're wasting time and resources because they never buy your product or service. Not to mention bots can also cause a bounce, penalizing your IP address and causing your reputation to suffer.

Although they can cause many different types of problems, some bots are less harmful than others.

What types of bots are out there?

Not all bots are evil. There are different types of bots; good, bad, and ugly. So let's walk through examples of all three:


I clumped good and bad bots together because bots that are considered good to me may be bad for you or vice versa. Here's an example: one email bot is a real user; they signed up on your form, subscribed, and purchased an item from your store. However, this email address clicks and opens every email you send to them. It's not the real end-user but a bot either on their device or email security gateway.

This bot is designed to protect the end-user against malware, spyware, and viruses. I would argue that this is a good bot because it is designed to protect.

However, an email marketer might consider this bot to be harmful or "false positive" to an activity segment. Some of these bots are disruptive to your daily operations.

Or what if an ESP has a single-click unsubscribe. These bots would be unsubscribing your real users, which could be bad, and you might want to consider segmenting them out.

The Ugly

Ugly bots are the type of bots marketers should always keep off of their email lists. They open and hit your links hundreds of times a day to slow your web service down. They can even stay dormant in your email list without any activity at all, they are simply there to record your content.

An example would be if a competitor signs up for hundreds or thousands of emails in Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, etc., and uses those emails to enter into all of your forms, and sweepstakes.

You’ve now spent months emailing those bots and the most important time of the year arrived, the holidays, and now they decide to hit the spam/complaint button in gmail or yahoo on you. Crushing your sender reputation on the busiest time of the year and causing your emails to be routed into the Junk folder or evaporate at the ISPs firewall.

What should Marketers do to protect themselves from the bots?

Most of the time, you can either ignore the good/bad bots or consider segmenting email delivery to openers and clickers. As for the ugly bots, let's break down what you should do to avoid them and what to do if you already have them in your email lists.

How to Avoid them: Protect your forms with real-time API Hygiene. Stop bots at the front door.

You may want to consider implementing ReCAPTCHA and adding double opt-in to your forms. Using double opt-in is a great solution because once a customer signs up for your emails, they will receive a confirmation link to continue the sign-up process. This is made to assure that real people are signing up for your emails and not bots.

The best way to ensure you catch bots before they enter your forms is by implementing a cleansing service that coordinates with your CRM, email service provider, or lead capture forms to ensure the best top-of-the-funnel-data quality leads are entering your lists.

A real-time email cleansing API is designed to quickly determine if the email being submitted is a valid working email address and not a bot. This will help decrease the fraudulent or inaccurate data submitting into your forms, protect your deliverability and sender reputation, and improve your campaign ROI. On the front end, it will create a better experience for your customers.

What to do if you already have them on your list: Remove them (back door) before you hit send.

If the ugly bots already made it into your list, using an email hygiene service will help you identify the bots in your email list. You'll be able to analyze better and segment the good, bad, and ugly bots before you hit send and risk hurting your sender reputation.

So don't elf yourself this holiday season. Be aware of the good/bad bots and allow Webbula to help you catch the ugly bots before they enter your forms and even help identify them if they happen to be in your lists already.