7 Things You Must Do If BOTS Invade Your EMail List

I don’t often write about behind the scenes blogger issues, but I felt my recent experience is one worth discussing. If you’re a blogger, building an e~mail list of subscribers who want to receive your posts and a weekly (or monthly) newsletter is the icing on the blog cake. We may worry about someone hacking our website, but have you thought about someone sending web robots to invade your email? It recently happened to me which was not a pleasant experience. I’m here to share my experience and the 7 things you must do if BOTs invade your email list.

Social media (you know who I’m talking about) can change its algorithms, its policies, or get into trouble with the powers that be. But our email is totally ours. Regardless of which email subscriber company you use, no one can change the algorithms or take it away. But as I learned recently, robots in cyberspace can be sent to invade your email list and wreak havoc with your good, hard~earned subscribers. And that can lead to you getting into trouble with those that monitor email subscriptions.

7 Things You Must Do If BOTS Invade Your EMail List

Disclaimer: this was my experience and I don’t claim to be an expert on email marketing or BOTs.

Your EMail Subscriber List

So let’s start at the beginning. You’ve placed your sign~up forms on your blog in several places to make it easy for readers to subscribe to your newsletter and/or your blog posts. You’ve created a welcome and thank you email to send. You may have special sign~up forms for free printables or giveaways.

When readers subscribe, your email subscription service sends you a notice: congratulations you have X number of new subscribers (and maybe some unsubscribers, too). You do a happy dance and think, wow, my email list is growing consistently.

Regardless of the traffic your blog receives, you probably have a good idea of the number of new subscribers you add on a weekly or monthly basis. The number may spike a bit when you offer a new incentive or freebie. But, as I found out, numbers have a way of being consistent. We hear of posts going viral or a Pin going viral (which is a good thing in the short run and if you are lucky, at very good thing in the long run), but have you heard of the number of email subscribers going viral? Nope, me neither.

But they can and that’s why I’m sharing these 7 things you must do if bots invade your email list. Here’s how you can avoid the situation I went through a couple of weeks ago.

Pay Attention

I didn’t pay attention when my subscribers went through the roof in just a few days. The old adage of it’s too good to be true ~ well, it is too good to be true. If something seems unusual, don’t just chalk it up to good luck or good blog karma. A light should go off in your head that something is wrong.

My subscriber spike started on a Wednesday. And then a huge bump again on Friday.  And Sunday. I didn’t pay attention the first few days; I was just so excited about the huge jump in subscribers that I didn’t stop to think; I didn’t question. I didn’t have a giveaway, I was not part of a blog hop, and it was the week before Easter. A spike occurred every time a new post went out, 4 times in 6 days.

Before my newsletter published on Saturday morning, I checked my subscriber lists. At this point, I was a little surprised that the new subscribers were in a list titled December Giveaway. That sign~up form had not been on my blog since the middle of December. A bit strange. I combined that December list with my main list. (It was Easter weekend so I was not fully engaged ~ shame on me.)

Watch Your Numbers

When you receive that new subscriber notification from your email service (mine is MailChimp), check the numbers of new subscribers. Is the daily or weekly growth consistent with your traffic and your subscriber history? For example, if your blog gets an average of 10,000 weekly page views and you have 7500 e~mail subscribers, then you may average 10% email growth each week. But would it make sense to get 50% growth? Maybe if you had a killer blog post and a big giveaway that you really promoted.

Or if you have 5,000 weekly page views and your weekly email subscriber growth is 20, would you expect your e~subscribers to grow by 200 or 400 or 1000 in one week? That doesn’t make mathematical sense. Numbers, relatively speaking, don’t lie. The “too good to be true” is too good to be true.

FYI: Remember, those emails aren’t real people; they are BOTs. This was the list after the first day.

7 Things You Must Do If BOTS Invade Your E~Mail List.

Contact Your E~Mail Service

If the numbers are wacky, don’t wait until you get a notification from your email service. Contact them immediately so they can be proactive and help you avoid an abuse complaint.

Monday I received a notice that I had another few hundred new subscribers. Still I didn’t take action. Finally the wake~up call came in the form an email late Monday night telling me that I had an abuse complaint regarding subscribers. What? I’m one of the people who like to follow the rules and I don’t like “getting in trouble.” First thing Tuesday morning I replied to Mail Chimp for more information.

7 Things You Must Do If BOTS Invade Your EMail List. If you don't think bots can attack your e~mail account with your chosen subscriber, think again. Here's what to do if you have an usual spike in subscribers, what it means and how to protect your subscriber account. BlueskyatHome.com

You might want to read this article about Abuse Warnings.

Delete The Sign~Up Forms

While waiting for a reply from Mail Chimp, I finally took some action. On my WordPress dashboard, I found the posts from December with the December Giveaway form. There were 6 of them and I deleted them all. In the future, it would be a good idea to removed any sign~up forms from your posts that are no longer valid.

Check Your List

Next I went to my MailChimp email list titled December Giveaway. I noticed a few things about the “people” who had signed up as subscribers.

  • No first or last name
  • Source was “unknown”
  • The sign~up time was the same each day

Everyone on the list signed up at 4:13 PM and no one included a name; instead of “embedded form” as the source, “unknown” was listed.

I received a reply from MailChimp explaining what had happened. This was the first time I heard the dreaded “BOT” word. I immediately Googled it and read how Bots can be good, but they can be very, very bad. If you are not familiar with BOTS, check out this article.

Unsubscribe the BOT Subscribers

MailChimp recommended I unsubscribe all the bad BOT subscribers. You have to do a search with specific parameters to find all the bad BOTs. Mail Chimp sent me the specific criteria. Once I entered the search information, almost 2000 subscribers total needed to be unsubscribed.

  • First search is for subscribed status
  • Second is for signup source as unknown
  • Third is for start date

7 Things You Must Do If BOTS Invade Your EMail List.

There is a bulk unsubscribe option, but it’s time consuming. I found it easiest to just scroll through the search list and check all the emails that needed to me deleted. Your eyes may gaze over and your head may be swimming so take breaks. It took me 2 days of “here and there” time to unsubscribe. When I thought I was finished, I received another “abuse complaint” notice. I had to go back and redo my search. There were still 501 bad BOTs. This time I didn’t hesitate. I got to work deleting that final group.

When I received the message from Mail Chimp that all the bad BOTs had been unsubscribed, I felt a big sigh of relief. It took exactly a week from the the beginning of the invasion to the complete eradication of the invaders.

Monitor Your New Subscribers

Don’t just whoop it up and clap your hands when you have new subscribers. Since this incident, I have continued to monitor (Pay Attention, Watch Your Numbers) new subscribers when I receive a notice from Mail Chimp. As new subscribers sign up, I have looked for these items:

  • Gave a first name
  • Source is an embedded form
  • Sign~up time is random

It’s been two weeks and I’ve had no more BOT invasions. I can tell you that those little bugs will not get the best of me again. And I hope that you won’t have to go through my ordeal. If you follow these 7 things you must do if BOTs invade your email list, then you can more quickly address the issue or hopefully avoid it completely. Swift action is required! I do have to say that Mail Chimp was very responsive and helpful in getting this issue resolved.

By the way, if you do want to sign up to receive my posts and newsletter, all the forms on the blog are legit and safe.

On a happier note, this is Week 3 of the One Room Challenge. Thanks to everyone who has commented on my dining room makeover project. Check back on Wednesday to see this week’s decor decisions and my progress.

 

blog signature

Similar Posts

15 Comments

  1. Ugh, I hate that this happened to you but so appreciate you sharing your experience with the rest of us. Glad you are all ‘mended’ and back to normal.

    Many hugs my friend.

    Lynn

  2. Great info to know, Carol! I’m so sorry that happened to you. Running a blog and all the hard work we put in behind the scenes can be so challenging on a day to day basis let alone when something like this happens. I’m glad you got it all cleared up and shared what you learned with the rest of us.

  3. Good to know Carol, thanks. I’m pinning even though I hope I never need to know what to do – better safe than sorry.

  4. Do you have double opt in?

    I recently had the same problem with a list I work on for a blogging group. Somehow the double opt in box didn’t get checked in either the plugin or when it was connected to Mailchimp. I didn’t notice the problem until we hit the subscriber limit and were going to have to pay for higher service. It took me days but I weeded out several hundred by searching for duplicates in an excel file (my eyes went buggy).

    By having the double opt in the people have to reply to a second e-mail saying they really did mean to subscribe. If they don’t reply they are not added to your list. This is also probably a good idea in light of the upcoming GDPR regardless of where you blog.

    1. AUdrey, now I’d using the double opt~in option and hopefully that will be another firewall so this doesn’t happen again. I understand the buggy eyes syndrome.

  5. Carol, this is not only a highly informative post but VERY important warning that we should all heed. I have not experienced this but I am now on the lookout. Thank you so much for sharing it! Keep sharing it!

    1. Sinea, I can’t say I’m happy I had this experience, but I was happy to share it. We have to stick together.

  6. Oh my gosh, Carol, sounds like a blogger’s nightmare. I’m so glad you got it all taken care of. Thank you for putting us on notice that this can happen. And thanks for sharing at Vintage Charm! xo Kathleen

  7. Thanks for this article and tips. I’m bad at looking at my daily emails from MailChimp giving me the current status of my email list. I tend to check it weekly before sending out my newsletter. Now you have me more conscious of checking the list more regularly for spikes. Whenever I get any type of traffic spike, I always get suspicious since it doesn’t happen often, LOL!

    1. Victoria, my goal in sharing this information was so that other bloggers wouldn’t have the same experience I did. Happy it helped you.

Comments are closed.