Preserving data integrity, from data collection all the way through analysis and reporting, is crucial so businesses can make decisions based on trustworthy and accurate insights. And although human or systemic errors may inadvertently affect this, there are also harmful threats from outside sources that can impede the gathering of honest consumer feedback, such as survey bots.
Survey bots are fraudulent respondents programmed to complete online surveys by providing automated and false answers. We most often see these bots infiltrate survey systems when using third-party panel sample where surveys are distributed through a public survey link rather than to a private list provided by the client.
The primary objective of these bots is to obtain the advertised reward for completing the survey; hence why these bots are scripted to run through the survey many times. Sometimes, unethical third-party panel providers may collect survey fees based on the number of completed surveys, providing another possible incentive for such behavior. This underscores the importance of researchers collaborating exclusively with trustworthy and thoroughly vetted partners.
It’s critical to deliver accurate and impactful insights to clients, and to do so, it’s essential to understand the reality of bots and how to avoid them.
How can you avoid survey bots?
- CAPTCHAs: These are automated tests that can determine if the user is a human or a bot. They require users to perform tasks that are easy for humans to complete but difficult for bots, such as typing out distorted text or selecting images that contain certain objects.
- Red herrings & attention checks: These techniques involve adding questions or statements in the survey that require careful reading or basic knowledge to answer correctly, ensuring data quality and catching respondents who are not taking the survey seriously. For example, incorporating fictional brands or outlier responses, or adding basic math or trivia can be helpful techniques to identify irrelevant or unfocused respondents.
- IP address fingerprinting: This survey system restricts the quantity of survey submissions from a single IP address over a defined period of time. The practice prompts a timeout message to those who try to submit more surveys than the limit stipulated, barring bot-generated responses that often come from the same IP address within a short time, thus maintaining the data’s authenticity.
- Mandatory open-ends: Forcing respondents to answer open-ended questions can be a useful measure to deter bots. Since these need thoughtful and non-standardized answers – something bots cannot provide – it ensures that responses are both unique and human.
- Reputable third-party panels: It is essential that any sample coming from third-party panel providers are thoroughly vetted. Collaborating with established and reliable third-party panels for your survey respondents minimizes the risk of bot entries. Such panels have strict quality control measures, including rigorous bot detection systems, creating a more reliable participant pool.
- Cookie tracking: This technique involves embedding a small piece of data on each respondent’s device to keep track of their activity. The method prevents the respondent from partaking in the same survey multiple times, thereby barring bots that might typically function from the same device and attempt to enter multiple responses.
These methods, although not foolproof, significantly deter bot activity, ensuring valid respondents and data integrity. However, while knowing how to avoid bots is crucial, it is equally important to be able to identify them within the raw data set in order to catch any that may have infiltrated the data.
Read the following article to learn about our 6 main strategies to identify survey bots.