eMarketer estimates that U.S. programmatic investment will surpass 83 billion dollars in 2017, representing 73% of all digital ad spend this year. To ensure that this increase in spend is sustained, the industry needs to continue to improve the programmatic purchasing experience and eliminate problems such as fraud. According toad verification company Adloox, the numbers suggest that ad fraud will cost brands $16.4 billion globally this year, and that nearly 20 percent of total digital ad spend was wasted in 2016.
Companies that participate in the programmatic advertising ecosystem are most interested in banishing fraud and exposing bad practices. That is why companies like Digilant are bringing more and more transparency to the whole process, promoting regulatory improvements against cybercrime, trying to ensure that content appears in the appropriate spaces and the advertisers get the greatest return on their investments. It is the only way for ad-tech to continue to be a marketing lever in the digital economy.
The good news is that because of efforts from programmatic vendors fraud is now in retreat. The National Association of Advertisers of the United States calculates that the losses will be over a million dollars less than last year.
In order to help marketers minimize fraud we have come up with 10 tips that help them make safer programmatic investments.
9 Tips for Minimizing Ad Fraud
There are different measures that advertisers can take to make their investments more secure:
- Search for personalized strategies. Each proposal must be adjusted to reflect your brand values and overall marketing KPIs.
- Examine the context on the publisher pages. The analysis of the data of a web page can confirm that the content is relevant and suitable for your brand’s advertisements. Implement whitelists and blacklists, analyze user traffic and strengthen visibility criteria.
- Use machine learning to implement audience targeting and then to safely expand the audience of campaigns by finding people that look like them.
- Ask if they are willing to use only Ads.txt. This buying method confirms that each webpage uploads a file to its root domain detailing which SSP (Sell Side Platform – a tool that manages the programmatic advertising of a website) offers its inventory, its Placement ID and its relationship with that SSP. In this way, it is ensured that the information passed from SSP and the publisher ID is accurate. The publishers publicly indicate who is actually authorized to market their advertising space eliminating inventory fraud.
- Prioritize programmatic buying in private marketplaces, which ensures a direct relationship with publishers.
- Avoid non-certified apps. The environment of the applications can be more risky than desktop or mobile web.
- Ask if the DSP has a pre-bid solution. Ads are only bid on and served if the inventory meets certain conditions and pre-bid filtering can be used to ensure contextual relevancy or to prevent ads from appearing in environments are not brand safe.
- Identify programmatic companies that have or work with the best fraud technology solutions and application of best practices.
- Run away from opacity. The most advanced programmatic buying companies are offering an increasingly transparent relationships.
Types of Ad Fraud
Fraud affects all digital marketing, generating false traffic. The fraud started with clicks (generated by people who have no real interest in the ad) and impressions (when requesting an impression in an Ad-Exchange knowing that it will not be seen by any real user). It was technically sophisticated with bots (software programs that simulate the action of a person visiting websites and clicking on advertisements).
Four other ad fraud practices that digital marketers are faced with include pixel stuffing, ad-stacking, ghost sites and masked URLs. Pixel Stuffing occurs when the visitor of the web page does not see the advertisement because it is so small, but for the advertiser it counts as an impression. Ad-Stacking is when several banners or videos are placed on top of each other in a single advertising space. Because the user can not see that they are stacked, the advertiser is charged for false impressions. Ghost sites are false websites and impersonations of domains, as the Financial Times recently experienced. Masked URLs occur when an ad is said to be shown on one website but is actually placed on another one.
There is also the reputational risk that brands can face if their ads appear next to inappropriate or illegal content. This was discovered last spring with Youtube and Google. The brands unknowingly placed advertisements for brands next to violent political content, religious extremists and other negative environments. The analyst firm Nomura calculated that the search engine could lose more than 7% of its revenue in 2017, totaling close to 750 million dollars.
In August, it became known that Google was refunding money to hundreds of brands affected by advertising fraud. Brands’ ads purchased through the DoubleClick Bid Manager-Google were being placed on pages with false traffic generated through automated programs.
At the end of last year, the computer security firm White Ops revealed the biggest and most sophisticated scam to date in this area, named Methbots. A group of Russian cyber criminals created an “army” of bots, pretending to be real people, that generated more than 300 million fake video views a day. More than 170 million dollars were spent by advertisers who believed they were generation impressions of real consumers.