Scott Robert had a robot problem.
The e-commerce marketing man-ager for Lithia Hyundai of Reno in Reno, Nev., and self-described "early adopter" has long favored a digital approach to advertising. For a relatively low-volume store — it sells 60 to 65 new vehicles a month and 110 to 115 used — it makes sense to target an audience and know how and when the ads are reaching customers.
"As e-commerce manager, it's my job to know what's going on," Robert told Automotive News. "I have to have my fingers on the pulse of our Web traffic."
But robot software can upset those plans. Good "bots" do things such as gather and cache useful data to speed up Web surfing. Bad ones try to mimic human activity on websites' advertising to generate false traffic.
Thus, when a dealership is paying money to vendors to generate clicks on its advertising, any dollar spent on a click that came from a bot and not a human is a wasted dollar.
It's a problem endemic to the entire advertising industry, though pinning a number on its impact can be tricky.
The most credible number comes from a 2015 study by the Association of National Advertisers and a digitial security company called WhiteOps. The report predicted the ad industry would lose $7.2 billion globally in 2016 to nonhuman Web traffic — bots. (Other reports put the cost much higher, though many of them are commissioned by companies selling bot-detection services.)
Robert had no idea about the quality of the Web traffic and ad clicks his vendors were delivering for his stores' sales, service and parts departments.
After one vendor let slip that 70 percent of the Web traffic it was providing his store was coming from outside his market, Robert knew he needed to do a deeper dive than just Google Analytics to see where his money was going.
"My natural response was to pull back on everything and make sure I know what I'm doing," Robert said.
He started using a bot-detection service called Orbee that mines the source and intent of advertising traffic to see where he was wasting money.