This is a guest post by Ryan Marlow, CTO, and Michael Taggart, Co-founder of Envoy Media Group.

Envoy Media: Using Cloudflare's Bot Management & ML

My name is Ryan Marlow, and I’m the CTO of Envoy Media Group. I’m excited to share a story with you about Envoy, Cloudflare, and how we use Bot Management to monitor automated traffic.

Background

Envoy Media Group is a digital marketing and lead generation company. The aim of our work is simple: we use marketing to connect customers with financial services. For people who are experiencing a particular financial challenge, Envoy provides informative videos, money management tools, and other resources. Along the way, we bring customers through an online experience, so we can better understand their needs and educate them on their options. With that information, we check our database of highly vetted partners to see which programs may be useful, and then match them up with the best company to serve them.

As you can imagine, it’s important for us to responsibly match engaged customers to the right financial services. Envoy develops its own brands that guide customers throughout the process. We spend our own advertising dollars, work purely on a performance basis, and choose partners we know will do right by customers. Envoy serves as a trusted guide to help customers get their financial lives back on track.

A bit of technical detail

We often say that Envoy offers a “sophisticated online experience.” This is not your average lead generation engine. We’ve built our own multichannel marketing platform called Revstr, which handles content management, marketing automation, and business intelligence. Envoy has an in-house technology team that develops and maintains Revstr's multi-million line PHP application, cloud computing services, and infrastructure. With Revstr's systems, we are able to A/B test any combination of designs with any set of business rules. As a result, Envoy shows the right experience to the right customer every time, and even adapts to the responses of each individual.

Revstr tracks each aspect of the customer's progress through our pages and forms. It also integrates with advertising platforms, client companies' CRM systems, and third-party marketing tools. Revstr creates a 360° view of our performance and the customer's experience. All this information goes into our proprietary data warehouse and is served to the business team. This warehouse also provides data — already cleaned, normalized, and labeled — to our machine learning pipeline. Where needed, we can perform quick and easy testing, training, and deployment of ML models. Both our business team and our marketing automation rely heavily on guidance from these reports and models. And that’s where Cloudflare comes into the picture…

Why we care about automated traffic

One of our key challenges is evaluating the quality of our traffic. Bad actors are always advancing and proliferating. Importantly: any fake traffic to our sites has a direct impact on our business, including wasted resources in advertising, UX optimization, and customer service.

In our world of digital marketing, especially in the industries we compete in, each click is costly and must be treated like a precious commodity. The saying goes that "he or she who is able to spend the most for a click wins." We spend our own money on those clicks and are only paid when we deliver real leads who consistently convert to enrollments for our clients.

Any money spent on illegitimate clicks will hurt our bottom line — and bots tend to be the lead culprits. Bots hurt our standing in auctions and reduce our ability to buy. The media buyers on our business team are always watching statistics on the cost, quantity, engagement, and conversion rates of our ad traffic. They look for anomalies that might represent fraudulent clicks to ensure we trim out any wasted spend.

Cloudflare offers Bot Management, which spots the exact traffic we need to look out for.

How we use Cloudflare’s Bot Score to filter out bad traffic

We solved our problem by using Cloudflare. For each request that reaches Envoy, Cloudflare calculates a “bot score” that ranges from 1 (automated) to 99 (human). It’s generated using a number of sophisticated methods, including machine learning. Because Cloudflare sees traffic from millions of requests every second, they have an enormous training set to work with. The bot scores are incredibly accurate. By leveraging the bot score to evaluate the legitimacy of an ad click and switching experiences accordingly, we can make the most of every click we pay for.

Because of the high cost of a click, we cannot afford to completely block that click even if Cloudflare indicates it might be a bot. Instead, we ingest the bot score as a custom header and use it as an input to our rules engine. For example, we can put much longer, more qualifying forms in front of traffic that looks suspicious, and render more streamlined forms to higher scoring visitors. In an extreme case, we can even require suspect visitors to contact us by phone instead of completing an online form. This allows us to convert leads which may have a more dubious origin but still prove to be legitimate, while maintaining a pleasant experience for the best leads.

We also pull the bot score into our data warehouse and provide it to our marketing team. Over the long term, if they see that any ad campaign or traffic source has a low average bot score, we can reduce or eliminate spend on that traffic source, seek refunds from providers, and refocus our efforts on more profitable segments.

Using the Bot Score to predict conversion rate

Envoy also leverages the bot score by integrating it into our ML models. For most lead generation companies, it would be sufficient to track lead volume and profit margins. For Envoy, it's part of our DNA to go beyond making a sale and really assess the lifetime value of those leads for our clients. So we turn to machine learning. We use ML to predict the lifetime value of new visitors based on known data about past leads, and then pass that signal on to our advertising vendors. By skewing the conversion value higher for leads with a better predicted lifetime value, we can influence those pay-per click (PPC) platforms' own smart bidding algorithms to search for the best qualified leads.

One of the models we use in this process does a prediction of backend conversion rate — how likely a given lead is to become an enrollment for the client company. When we added the bot score and behavioral metrics to this model, we saw a significant increase in its accuracy. When we can better predict conversion rate, we get better leads. This accuracy boost is a force multiplier for our whole platform; it makes an impact not only in media management but also in form design, lead delivery integrations, and email automation.

Why is Bot Score so valuable for Envoy Media?

At Envoy, we take pride in being analytical and data driven. Here are some of the insights we found by combining Cloudflare’s Bot Score with our own internal data:

1. When we added bot score along with behavioral metrics to our conversion rate prediction ML model, its precision increased by 15%. Getting even a 1% improvement in such a carefully tuned model is difficult; a 15% improvement is a huge win.

2. Bot score is included in 76 different reports used by our media buying and UX optimization teams, and in 9 different ML models. It is now a standard component of all new UX reports.

3. Because bot score is so accurate and because bot score is now broadly available within our organization, it is driving organizational performance in ways that we didn’t expect. For example, here is a testimonial from our UX Optimization Team:

I use bot score in PPC search reports. Before I had access to the bot score our PPC reports were muddied with automated traffic - one day conversion rates are 11%, the next day they are at 5%. That is no way to run a business! I spent a lot of time investigating to understand and justify these differences - and many times there just wasn’t a satisfactory answer, and we had to throw the analysis out. Today I have access to bot score data, and it prevents data dilution and gives me a much higher degree of confidence in my analysis.

Thank You and More to Come!

Thanks to the Cloudflare team for giving us the opportunity to share our story. We’re constantly innovating and hope that we can share more of our developments with you in the future.