The most common misconceptions about ad fraud

If you have ever advertised online, the chances are that you have been a victim of ad fraud. Ad fraud can be defined as any attempt to defraud digital advertising networks and campaigns for financial gain. It is typically carried out through the use of bots – software applications programmed to do certain tasks – though there are a number of other methods that scammers use to trick advertisers and waste their budgets.

Research published by Statista estimates that the costs related to ad fraud worldwide will grow exponentiallywithin the four year between 2018 and 2022, going from $19bn to $44bn – highlighting the devastating and worsening impact that ad fraud is having on companies’ marketing efforts.

Despite the extent of the problem, however, there are many misconceptions that marketers have about ad fraud and the effect that it has on their business, and it is important to dispel some of these common fallacies to help firms understand why they should be concerned.

  1. Bots are not my problem

In many cases, it appears that digital advertisers, while aware of ad fraud and the existence of bots, do not believe that they are an issue for their business.

This is simply untrue and a dangerous way of thinking, given the fact that virtually every advertiser and campaign is affected by ad fraud.

Bot networks can be programmed to target campaigns of all sizes and across all mediums, and are largely indiscriminate in the way that they conduct attacks, with fraudsters constantly developing new tactics and strategies to maximise revenue while minimising the likelihood of being detected.

To make matters worse, bot networks are now capable of piggybacking on existing malware-infected computers and mimicking human behaviour, often through the use of click fraud – one of the most common forms of ad fraud which involves adverts being clicked repeatedly by bots to give the impression that they are receiving genuine, human traffic, thereby draining the advertiser’s marketing budget.

A recent study by the Association of National Advertisers [ANA] and WhiteOps lays bare the extent of the ad fraud problem for typical businesses. It found that nearly 25 per cent of all video ad impressions, 10 per cent of all digital display ad impressions, and more than half of all traffic purchased by publishers to drive additional unique visitors to their site, are fraudulent.

With statistics like these, it is impossible to ignore the likely and severe impact that ad fraud is having on your digital marketing campaigns.

  1. Our campaigns aren’t at risk because we only use premium publishers

It is all too easy for marketers to convince themselves that they won’t be impacted by ad fraud if they only use premium publishers, but they will only be fooling themselves if they do.

That is because buying directly or through a private market place [PMP] does not suddenly mean that you are immune to ad fraud. In fact, recent WhiteOps research reveals that some direct buys have as much as 98 per cent non-human traffic.

While the publisher may have been genuine, almost all of the traffic acquired was not. This shows how widely trusted publishers regularly buy bot traffic via third-party services, albeit unknowingly, meaning that a good reputation offers no guarantee that bots won’t be visiting your website or campaigns.

  1. Bots can’t fake attribution

When people hear the word ‘bot’, many automatically assume that these programs are operating entirely without any human engagement.

This, however, is not the case, given that two-thirds of bots online today are actually running on devices owned by real consumers.

Because they have real cookies and real device IDs, this means that they actually show up in real attribution models.

For example, retargeting only shows ads to people that have made purchase attempts, so you would be forgiven for assuming that retargeting is a 100% bot-free practice.

Far too many advertisers place trust in the notion that when they write a cookie to a computer and see it later, no one could possibly have messed with it in the interim.

The reality is that, as bots can access real cookies, they can run in the background on a residential computer and be content to watch ads targeting the owner for as long as they like.

Sadly, as bot technology and the methods used to employ it becoming increasingly more sophisticated and unscrupulous, the harder it becomes to accurately make a distinction between a genuine, human user and a bot.

Greater education and awareness is needed

It is alarming just how common these and other misconceptions around ad fraud are, and how oblivious many businesses are to the havoc that bots are wreaking on their marketing channels.

While new technologies designed to detect click fraud and protect firms from it are emerging and evolving all the time, the tide in the war against the fraudsters can only truly be turned with a greater level of awareness among marketers of the worsening situation.

Those operating in the digital marketing space have a responsibility to educate advertisers about the perils that come from being ignorant to the facts around ad fraud, and encourage them to move towards helping fix the problem rather than inadvertently perpetuating it.