The Impact of Scraper Bots on Your SEO

May 16, 2024
1:17 pm

Search engine optimization (SEO) remains a challenging endeavor, characterized by its ever-evolving landscape of expectations and best practices. Amidst this dynamic environment, two fundamental principles persist:

  • Duplicate content detrimentally affects SEO.
  • Swift site performance is favored in search engine rankings.

Regrettably, both of these SEO cornerstones can suffer due to the actions of scraper bots, often without immediate detection.

When deployed maliciously, scraper bots facilitate the theft of your content, pricing data, and other proprietary information by competitors or fraudsters. Even ostensibly benign scrapers, such as those used for research purposes, can trigger unforeseen spikes in traffic, leading to increased infrastructure expenses, sluggish page loading times, and potential crashes of your site or app.

The question then arises: How can you safeguard your SEO against the detrimental impacts of scrapers while still allowing beneficial bots like Google crawlers to access your online assets? Continue reading to discover effective strategies.

Distinguishing Between Beneficial and Harmful Bots

An essential concept to grasp is that automation itself isn’t inherently detrimental. Not all bots should be viewed as malicious entities. Rather, automation and bots serve as tools wielded by humans to streamline tasks. It ultimately falls upon the individuals responsible for programming and operating these bots to determine whether they contribute to positive or negative outcomes.

So, how do we differentiate between “good” and “bad”?

Certain instances of “bad” are clear-cut, such as the utilization of bots for online fraud, credential stuffing, account takeover, or orchestrating DDoS attacks. However, there exist ambiguous areas, and “scraping” often falls within this realm.

Distinguishing Between Crawlers and Scrapers

To simplify the contrast between beneficial and detrimental bots accessing your content, consider this basic guideline: “Crawlers” typically serve a positive purpose, while “scrapers” often pose challenges.

Crawlers primarily index the content of a page, akin to what major search engines like Google perform, whereas scrapers extract specific data for utilization or sale.

Examples of beneficial crawler bots include:

  • Search Engine Crawlers (such as Googlebot, Bingbot, Yahoo! Slurp, and Baiduspider)
  • Feed Fetcher Crawlers (like Google Feedfetcher, Microsoft’s .NET WebClient, and Android Framework Bot)
  • Social Media Crawlers (including Facebook Crawler, Twitter’s SpiderDuck, and Pinterest Crawler)

Certain crawlers are desirable visitors to your website or mobile app. For instance, most businesses prefer Googlebot’s indexing to ensure their presence on Google search results.

Should there arise a need to block crawlers, you can utilize a robots.txt file to instruct them not to crawl your site. Respectable crawlers adhere to the directives outlined in your robots.txt file. However, malicious bots, often associated with scraping activities, typically disregard these instructions, especially if they prohibit scraping.

Even when web scraping is conducted with benign intentions, it can lead to various issues, such as:

  • Traffic Spikes
  • Elevated Infrastructure Expenses
  • Distorted Analytics
  • Decreased Site/App Performance
  • Periods of Downtime

None of the repercussions mentioned above contribute positively to your SEO efforts.

SEO Fundamentals

Original Content A paramount aspect of SEO revolves around original content. Search engines prioritize original content, relegating non-original content to lower rankings. This scenario becomes particularly challenging when scrapers plagiarize your content, making your pages more difficult to discover. Although the exact algorithm Google employs for ranking search results remains undisclosed and subject to frequent changes, it’s a consistent truth that unique and well-crafted content will consistently outperform recycled information scattered across various pages or websites.

Duplicate Content & Plagiarism

Duplicate content can manifest in numerous forms, with not all instances rooted in malicious intent. For example, employing the same product image and description across different sections of your site, such as a standard category and a sale category, technically constitutes duplicate content. However, the absence of deceptive intentions ensures that users searching for your product will encounter at least one page housing the relevant content.

In contrast, when a scraper appropriates a product image and description from your site, subsequently disseminating it elsewhere online, duplicate content emerges on a third-party website. Potential customers searching for your product may encounter your site, but they may also encounter plagiarized content.

Plagiarism poses an SEO concern when Google endeavors to eliminate duplicate results. As elucidated in Google’s advanced SEO documentation, “Google diligently strives to index and display pages containing distinct information.” Consequently, if your site hosts both a “regular” and a “printer” version of an article, neither of which is blocked with a noindex tag, Google will select one for listing, which may not align with your preference.

In cases where identical content proliferates across multiple locations or sites, Google may struggle to discern the original author from the duplicate. While Google endeavors to present the most relevant result, the potential for misjudgment exists. According to SEMRush, not only can you face penalties due to someone plagiarizing your work, but in severe scenarios, your entire website could be subject to theft.

Impact of Bots on Content Originality and Duplicity

Scraping bots streamline the process of pilfering vast amounts of data effortlessly and automatically. With just programming and deployment, these bots can execute thousands of requests on your website, enabling the theft of data for use on duplicate sites, ultimately undermining your SEO efforts.

If your site ranks lower than one featuring your pilfered content, your organic traffic may dwindle, thereby affecting various key performance indicators for your organization. Furthermore, inadequate filtering and moderation of user-generated content can allow bots to automate the dissemination of thousands of stolen or low-quality posts, diminishing your site’s credibility in the eyes of Google and other search engines.

The ramifications extend beyond mere price scraping; scrapers have also plundered product descriptions, images, and other content from esteemed footwear brand Kurt Geiger. These bots not only slowed down the site through aggressive indexing and a barrage of requests but also overwhelmed backend systems, placing significant strain on the DevOps team.

Bots’ Impact on Content Originality and Website Performance

The Detrimental Effects of Scrapers

Scraping bots streamline the process of pilfering vast amounts of data effortlessly and automatically. With just programming and deployment, these bots can execute thousands of requests on your website, enabling the theft of data for use on duplicate sites, ultimately undermining your SEO efforts.

If your site ranks lower than one featuring your pilfered content, your organic traffic may dwindle, thereby affecting various key performance indicators for your organization. Furthermore, inadequate filtering and moderation of user-generated content can allow bots to automate the dissemination of thousands of stolen or low-quality posts, diminishing your site’s credibility in the eyes of Google and other search engines.

The ramifications extend beyond mere price scraping; scrapers have also plundered product descriptions, images, and other content from esteemed footwear brand Kurt Geiger. These bots not only slowed down the site through aggressive indexing and a barrage of requests but also overwhelmed backend systems, placing significant strain on the DevOps team.

Protecting Website Speed and User Experience

The pace at which your website loads significantly influences user behavior. Most users opt for faster-loading sites, abandoning slower ones. Therefore, ensuring high performance and user experience (UX) is crucial for any online business, particularly in the realm of SEO.

Google evaluates page performance through metrics known as Core Web Vitals (CWVs), which offer insights into the end UX, increasingly influencing search rankings. Since May 2021, CWVs have primarily focused on speed, responsiveness, interactivity, mobile-friendliness, and security (HTTPS & safe browsing).

Among the key elements of CWVs that impact SEO are the Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) when scraper bots target your site or app, two out of these three key elements suffer, hindering your SEO efforts.

The Disruptive Influence of Bot Traffic

In some cases, bots comprise up to 70% of a website’s traffic. This not only distorts analytics but also slows down your website or app, resulting in a poor UX. Unfortunately, merely purchasing more bandwidth to maintain site speed becomes cost-prohibitive due to the sheer volume of bot-driven traffic.

For instance, web scrapers pilfered content en masse from TheFork, a leading online restaurant booking platform owned by TripAdvisor. The resultant surge in Google Analytics bot traffic led to unpredictable peaks and service interruptions on both the website and the mobile app, escalating hosting and maintenance costs.

Achieving Mobile Optimization Amid Bot Threats

Given that mobile devices account for over 50% of global website traffic, optimizing for mobile-friendliness and responsiveness is imperative for SEO. Google’s implementation of mobile-first indexing underscores the importance of mobile optimization, with mobile sites receiving priority in search results.

However, bots increasingly target mobile apps and APIs, posing unique challenges. Inadequate bot protection for mobile apps and APIs can result in traffic spikes, interruptions, and compromised user data, ultimately impacting SEO rankings.

Effective bot management solutions must cater to both websites and mobile endpoints, leveraging a combination of client-side and server-side detection to combat evolving bot threats. Prioritizing mobile optimization requires bot management tools with minimal impact on user experience, low false positive rates, and swift response times.

Protecting SEO and User Experience

In conclusion, safeguarding SEO and user experience necessitates a multifaceted approach to combatting bot threats. By prioritizing speed, performance, and security while implementing robust bot management solutions, businesses can mitigate the adverse effects of scraper bots and uphold their online presence effectively.

RFQ