Display Advertising Fraud is a big topic and one that has been gaining traction in the press lately. At the beginning of last year, Solve Media estimated that over US$ 11.6 billion dollars would be spent on fake impressions in 2014. In February, the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) CEO, Vivek Shah, tweeted: “We have reached a crisis point: 36% of traffic today is generated by machines, not humans.” It comes as no surprise then that this topic is such a priority for the IAB, it ranks as one of their key initiatives over the next five years. Ad fraud matters because it damages trust in our industry and raises serious questions on our ability to deliver transparent value for advertisers.
Having come across a number of definitions for advertising fraud, my favorite is Integral Ad Science’s simple version: “an ad impression that has no potential to be seen by a human user”.
Some of the most common fraudulent practices are:
1) The use of “bots”: Advertisers generally buy digital ad impressions believing they are paying for humans when in reality, some of these impressions are generated by “bots”. This is a form of malware that, when inadvertently installed on a computer, will cause a browser to load thousands of websites. This in turn generates millions of ad impressions that are never seen by a human eye.
2) Ad stacking: This is when multiple ads are virtually “stacked” on top of one another, thus only showing one advertisement while reporting a higher number of ad views.
3) Pixel stuffing: This is when a whole ad unit is stuffed into one pixel on a screen and thus is too small to be detected, even if viewed by a human.
Individually or as a whole, these issues constitute a significant challenge for the industry. Thankfully, the past few years have seen an explosion in the number of technologies designed to spot fraudulent or non-viewable traffic. Regulators also block these inventory sources and black list these domains from future activity. As advertisers, we have access to the tools and techniques that ensure our brands are protected. The question is, – are we utilizing them? Looking at the MENA industry today, it appears that we have yet to see a consistent industry-wide adoption of fraud protection.
There are many ways to avoid ad fraud, and we, at Resolution, follow the below steps.
IMPLEMENT AD FRAUD TOOLS
NOMINATE INTERNAL CHAMPIONS
In addition to technology advancements, operational steps should be taken to mitigate the risks of fraud and increase viewability further. Agencies and publisher networks should have internal champions to monitor all campaigns and inventory sources closely, reviewing viewability rates frequently. Their role would also be to investigate suspicious activity, with the aim of improving ad product quality and paying for impressions viewed rather than impressions delivered.
EMPLOY TAG MANAGEMENT
Advertisers should have tag management solutions implemented across their sites and monitor post-click activity leading to “human only” actions, such as confirmed leads or product purchases. More importantly, such “true” human traffic must be linked back to inventory source.
With all parties involved in monitoring and reducing instances of fraudulent/unviewable inventory, the overall industry will benefit. Reducing advertising fraud while simultaneously improving viewability rates is the responsibility of all players in the digital media industry. Stamping out fraudulent ad impressions will lead to significant improvements in advertiser ROIs, which will in turn attract more investments to the digital space. The digital media industry has proven its ability to build brands and drive business performance in ways unparalleled in pre-Internet days. With today’s tools and techniques that increase trust levels further, the future can only be even more promising.