Statement About Increase in Non-Human Interactions Since June 2023:
In June 2023 ClickDimensions identified an increase in Total Clicks being recorded when emailing Office 365 hosted accounts. We opened an investigation and alongside our technology partner Microsoft found the increase was attributed to Non-Human Interactions (NHI), sometimes known as "Robot Clicks" as a catchall term used to describe clicks made by an automated program.
Microsoft has reported that the sudden and very large increase in NHI/robot-clicks, was due to changes that Microsoft have made to how their Safe Links feature in the Microsoft Defender for Office 365 product was scanning URLs.
Starting in September through October, Microsoft will be rolling out a change which we believe will alleviate this issue for impacted customers. We will monitor this release, continue to work with affected customers and provide updates in this article.
What is ClickDimensions doing to identify this and prevent it in the future?
As Microsoft is not the only provider of link scanning platforms and programs that generate NHIs, we continue to recommend the findings of the Messaging, Malware and Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group - M3AAWG (https://www.m3aawg.org/sites/default/files/m3aawg-nonhumamn-interactions) to help prevent even triggering those bot clicks in the first place.
ClickDimensions has also identified ways to track and filter out various behaviors of NHI bot activity, and will be adding those feature enhancements to our product in the coming quarters. Phase 1, planned for 2023.09 in September involves identifying any suspicious IP Addresses which performs NHI clicks and implementing a mechanism to filter out messaging events from them. This mechanism will be enabled by request and will be available to any ClickDimensions customer.
We thank you for your patience and please don’t hesitate to reach out to ClickDimensions Support if you have any questions.
*This feature enhancement can be requested to be turned on via ClickDimensions Support one week following the release of v2023.09.
For many years, email marketers have either known or suspected that some of the Clicks recorded for their campaigns are not all being created by their subscribers. That instinct makes a lot of sense, as we know that email must be handled by software, firewalls, and filters whenever they are delivered.
For example, products like Barracuda’s Multilevel intent analysis have been around for over ten years now. Those filters have become increasingly sophisticated in how they examine email messages, follow the URLs and analyze links they contain for Calls To Action for your subscribers.
A phrase "Robot Clicks" has become a catchall term used to try and describe this automated behavior. A more accurate, and better description is Nonhuman Interactions or NHIs – we’ll use that term here.
2. How many?
The global industry association, Messaging, Malware and Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group (M3AAWG) has conducted research on Nonhuman Interactions, how they function, where their use is seen, and what impact can be measured. They looked especially at whether the automated NHIs could be reliably identified and then filtered out leaving just the human clicks, that are seen as more genuine indicators of subscriber engagement.
M3AAWG’s research points to less than 10% impact by NHIs when sending to the large Mailbox Providers such as gmail.com yahoo.com, outlook.com etc.
Businesses, various quasi-NGOs and Non-profits, as well as organizations like universities and colleges, that value greater and more finely tuned control over their inbound email flows will make more use of enterprise level anti-spam software. They will also tend to err on the side of caution and apply stricter tests to the email they receive. Lower subscriber engagement correlated with increased scans and NHIs.
M3AAWG themselves concluded, “It is hard to quantify a summary effect, as most filter agents and ISPs work to mask detection. This is necessary to ensure filters are not circumvented, which would ultimately negate their effectiveness…”
A recent example since June 2023, has been many Office365-hosted subscriber mailboxes that have been generating clicks on almost every URL in the messages sent to them since June. This has increased the count of Click Events by orders of magnitude, and although it has been seen to affect a very small proportion of senders, that creates much uncertainty as all the Click events are genuine, but clearly most are NHIs.
3. Best Practices to avoid the NHIs
3.1 Secure Links
With ClickDimensions version 12.9 you now have a choice to use SSL Certificates for HTTPS Email CNAMEs to brand your links. You can also simply use the default *clickdimensions.com HTTPS out of the box. Either way you should use HTTPS exclusively for all links. Emails with a mix of secure and non-secure tracking links appear to be disproportionately targeted according to M3AAWG’s research. They report mixed link usage—e.g., a non-secure HTTP link directing to an advertiser from a HTTPS tracking link—seems to trigger the most unwanted behavior.
3.2 Segment your Data
Try to keep your engaged and non-engaged subscribers distinct when you are planning your sending domain, campaigns, workflows and automations.
3.3 Craft and Monitor your Content
Content quality is as important as always — not only what you are linking to, but also image to text ratio, Subject: line and Preheader choices and other factors. It was typically found that “aggressive” email marketing tends to lead to more NHIs.
3.4 Conserve your Reputation
Sender reputation has been found to play a significant role in the amount of NHIs. The amount of NHI for senders with highly engaged recipients is considerably lower. There are many steps you can take, but a top three would be:
- Gain clear consent from your subscribers, and abide by it
- Of course, don't Purchase or Rent lists
- Use Double Opt-In during sign-ups
4. What to do now?
The first thing is know that the filters that generate NHIs will not do anything to make it easy for you to discern the real person Clicks from the NHI Clicks, but that you have all the data synced back in your CRM if you would like to analyze it with more detail. Second, you can take great comfort knowing that following the email best practices that you already know and love, and that will increase the ROI of your email campaigns, will reduce the number of NHIs as much as possible.