Robot Traffickers: Ad Fraud, “Bots” and Viewability
Advertising accomplishes nothing without a human audience.
That’s why so much of an advertiser’s time is spent on understanding the way in which their brand interacts with their target audience. From audience behavior to conversion metrics, all of it is taken into consideration when developing the next marketing campaign.
In the modern era, advertising has moved from more tangible mediums – for example, magazine ads and billboards – to digital with the advent of the Internet.
We now have unprecedented access to a global audience. They can find their audience, track their audience, and ultimately deliver a message to their audience in ways that afford greater accuracy and personalization than ever before.
It’s an entire digital ecosystem that – now with mobile – follows us wherever we go and encompasses everything we do.
So naturally, it’s now being exploited by the bad guys.
Fraudulent Mobile Activity
Ad fraud is the most persistent trend in digital criminal activity as of late and can be defined as any online activity that generates what the industry terms as “false impressions” – ads viewed by non-human actors.
These robotic actors, also known as “bots,” mimic human behavior. They falsify what advertisers believe to be real human engagement while offering no potential for purchase or conversion.
Bots corrupt any performance metric advertisers attempt to use, costing advertisers money and devaluing publisher inventory.
According to recent Google research, a frightening 56.1% of all impressions are not seen by human consumers. Some of these “non-impressions” were undoubtedly caused by bot activity, while others were simply served outside the window of human view.
With such dramatic numbers, the importance of fraud prevention and ad viewability is at an all-time high.
Quite simply, advertisers do not want to pay for impressions consumers never see. Properly understanding and ensuring viewability is therefore critical in determining campaign success.
Ensuring viewability is no easy task. Even well-known, premium publishers are affected by significant levels of ad fraud.
White Ops, a provider for online fraud detection solutions, recently completed a comprehensive study in partnership with the Association of National Advertisers on ad fraud. They concluded that “the reputation of the publisher is no longer a reliable benchmark to predict bot traffic”, recommending the use of “technology to validate all assumptions.”
Such unfortunate industry developments compelled us at The Mobile Majority to develop our own pre-bid placement verification tool, AdScore™, which predicts viewability and evaluates inventory value through proper assessment of ad quality and environmental factors.
It’s a way for advertisers to know where to place their ads before they spend their budget, maximizing value while minimizing risk.
How to Minimize the Risk of Ad Fraud
Effective strategy for combating ad fraud begins with understanding. The following list demonstrates ways to keep nefarious criminal organizations from impacting our digital ecosystem.
- Educate yourself on what ad fraud is and how it affects digital advertising. Education drives conversations between advertisers, publishers, and vendors that promote the development of solutions.
- Use vertically-integrated solutions like AdSynergy™ that can track the entire life of an ad, or employ third-party vendors to assist in monitoring for ad fraud. Monitor publicly (as well as covertly) to both deter and detect bot traffickers.
- Support development of newer browsers and fraud prevention technologies. Recent research has found that impressions coming from older browsers are significantly more fraudulent than their newer counterparts.
- Invest in trust. Work with partners who you have confidence in, and who provide transparency into both their process and data.
- Develop company provisions and policies on non-human traffic. By providing your company with written direction and instruction, you’ll know how to handle issues of ad fraud when they arise.
- Measure the metrics that matter. Focus on measuring viewable impressions, not total impressions served. Doing so will help parse those publishers that can provide viewability, and those that cannot.