Why ad fraud is such a problem for marketing - and what you can do about itby
According to a recent IAB/PwC Adspend survey, the market for digital advertising increased by 16.4% to over £4.7 billion in the first half of 2016. With 33% of that total attributed to display, the market is still growing.
But with that growth, there’s also more opportunity for the fraudsters. A recent article in Campaign reports that up to 30% of the online advertising market was vulnerable to ad fraud in 2015. Furthermore, a report from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) even predicts that, “ad fraud will in future be second only to cocaine and opiate markets as a form of organised crime.”
As Bob Hoffman stated in a blog for his Ad Contrarian site, "ad fraud carries with it almost no risk. According to Hewlett-Packard Enterprises, ad fraud has a higher payout potential and lower risk factor than any other type of online crime.
"The scary part is that according to knowledgeable people, organised crime is not yet a major player in ad fraud. With so much money there for the taking, it is only a matter of time."
There’s no point pretending that ad fraud is not a big problem. It is, but it is one that is in the interests of everyone to resolve, especially those invested in delivering advertising online as part of their marketing campaigns.
Significant ad fraud means a publisher’s viewability scores look poor, your campaign results are poor, and creative agencies results look poor too. That’s a no-win situation for everyone, and therefore it’s critical that all parties come together to find the solutions needed. And the good news is there are plenty of things which can be done.
But first, let’s look at what ad fraud actually is, and the scale of the problem.
Defining ad fraud
The creation of invalid traffic (IVT) to a website, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is the generally accepted definition of ad fraud. Ads may serve traffic to an invalid destination, and often come from malware or hijacked devices. Ultimately this leads to non viewability which basically means no human being sees your ad.
And with the growth in programmatic buying, (real time, technology driven display activity that enables targeting to specific users instead of buying set inventory), this risk can increase.
Around $7 billion is expected to be lost to ad fraud around the world in 2016. Video and programmatic ads tend to carry the highest risks of ad fraud. Video ads carry higher CPM rates (cost per thousand views), and generally there is less transparency in a programmatic purchase due to the absence of a human to human connection in the transaction.
So what to do?
Well, the first thing to say is no responsible publisher or media owner wants a situation where 30% of ads are vulnerable to ad fraud. We’ve all heard of crawlers, spiders and bots...but what's the difference? In short - good bots (crawlers) index sites and bring in traffic, bad bots steal content, slow down web pages and cause vulnerabilities which in turn can leave your sites open to attackers. Leaving the doors open can lead to malware, over-inflated clicks/ traffic and latency, and so the best thing to do is establish where your ads are being served and which 3rd party verification tools (such as Moat, Cloudflare and Ghostery) are being used tp help speed and clean things up.
But there’s no doubt ad fraud is a growing problem, and it is one we all have a role in helping to overcome. If ever there was a time when media owners, agencies, and brand owners needed to work together more, this is it.
We could liken ad fraud to the evil twin of display. Perhaps an inevitable consequence of the growth in digital formats; hackers and unscrupulous scammers just waiting to expose the weakness in any online process or channel. And perhaps some degree of inevitability does exist; someone somewhere will always find a loophole or weakness in emerging and growing technology.
But that doesn’t mean campaigns are doomed to be only 70% genuine. At Sift, for instance, we ensure we create brand-safe content in a number of ways, all helping to reduce and eliminate ad fraud. We do this by writing and publishing unique content, by building our own platforms and by having dedicated teams of moderators and technical staff. Using this approach, alongside tools such as Integral Ad Science, ensures your campaigns reach their intended audience and are much less susceptible to bots and fraudsters.
No responsible publisher or media owner wants a situation where 30% of ads are vulnerable to ad fraud
Indeed, responsible publishers, agencies and other media owners are increasingly coming together to pool knowledge and resources.
As this DoubleClick blog post highlights:
"[Beating ad fraud] requires an industry-wide, long term commitment to identifying and filtering fake traffic from the ecosystem. This is not a task any one company can take on alone. We need everyone across the industry to take steps toward making digital advertising more secure and transparent."
From an advertiser’s point of view, the vital thing is to know whether the publisher or agency you work with is proactively taking steps to eliminate ad fraud. Plus, that internally you are consistently tracking ad viewability and transparency of results.
Here a few things you should be doing to help minimise the impact of scammers and bots.
- Monitor all traffic to your website and drill down into the detail of its source. It’s surprising how many brand owners don’t know enough about their own traffic, its source and the impact it has on their business. Make sure this is a critical part of someone’s job, not just as ‘another thing to do’ but as someone who owns and champions it in your business. And it must be done consistently over time.
- Identify and work with high quality tech partners. Ask them to show what steps they are taking to eliminate ad fraud. Be confident they are buying inventory on premium sites that are offering traffic from credible sources. Also ask them what tools and products they are using to track and prove ad viewability on your behalf.
- Check that your publisher uses either domain or bot detection tools to prevent ad injection. Ad injection is where ads are inserted into web pages without the site owner’s permission, and therefore without payment. Some might be placed on top of legitimate ads, making them unviewable, or even replace ads entirely.
- Understand the buying process, particularly for programmatic. A premium publisher will be open and upfront about how the process works, its inherent pros and cons, and ways to ensure only credible and genuine click throughs are achieved. Ask your publisher to tell you about its partners, its partners’ partners, and for transparency on where ads are being placed.
- Be prepared to pay higher prices for better ad positions and viewability. Inherently bots and scammers tend to target low value ad positions and exchanges. One measure to help reduce the impact of ad fraud is to target higher value impressions over pure volume of lower priced ones.
The issue of ad fraud is a complex one and it’s difficult to do justice to all the ins and outs in one short blog post. But working alongside your publisher and agency as a team will help identify the best strategies to beat it.
This post was originally published on the Sift Media blog