Digital marketeers, better watch out, Ad Fraud is here!

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While the overall advertising spends on channels like television, print and outdoor is shrinking, there is one channel where ad spending keeps on rising; digital. And yes, this is understandable. Targeting options are highly evolved, clicks can be measured and the amount of formats and placements available makes it a very interesting channel. It is also highly interactive and with as much as one click, the website of the advertiser can be visited. But are there also downsides to this way of advertising?

Companies invest heaps in online advertising. If not in owned channels, they invest in ads placed on other websites. And they all trust these companies placing and tracking these ads to do good and honest work. Because how can a company double-check these metrics? Or how can they be in charge of the placement? Aren’t all those systems automated and therefore impossible or difficult to mislead? Seems like some people, or companies, with bad intentions have found a way to make this happen anyway. And the consequences can’t be underestimated. The Economist calculated that 85% of companies suffer fraud. And Fraudlogix found at the end of 2018 that 13% of all ad traffic was fraudulent.

Overall, there are multiple ways fraud can be committed. Let’s take a look.

First, you have the unviewable ads. A first example is pixel stuffing. This is the placement of an advertisement in a one-by-one pixel somewhere on a site page. This ad becomes so tiny, that people visiting the website can’t even see it. In the meantime, views are counted and the advertiser pays for impressions. A second example is ad stacking. As the name incites, ad stacking happens when different advertisements are stacked on top of each other. Only the one on top is seen, but also the other ones count the views of people. One extra way of deceiving is when ad stacking is combined with click stuffing. When you click on the top ad of the stacked ads, this click is registered for all ads underneath. And of course, the advertiser pays good money for these fake clicks.

Another way of committing ad fraud is by generating bad traffic. In general, this happens when an advertisement is placed on a location that is not beneficial or even harmful for the advertiser. One way of applying this is misidentification or misrepresentation of a domain also called domain spoofing. This occurs when a specific domain is declared as a quality site but in reality, is an irrelevant website. The advertiser (and publisher) will then pay for a premium location to show an ad, but in reality, this website is far from qualitative. This is bad for the advertiser, but also for the domain that has been spoofed. Their credibility goes down and fraudsters are gaining the money they could have gained over time by really selling those advertising spots on their website. The second example of bad traffic, outside the domain of ad fraud, is, of course, the lack of brand safety. This occurs when an ad is placed in a context where it does not belong and it becomes harmful for the advertiser or the content it is placed next to. A third way to make bad traffic happen is by ad injection. Here, publishers will place ads on websites or apps without having permission to place them there.

Another possibility of ad fraud is synthetic audiences. As the name implies, these audiences are fake. Automated systems mimic the behavior of real users and let the advertiser pay for views that did not happen.

Now the next question is: how can I trace whether I have become a victim of ad fraud?

Well, there are two ways your campaigns can be affected. Or, your campaign is skyrocketing and achieving fabulous results. A 100% viewability might look great, but in reality, it has to set off some alarm bells. Or, your campaign does not get any interaction and performance of the campaign is very bad. When your campaign is exposed to fake audiences, evidently, there will be no reaction or interaction whatsoever.

So, what can you do to prevent ad fraud?

There are multiple ways to prevent becoming victim of ad fraud. One is to stop choosing for CPI (cost per impression) or CPM (cost per mile; cost per thousand impressions) as a metric. Instead, choose CPC (cost per click). That way, your company won’t have to pay for fake impressions. At that time, you still will be paying for fake clicks. So you need to think a little further.

Most importantly, you should keep a close eye on the data you are receiving from your campaign. Keep a close eye on your metrics, how they compare to other metrics in the business and their evolution. Metrics you should keep a close eye on are for example CTR’s (click-through-rate), bounce rates, session time and conversion rates. If you see anything abnormal, contact your publisher and figure it out.

Also, if you know about some specific websites where you don’t want your ad can to be featured, blacklist these websites explicitly. Another, even better way of doing this, is by whitelisting some websites where you would like your ad to appear.

Or, you can also hire an ad fraud detection company who will then do this job for you. Working with professionals is mostly the safest choice. For bigger companies anyway. The Financial Times and Procter & Gamble for example, they already cut some advertising budget and invested in fraud detection. This might be more expensive, but we all know, in order to have quality, a certain price must be paid!


Written by Peggy Storme – Junior Consultant

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