What is ad fraud? Ad fraud comes in all shapes and sizes and can’t be explained by one definition. The Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards released a report in 2015 to demystify the world of fraudulent advertising online. They listed 16 versions of ad fraud including:
- non-browser user behavior — activity that is not associated with human behavior;
- hidden ads — e.g., “stacked ads” with more than one ad being allocated to one ad slot;
- ad density — e.g., a poor ratio of number of ads to site content;
- falsely represented ads;
- ads that contain malware; and
- auto-refresh — when a page or ad unit calls for a newly rendered asset more than once.
How big is the problem?
The problem is pretty severe. In October 2015, Distill Networks predicted that in 2015, $18.5 billion of advertising budgets would be spent on fraudulent ads, or $1 out of every $3 spent on digital advertising.
So how can you reduce the risk for your display campaign?
There are two things you shouldn’t be doing.
1. Don’t switch off online display.
Although there are scaremongers out there, it’s important to remember that ad fraudsters haven’t won. Even if you did nothing, online display is still a channel that is rich in granular targeting, cost-effective media buying and insights.
The burden that ad fraudsters are adding to our display campaigns isn’t making it a worthless channel. In fact, online display is growing so much that it is taking up over 70 percent of media budgets in the UK this year!
2. Don’t put your head in the sand.
There are ways you can get ahead of the game and help combat ad fraud for your display campaigns.
What should you be doing to reduce the risks?
Here are three things your SHOULD be doing to reduce the potential impact of ad fraud.
1. Performance metrics
Ad fraud is becoming scarily sophisticated. The developers of bots have cottoned onto the fact that we will pour more budget into targeting that’s performing well.
However, our metric for “good performance” is usually dependent on click-through rates (CTR). This means bots will fake clicks to coax advertisers into buying inventory on rigged sites.
We’re playing into ad fraudsters’ hands by focusing on CTR as a measurement for performance. If we judge good performance on levels of engagement within an ad (e.g., actions completed on interactive ads or video) combined with on-site actions (e.g., signup, purchase, second-page views) we’re already protecting ourselves from ad fraud.
We can be more vigilant with our optimization and directly search for activity identifiable as ad fraud. This includes:
- Looking for anomalies:
- Does any site, network, exchange or app have a particularly high CTR, CPM or overall spend in comparison to the campaign’s average?
- Has any site, network, exchange or app seen a spike in spend or clicks?
- Sense checking “good performers”
- Get into the practice of filtering your activity by spend and visiting the sites you see are performing well. Does that site look legitimate? What’s the ratio of ads vs. content? Even if it’s presenting good metrics, it’s worth blocking sites you don’t feel confident are legitimate.
Invest in software that provides extra online security for your brand — such as DoubleVerify, Adloox or Distil Networks. These tools add an extra layer of protection from online ad fraud by providing you with more information about your campaigns that you can use to block unwanted activity. What’s more, this software isn’t as pricey as you might think and typically includes:
- industry-level insights into which sites, networks, exchanges and environments are seeing bot activity;
- brand safety warnings of what types of sites your ads are appearing on;
- viewability scores of how frequently your ads are being seen; and
- anomaly checkers to warn you of unexpected activity.
Online display is a channel that is growing. With this growth, it’s also a target for online fraudsters to make a quick buck. However, there are a number of ways to combat this, and they aren’t as expensive or complicated as you may think.
Get ahead of your competition by adjusting your optimization focus and reaching out to ad-protection software companies to make your media spend work harder.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.