Robots may not be ruling the world (yet), but they have already given the ad world quite the scare. And for good reason. The exciting rise of programmatic advertising has given way to a corresponding incline in bot activity, to the point that reportedly over 50% of all web traffic is non-human.
Bot fraud can come in multiple forms and originate from a variety of sources. They can be simple bots (scripts run by a server), sophisticated bots (which rotate IP addresses and can mimic normal click-through rates), or even botnets, a highly illegal method comprising of “a large array of personal (residential) computers that have been compromised by bad actors.”
This does not even account for ad fraud done by humans, such as fraudulent publishers who use tactics like invisible ads, domain spoofing, or “click farm” schemes.
With ad fraud becoming so frequent and insidious, brands, marketers, and agencies alike have been concerned that the viewability of their ads–whether display, video, banner, or even mobile–has been compromised, and their budgets poorly spent.
But while risks are out there, the industry has been working hard to find solutions to stop ad fraud in its tracks.
While there is not yet a single definitive way to stop ad fraud, there are steps that buyers and ad agencies can and do take against it. Those who do not take those steps demonstrate bad business practice, risking serious damage to their relationships with clients and hurting their overall reputation with short-sightedness and greed. If you are a brand or business concerned that your ad vendor may not be doing the best it can on the fraud-prevention front, you are entitled (and encouraged by us) to ask the following questions to protect yourself:
What algorithms/third party vendors are you using for ad validation?
Third party vendors such as DoubleVerify (our personal choice) use algorithms that specialize in both detecting and preventing fraud. They are constantly on the lookout for “questionable traffic,” helping you make the most of your ad budget while boosting viewability and making sure your brand is safe.
Do you employ a block list, and how frequently do you update it?
Global block lists are employed by many programmatic platforms to “ban sites or supply vendors suspected of bot traffic.” This list must constantly be updated to account for the rising tide of fraudulent sites.
Can I view the reports?
Ask your vendor to see the campaign data reports, and analyze the data. If there is a point in which the web traffic looks too good to be true, chances are, it is, especially if the traffic has not translated to any conversions. Bots are capable of leaving impressions, but are not capable of faking sales or filling out forms, so if web traffic on a site correlates with actual conversions, it is likely safe to keep advertising on that site. A legitimate ad vendor will not deprive you of reports
To pull back the curtain on RTB Media, we’re laying out the measures we take to battle ad fraud, and keep our clients getting accurate campaign reports that help their business:
-Using Double Verify (mentioned above) and Integral Science, third party vendors, along with our own machine learning algorithms, we are able to detect and reduce fraudulent activity.
-We filter bots and a lot of service robots, who track ads. There are two stages of filtering: before the ad was served and after. The best and more accurate filters work after the ad was served, based on behavior. If behavior is fraudulent we don’t count this click and impression and our customers don’t pay for it.
-Finally, we pride ourselves on being 100% fully transparent.
Looking for additional tips? According to the Wall Street Journal, some other tidbits to keep in mind in order to avoid fraud are:
Bots are nocturnal, operating when the majority of web users and your audience is asleep (at approximately 11 p.m.-5 a.m.)
Bots prefer sites related to “finance, family and food”, attracting the highest percentages of bot traffic. “Tech, sports and science-related sites” attract the lowest bot activity.
Video ads get more fraudulent impressions than display ads–logical, what with the tremendous growth of video marketing.
Got any advice to offer fellow brands and/or vendors in this battle against ad fraud? We’d love to hear them.