Fraudsters see a world of opportunities from which to make money in digital advertising. For the first time in the US, annual digital advertising spend was in excess of $100 billion in 2018, and $330 billion worldwide. With so much being put into advertising, ad fraudsters will stop at nothing to find new means of stealing and taking companies’ ad budgets. It is now up to companies who make use of ads to be very sensitive and vigilant so as to fight ad fraud that prevents them from getting their full returns on investments in ads.
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Just as internet users are responding massively to the proliferation of fake news and clickbait journalism, so also are they responding to deceitful ad practices with ad blockers. You may think ad fraud hasn’t affected you yet, or at least not much but the fact is that it affects us all.
This being established, it is clear that everyone is a victim of ad fraud especially publishers and advertisers. The good thing about it all is that people are finally being careful and paying attention but that is not enough. Just as more sophisticated technology is being made available to prevent fraudulent ads, so also are fraudsters getting more sophisticated. And that is why we have this topic here to provide you with everything on fighting ad fraud.
We will look at what ad fraud is, how much concern it draws, why it is difficult to fight and how using a proxy can help.
What Is Ad Fraud?
Ad fraud is any deliberate act that stands in the way of having ad content delivered to the target audience. It can take different forms and involves the fraudster scamming an advertiser paying for any of the following:
1. Non-compliant ads – this form of fraud could involve ads appearing on fraudulent websites, clicking through to a wrong website, or not reaching the target audience.
The ad technology being used today allows advertisers to target their audience with precision theoretically. The problem with this theory being successfully applied is the action of fraudsters whose shady tactics can alter the target audience. The audience who gets the ads are off the chosen demographic and advertisers are charged for clicks and impressions that are of no value to them.
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Ad fraudsters who pass off as premium publishers with the use of similar domain names can make a lot of money. An example of such a case is the Methbot case that stole more than $5 million a day from advertisers just by spoofing domains.
Ad injection is in this category also and it involves the practice of malicious browser extensions, or malware replacing the paid ads with other ads without the knowledge or permission of the publisher.
2. Fake impressions – fraud by impressions can take different forms but most common is the act of selling ad space on fake websites and using bots to create a large number of fake impressions. Advertisers that are not keen on noticing this will end up paying full price for impressions of zero value in their CPM campaigns.
3. Fake clicks – click fraud is peculiar to pay per click ads and between one and two out of five clicks are fraudulent. Fraudsters make use of click farms to inflate the number of clicks an ad actually gets, forcing advertisers to spend more money than they should on useless clicks that were a result of automated traffic and would never convert.
How Serious Is The Problem Of Ad Fraud?
In 2015 when google began taking steps to stop ad fraud, its blacklist filter removed 8.9% of clicks on double click campaign managers alone. This hasn’t solved the problem of course and it has only increased ever since. Recent reports suggest that programmable ad buys may include as much as 375 of click fraud.
The problem is obviously not going away anytime soon and fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated just as advertisers are becoming more difficult to scam. Ad fraud has had a huge impact on major advertising brands like Unilever, News UK, and also financial times and it has made them cut down on their budget so as to effectively monitor ad fraud. Proctor and Gambie also slashed down advertising budget by $750 million and stopped working with half of its ads agencies due to ad fraud.
Here is an example of an Instagram ad that was created to promote a talent booking called Special Guest App:
From the image, be the judge and tell if there was ad fraud or not. The ad was targeted using demographics of 785,000 people in Northern Pennsylvania over 24 hours and the budget was $100 across Instagram and Facebook. You can see that the ad received 1,246 likes and only one comment which is by the way unrelated.
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App store marketing remains one of the most vulnerable to fraud because unlike Google and Facebook, app stores offer less sophisticated audience features. Despite this, all the platforms are at risk of mobile attribution fraud as it relates to apps. Since most apps are bid on a cost per install (CPI) basis, it is easy for fraudsters to manipulate the propositions.
Ad fraud hurts everyone from customers to advertisers and brings about a lack of trust in the digital world. For advertisers, its ad blockers and for publishers, its lowered retention rates from poor performing media. The advertising platforms also suffer from ad fraud as users move on to other platforms that promise a better experience after receiving poor experience in the digital ecosystem.
Types of Ad Fraud
Ad fraud isn’t only about bots giving false traffic. A good number of ad fraud is also caused by ad agencies and publishers too. The most common forms of ad fraud are:
1 . Bot traffic clicks and impressions
2. Ads on platforms that are not seen by actual users
3. Ad agencies or publishers who purchase traffic or use deliberate platforms to misinterpret data and performance
Ad fraud by real people is the hardest form to detect. While the clicks and impressions seen may be false, the users behind them are real and most ad verification software don’t blacklist these types.
Here are some examples of fraud propagated by humans:
1 . Click Farms: this involves Clickbait ads with real human form fills that do not result in anything.
2. Impression Stacking: these types of ads are hidden under other ads and are used to fake impressions.
3. Injected Ads: these form of ads replace other ads on a platform without permission
4. Arbitrage: This is an ad fraud by publishers who sell traffic to other agencies.
Other common types of ad fraud are:
1. Cookie Stuffing
This is an example of a common ad frauds. It is mainly used in affiliate marketing schemes to mislead and dilute target audience information, thereby messing up the entire results of a campaign.
If done right, cookie stuffing gives the advertiser results that look outstanding. The results give you wonderful performance stats and you keep spending money thinking your ads are working meanwhile, in reality, you are losing money.
A cookie is a necessary element in the tracking of a user’s journey from an affiliate site to a central site. When a user clicks on the affiliate link, cookies are exchanged and the source site pays for this to the affiliate site. What cookie stuffing does is to pad out the stats and makes the source site pay more even though it is gaining less?
2. Traffic Fraud
The end of ads is to generate traffic because traffic generates revenue. A downside to traffic, however, is that it can be easily imitated, tricking the analytics into thinking that everything is going well. Such a theory will encourage more investment for even better yield of returns. Traffic fraud is the easiest to implement and to the keen observer, it is the easiest to detect too.
Interesting Read :Six Best Practices to Prevent Ad Fraud
3. Impression Fraud
Impressions are vital in CPM based ads. So an impression fraud generates fake and hollow impressions that will be traded as real even though they do not offer any benefit. Since these impressions are of no value, it affects the overall CTR and brings negative consequences to the website.
Advertisers buy ads from a publisher and the publisher intentionally serves some part of the ads to irrelevant low profile websites that have no potential to generate anything. This is unknown to advertisers.
What will be seen in the reports is that ads were served to legit websites that are relevant to the target audience.
4. Click Fraud
Digital advertising usually goes by cost per click as a standard model. Clicks are also very easily manipulated. According to research by Pixalate in 2017, one out of five clicks was fraudulent. There is also a tendency for an increase to two out of five and why is that? It’s because click fraud can be easily done.
Click fraud is more commonly used by business competitors than fraudulent criminals. You can easily spot it by checking reports on the following:
1 . IP address
2. Click timestamp
3. Action timestamp
5. Action Fraud
Action Fraud is a sophisticated type of ad fraud. Unlike traffic fraud which rigs the statistics, action fraud rigs the mechanism that brings in the money. It is designed to mimic user activity.
Due to this fact, action fraud is very dangerous and has the potential to derail a company’s campaign and can affect a website’s position.
6. Conversion Fraud
In business, conversions are very important and are the purpose of ads. Even though they are merely actions taken by the user, conversions show intent and it costs a whole lot. How does conversion fraud work?
Ad fraud bots are used here. The bots are taught some actions with the use of some programming scripts. Actions to be executed by the bots can be as simple as filling out forms to clicking on links, imitate user experience, and also download files. Such actions with bots can mess with CRM.
7. Retargeting Fraud
Retargeting is considered to be a very effective form of digital ads because it is more precise and allows you to reach your target audience. It is however easily muddled with misleading information.
Fraudsters make use of bots to pull off this type of fraud. They try to imitate a real user’s behavior in different contexts. Because of this, the bots are not usually spotted and can increase prices for impressions gotten. As such impressions are wastes and cannot be useful in business, it ends up being a waste of money.
8. Affiliate Fraud
Affiliates are very common in digital marketing and are sure to get you conversions. It has a downside too as it can be exploited.
Affiliate fraud works just like a regular fraud where users are attracted but the stats are rigged so that charges can increase. Cookie stuffing is an approach of affiliate fraud but in this case, instead of usual cookie exchange affiliate sites send loads of cookies unto users’ computers that produce false flag signals. After that is done, the affiliate claims his share.
This fraud can be stopped and put in check by anomaly-based and credential detection.
6 Steps to Fight Ad Fraud
1 . Make Use of Ad Verification Tools
If you choose to use a private programmatic network, then it is necessary that you have third party auditors. It is not strange to see advertisers employing the services of multiple third-party auditors to verify and audit private platforms.
The importance of making use of third party auditors is that they will provide you with their own analytics research and KPI performance that shows results that are genuine and far less likely to have been faked. They can also filter out fraudulent ads before you get charged for useless clicks.
2. Measure Conversions Instead Of Number of Clicks
When bidding, instead of following the norm of measuring the number of clicks, consider switching to more actionable metrics like conversions or lead forms. This is better because those metrics you measure and pay for are proof that the ads actually reached your target audience and statistics were not just manipulated.
These practices should especially be considered if you are advertising over an open market place but not limited to them. You should also consider this practice when using Facebook and Instagram platforms for advertising.
Interesting Read : How to choose the best proxy for ad verification?
The essence of this step is not to make you rule out all click-based goals as not all of them have fraudulent [practices employed. But the fact that they are easy to trick with the use of bots would make you vulnerable
3. Make Use of Trusted Platforms
Most companies and brands focus on advertising through Facebook and AdWords as these are traditional advertising networks. While there is a case for programmatic networks, you should be very cautious while using it. Unfortunately, it is important to take more proactive steps to fight ad fraud and prevent it before it even occurs until google ad Facebook can fix their own issue.
4. Don’t Rely On a Machine
This step lays emphasis on manually taking control over advertisement campaigns and making of internal policies. For each policy and campaign done, a manual review should be done to check for performance. If you work with other partner networks, it is necessary that they share the same values as you when it concerns fighting ad fraud. So you have to demand transparency on their policies and processes too.
Checking your policies and ensuring that it is in sync with your partner networks is not enough. It is also important that you review your own KPIs and performance. Third-party ad trackers can help you with this and you can compare actual data with the reported data from the platform. Most ad trackers offer their own metrics that you can use to track ad fraud.
By putting a series of policies in place together with reviews, you will ensure a process that saves your ad data from fraud.
5. Make Use of Big Data Analytics
This is a step that helps you better understand the flow of ad fraud and helps you better equip yourself to prevent its occurrence by comparing invalid traffic data with other campaign analytics.
With large data sets, you will better understand what networks are receiving the greatest volume of fraud traffic, and which ad campaigns and policies are reducing the greatest number of invalid traffic. Having such data at your disposal, you can implement even stronger ad fraud polices that will strengthen your own campaigns and yield better results.
6. Make Use of Ads.txt
The IAB’s ads.txt protocol is efficient in preventing domain spoofing and resulting ad inventory from getting on third party sites. For this reason, it is very important that individual publishers adopt the protocol.
Google recommends that the initiative be adopted by publishers and about 19% of publishers still remain unaware of what it. Going by this, it is clear that publishers can only do as much and it is still up to advertisers to provide protection for themselves.
Challenges of Detecting Ad Fraud
Ad fraud is becoming more of a concern each day as the act is growing and fraudsters as becoming more sophisticated. The more fraud prevention and detection technologies are built, the more fraudsters mutate and so the fight continues as evolution becomes continuous.
Cloaked ads could appear as they should to ad networks and advertisers, but appear differently to users who access an app or website. This is because fraudsters are skilled at covering their tracks and know when they are being monitored.
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When the IP of a normal user is used to monitor the journey of an ad multiple times, fraudsters become suspicious and block it, serving it a cloaked ad. The path an ad takes between an advertiser and the user can be hacked skillfully in such a way that neither the publisher nor the advertiser would notice it. In order to effectively monitor your ads and have fraudsters on checkmate, advertisers need to appear as normal users and act as every regular user would. This is only possible with the use of different IPs, thus the need for the use of a proxy. This is why non-compliant ads are difficult to detect without the use of a whole lot of IPs.
How Proxies Can Be Used To Fight Ad Fraud
The use of proxies is a very efficient way to get accurate data firsthand ad to detect non-compliant ads and affiliate links. Companies and brands can get access to the real user’s IPs by partnering with a proxy provider. By this act, the companies can mimic real users and act as a regular customer from any location around the world.
With the use of various IPs, advertisers can check if the ad is shown to the right demographics, whether it is shown to the target location, and whether clicking on it leads the customers to the correct website. Acting as a regular user allows you to get your own statistics and make findings yourself to know if fraudsters are living off of your ads budget. This knowledge will help you identify and block ad networks where fraudsters are at work.
To avoid waste of funds on ads, advertisers need to be smart about the whole thing. When fraud goes undetected and payments are made for clicks and impressions that are of no value, money spent becomes a huge loss to the company. With an IP Proxy, you can verify that your ads are compliant, affiliate links are compliant, and the ads are malware-free and are shown to the right location, demographics and at the right time.
Advertisements are the backbone of every business because without being known, you cannot sell. Ads are now more sophisticated so you can reach the specific audience you are interested in allowing you to spend less and gain more. Ad fraud is a menace that costs companies a lot of losses without any return on investments and that is why there is great need to fight ad fraud. There are different types of ad fraud and different ways to fight it, but a very efficient method is to use a proxy.
Fraudsters can cover their tracks very well and can detect that they are being watched and so you have to appear anonymous so as to monitor your ad journey. The use of a different IP from your official one will not cause any suspicions but using it to constantly monitor your ads is a red flag. And so you need multiple IPs with good speed and assured anonymity. Limeproxies can offer you secure multiple IPs that will be beneficial to taking note of non-compliant ads, and save you from ad networks that are infested by fraudulent activities.