The U.S. Interactive Advertising Bureau has released a new working paper on online ad fraud, offering strategies for advertisers, networks and exchanges to reduce their exposure. The report was produced by the IAB’s Traffic of Good Intent task force, which included members from Dstillery, Integral Ad Science, Federated Media, AppNexus and Adap.tv.
Digital ad fraud comes in many varieties, but generally fraudsters aim to create and sell a large volume of ad impressions that are never seen by a human. Unsuspecting media buyers may bid on non-human impressions on ad exchanges, or they may purchase them as part of direct digital buys that have been contaminated with bad traffic. According to fraud detection specialists, the amount of all ad traffic that is fraudulent may be anywhere from 10% to 40%.
When digital inventory is inflated by fake impressions, “we all suffer,” said Chris Williams, president of IAB Canada. “Brands end up paying too much, publisher reputations are questioned and agencies are given the headache of sorting out good traffic from bad, while online media’s reputation as a whole gets varnished with the same brush.”
A vulnerability that fraudsters often exploit is campaign measurement that relies too heavily on superficial conversion metrics, such as raw pageviews, click-throughs and video completion rates. Since clicks and views are easy for fraudsters to simulate, a fraud-riddled digital media buy will appear to perform well on these metrics. The IAB report recommends moving away from these metrics and measuring campaign-specific, hard-to-fake human interactions like purchases, subscriptions, and survey responses.
Publishers can also be victims of fraud when they purchase traffic from bad traffic providers. Selling bot-generated traffic to publishers who want to grow their audience quickly is an easy way for fraudsters to exploit the digital advertising ecosystem. The IAB recommends that publishers do not buy traffic if it can be avoided, and focus instead on growing audiences organically. Publishers who do buy traffic should avoid buying large volumes of views and clicks at too-good-to-be-true prices.
Media networks should be wary of bad traffic when vetting new publishers. The IAB lists several red flags that networks should look for in prospective members, such as overnight growth in traffic volume, a large overlap in visitors to publisher’s unrelated sites, and more than four ad tags on a single page.
The report also recommends using third-party fraud detection services, filtering traffic through vendors who prioritize fraud detection, and developing relationships with partners along the supply chain.
The 7 questions buyers should ask sellers, and sellers should ask traffic providers:
• Is your audience measured by verifiable third party systems?
• Do you have a clean record with third party brand safety reports?
• What is your policy for detecting, investigating and removing fraudulent traffic?
• How do you assure that ads are served as reported, and that URLs are visible to the advertiser?
• How do you determine whether ads are auto-initiated or user-initiated?
• Do you provide protection from malware?
• Are impressions generated by malware redirecting to or from your site?