How to Say Cheerio to Unwanted Bot Traffic

Unwanted bot traffic can wreak havoc on your website. Left unchecked, it can cause slow loading times, skewed analytics, and unnecessary costs. To help avoid this, in this blog post, we’ll delve into six effective strategies to keep these digital intruders at bay.

Understanding the Nature of Bot Traffic

Firstly, it is essential to note that not all bot traffic is bad. Some bots diligently crawl your site for indexing purposes and aid search engine optimisation (SEO), helping your site gain visibility and rank higher in search engine results. Therefore, we want to let these do their job.

On the other hand, malicious bots are an absolute headache for website owners, distributing spam and launching DDoS attacks, leaving you to deal with the clean-up. It’s the latter we are addressing below.

1. Invest in a Good Web Application Firewall (WAF)

A robust web application firewall (WAF) is like a virtual bouncer for your website, scrutinising every visitor and deciding who gets on to your site. Designed to differentiate between human and bot traffic, WAFs work by examining incoming traffic based on a set of predefined security rules. They can identify and halt malicious bots in their tracks. By operating in real-time, a WAF provides around-the-clock protection to ensure your website’s security is not compromised and also protects your website against a variety of other threats. Here at Rigorous Digital, we use Wordfence (a WP plugin), which provides a good WAF feature, and Cloudflare (more of a hosting infrastructure and sits in front of your website’s server), which has it built in.

2. Implement CAPTCHA Tests to Verify Human Users

CAPTCHA tests separate humans from bots, using challenges that humans find simple, but bots struggle to crack. This waves a red flag that they’re not human and blocks access to your website. Examples of tasks include identifying traffic lights in an image and solving basic arithmetic problems. These tasks must be completed successfully to grant entry into your website.

Vector image depicting bot collating graphs.

3. Regularly Update and Patch Your Software

Developers regularly upgrade and refine their software, releasing software updates and patches. These often include security improvements created specifically to repair any vulnerabilities. Implementing these strengthens your website’s security, ensuring you’re always equipped with the latest defences against potential intruders such as malicious bots.

4. Block Known Bad IPs and User-Agents

Each bot has a unique IP address and user-agent. Unfortunately, malicious bots use these identifiers as a digital invisibility cloak, sneaking into your website unnoticed. However, maintaining a regularly updated block list of those identified can stop them from gaining entry to your website. Of course, this only works against those which have previously been identified. Therefore, staying on top of this list and regularly updating it is as essential as the block itself. Solid Security allows you to keep a blocklist and also adds a list of the known malicious IPs.

5. Keep Your Site’s robots.txt File Updated

Your website’s robots.txt file provides instructions to bots about where they can and cannot go. This way, you have some level of control over which parts of your website bots can access. For instance, you might want to prevent bots from accessing your site’s backend or specific directories containing sensitive information. Regularly reviewing and updating this file ensures that these ‘no-bot zones’ remain secure.

However, the effectiveness of the robots.txt file relies heavily on the bot’s willingness to respect it. Some rogue bots might disregard your robots.txt file, so it’s crucial to use this tactic in a broader bot management strategy.

6. Utilise Honeypots to Trap Bots

These crafty decoys are camouflaged as genuine parts of your website but serve as isolated and monitored traps. Honeypots attract and trap bots into revealing their true nature. The moment a bot interacts with a honeypot, it unwittingly unmasks itself. This interaction serves as your cue to block that particular bot from causing further chaos on your site. Therefore, honeypots not only help trap existing bots but also provide insights into their behaviour, equipping you with valuable knowledge for future intrusions.

As the sophistication of malicious bots continues to evolve, so must your strategies. After all, maintaining the integrity of your website is paramount to maintaining the smooth operation of your online business.

Rigorous Digital is a Digital Marketing Agency based in Cheltenham, UK, servicing an international client base. We have over a decade of experience working with WordPress websites. If you have a WordPress website you would like supported, check out our range of plans.

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