Ad Fraud: Digital’s Newest Bad Guy
Several years ago we, as an industry, asked ourselves: should a non-viewable impression be considered a valid one? After countless industry discussions, analyses, and studies, we concluded the answer to this question is an unequivocal “no.” After all, if an ad is not seen, then it can’t possibly do its job of having an impact on the consumer.
On the heels of this great debate around viewability, we now turn our attention to yet another ecosystem challenge that threatens ad quality: fraud. Often referred to as invalid traffic (IVT) or non-human traffic (NHT), Comscore defines IVT as any traffic to a website that is generated – either intentionally or unintentionally – by invalid sources. The Media Rating Council (MRC) identifies two core types of IVT – Sophisticated and General – both of which Comscore detects in its measurement. Sophisticated IVT is defined by the MRC as “traffic originating from hijacked devices, malware or misappropriated content.” General IVT is relatively simple to detect, while Sophisticated IVT requires more advanced methods.
While the topic of fraud can quickly become a complicated one, a single truth remains: ads that are served to invalid sources are never seen by a real consumer and thus have no chance of delivering value. This fact alone leads us to conclude that it is high time we take on ad fraud as an industry issue.
Fraud manifests in a variety of ways
Nowadays, there are bad actors in the ecosystem that work exclusively to generate low quality traffic, pretending to be humans, in order to sell their impressions with high CPMs to unprepared advertisers. These tactics also directly impact publishers who have an authentic audience, often devaluing valid, authenticate impressions from premium sites.
It is not uncommon for these fraudulent impressions to surface on ad exchanges, posing as audiences with different segments and interests, waiting for someone to buy them or even pay a CPM for them. Often times these fraudulent impressions appear on low-quality sites, mainly designed to accomplish this purpose. Other times, they pose as impressions on premium sites through sophisticated types of fraud, such as domain laundering.
Sizing the problem
Comscore recently released its Q1 2016 advertising benchmarks looking at the latest insights into invalid traffic, viewability and ad blocking across the globe. The findings shed light on the extent of the issues and how they differ by market. Below is a summary of the 4 key findings:
1) Key Finding #1: Global IVT rates continue to climb, with Sophisticated IVT generating the vast majority of the total. In fact, 80% of global IVT was sophisticated in December 2015.
2) Key Finding #2: We tend to see consistently higher rates of IVT in video inventory than display largely due to the fact that video ads deliver higher CPM value. This means fraudsters can make more money faster. Programmatic further intensifies the issue as we see IVT is 4X higher in programmatic buys compared to direct buys.
3) Key finding #3: Although viewability has been a key focus of the industry for several years, we find that more than half of online ads worldwide still do not have the opportunity to be seen.
4) Key finding #4: Similar to the trends we saw with IVT, ads bought and sold directly tend to have higher viewability rates than those transacted through programmatic channels. Why? Simply put, there’s more transparency when buying ads directly vs through exchanges, making it easier to ensure quality.
Fighting Back Against Ad Fraud
IVT can certainly be concerning for both media buyers and sellers. The good news is that there are solutions available to help buyers avoid invalid impressions and to help publishers identify threats related to IVT. So what can you do? Start by asking yourself some critical questions:
If you are a media buyer:
- Am I evaluating my ad delivery and optimising towards high-quality media partners? Using trusted verification tools can help you validate that your advertising had the chance to be seen by real people helping you avoid campaign waste and ultimately deliver better campaign results.
- Do I have transparency into the quality of the inventory I am buying programmatically? As we’ve seen, programmatic sees higher levels of IVT than buying direct. Using pre-bid filters to help identify high-quality inventory in programmatic exchanges can help you reach real people no matter how you transact.
- Am I using tools that detect Sophisticated IVT? Sophisticated IVT accounts for the majority of IVT globally and, unfortunately, it’s on the rise. Be sure you are using campaign tools that go beyond detecting only General IVT. Today’s environment requires Sophisticated IVT detection in order to help you avoid wasted impressions and missed opportunities to reach your customers. Comscore measurement detects both General and Sophisticated IVT.
If you are a media seller:
- Am I proactively monitoring my inventory? Using trusted tools to proactively monitor the traffic to your inventory – both onsite and offsite – protects your reputation and helps you avoid falling victim to the IVT scheme.
- Am I continuously monitoring my inventory? Fraudsters are smart and are constantly evolving their methods. Continuous measurement ensures you are better able to recognize anomalies and stay on top of your inventory quality.
- Am I using tools that detect Sophisticated IVT? Sophisticated IVT accounts for the majority of IVT globally and, unfortunately, it’s on the rise. Be sure you are using inventory tools that go beyond detecting only General IVT. Today’s environment requires Sophisticated IVT detection in order to help you maintain the value of your inventory and your reputation. Comscore measurement detects both General and Sophisticated IVT.
To learn more about invalid and non-human traffic and how it can impact campaign results, check out our report Why Non-Human Traffic Matters and Why You Should Care or download the Whitepaper for an in-depth look.