Fraudsters, Hucksters, Bots & You: The Sting

We’ve previously discussed digital ad fraud and the organizations and companies that are trying to right the ship. Now we will focus on what you can do to help avoid lining the pockets of today’s Jesse James.

There are a few relatively easy things you can do to avoid having your media budget mugged. It will require additional considerations, and may require that you adjust your key performance indicators or overall digital media approach; however, you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck. Upfront costs may appear higher because either more selective inventory sources cost more or you will be employing additional measurement resources. The upshot is you will increase the odds you are reaching real, live people who may enrich you with some of their hard-earned cash. Otherwise, you could just be wasting valuable resources on a bot that will take your money in exchange for nothing of value.

Your digital fraud thwartification plan is as follows:

Image representing the defeat of digital ad fraud

Change who measures the campaigns.

It doesn’t matter how the votes are cast; it matters who is counting the votes. Manipulating results is as simple as changing a number in a report or on a spreadsheet. When it comes to your campaigns, you should engage third-party measurement tools whenever possible.

  • Use a third-party ad server. Whether you are working with a publisher, a demand-side platform (DSP) or an exchange, rely on a reputable ad server like SizMek or DoubleClick to measure the impressions, clicks and conversions. A third-party ad server creates efficiencies in reporting, campaign management and targeting. It also prevents the duplication of audiences, enables you to monitor directly whether campaigns are pacing as expected and provides advanced campaign analysis. Most importantly, it gives you the ability to validate overall impression delivery and site-side interaction patterns.
  • Implement attitudinal surveys. Measuring the impact of an ad unit in ways that don’t require any user interaction provides a great deal of value. You can determine the impact of imagery, placements, messaging and offers by measuring the changes in your audience’s mindset across a set of communication goals. Companies like Nielsen, comScore and GfK have excellent products that will help provide insights into what is actually moving the needle with your audience. At the very least, they will certainly validate that your digital efforts are relevant. Ideally, you’ll have a lot of great research data you can use in future digital forays. We love to employ these types of measurements whenever possible.

Change what your campaigns measure.

The most basic digital metrics measure the quantity of the placements instead of the quality of the buy. Traditional impression metrics like click-through rates (CTR) and impressions don’t relay anything about the quality. They are also very easy to game.

  • Track viewable impressions, not impressions served. Instead of getting reports that only detail impressions served, insist on a viewability metric. Viewability provides data on whether or not a placement was seen by a person, whereas impressions merely tell you that the ad was served. Just because an ad was served doesn’t mean it was or could have been seen. It could be well below the fold, buried underneath other banners or otherwise out-of-view.
  • Focus on engagement. Ad views, clicks, CTR and video completions are easily performed by bots. Yet a bot can’t pick up the phone, it can’t fill out a well-designed lead form, and it can’t explore a website like prospects can. If you focus on more sophisticated metrics like purchases, lead form completions, specific site interactions, brand surveys and phone calls, you’ll be able to eliminate many bad impressions. Furthermore, if you have the opportunity to use purchases, form completions or phone calls in a campaign, you’ll be able to verify results by combing through those records or listening to the calls. If you see bogus activity, the next step would be to identify where they came from and eliminate funding for the source.

Fine-tune your campaigns.

There are a number of tweaks you can make to reduce campaign waste. If you don’t have direct access to the system, we highly encourage you to have a conversation with your digital campaign managers to make sure these tactics are employed.

  • Update your blacklists often. In the course of managing campaigns for our clients, we’ve noticed sites and networks that provide a lot of impressions but no site-side actions. Create a comprehensive list of these outlets and make sure they are always excluded. Also, consider blocking IP addresses and countries that send bad traffic.
  • Avoid night owls. The majority of fraudulent traffic comes from everyday computers whose browsers have been hacked. Bots not only blend in with human traffic, but also are being actively targeted unbeknownst to advertisers. Fraudulent activity peaks when real users are sleeping, but their computers are still awake. Avoid running campaigns in the wee hours of the morning.
  • Internet Explorer 6 & 7 are bad news. Older browsers like IE6 and IE7 are more popular with bots than humans, so it’s advised to reduce buys on these dated and vulnerable systems. Also, don’t become part of the problem. Upgrade to a modern browser that has built-in mechanisms to protect it from getting hacked.
  • Demand transparency. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it probably isn’t a golden goose. Avoid publishers and ad network that won’t make these changes, won’t provide viewability metrics, won’t share with you where their traffic originates or won’t allow third-party tags.

That’s a wrap, folks. We hope you’ve picked up a few tips. If you have more questions (or would like for us to audit your programs), please contact us. We’d love to help you avoid all of these pitfalls.

What are some of the worst and best experiences you’ve had with online fraud? What was happening and how did you catch the crooks? Do you have additional advice for the community? Leave a comment below and let’s continue the conversation.

The Good Guys

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