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Digital Display Ad Fraud: Best Practices for Publishers

Execs across the industry discuss best practices for sellers when it comes to ad fraud

April 29, 2015

Digital display ad fraud, defined as the practice of falsifying traffic counts or activities using deceptive tactics, has exploded over the past several years.

US Online Ad Traffic Served to Bots, by Type, Sep 2014 (% of total impressions monitored by White Ops)

Based on interviews with execs across the industry, a new eMarketer report, “Ad Fraud in Digital Display: The Scope of Fraud and Its Impact on Buyers and Sellers,” offers some best practices for publishers when it comes to fighting fraud.

Be transparent about fraud detection practices and policies. In being open about fraud detection practices and expectations for billing and reconciliation policies, sellers can ease buyer concerns and boost trust. Not only is such transparency a recommended best practice, it’s also an industry-backed suggestion as detailed in Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB’s) anti-fraud principles published in September 2014.

Proactively police owned inventory in the ad exchanges. With misrepresentation fraud at its height in the exchanges, publishers should frequently run an inventory check for their own brands and domains to ensure no one is masquerading as them.

“Publishers aren’t often policing their identities and verifying that if they’re being sold in an exchange, they actually have inventory there, even though identity spoofing is a big problem,” said Andrew Casale, president and CEO of Index Exchange, formerly known as Casale Media.

Be smart about buying traffic. Buying traffic, or traffic sourcing, is a common practice among publishers seeking additional eyeballs and revenues by driving site visits or offering audience extension products. But traffic sourcing can be a high-risk endeavor: In a December 2014 white paper, “The Bot Baseline: Fraud in Digital Advertising,” White Ops noted that 52% of all sourced traffic was made up of bots, compared with just 11% for the general display category.

Though not all traffic buying will open sellers up to ad fraud, publishers need to carefully screen potential traffic suppliers and use common sense when working with new parties.

Police supply-side partners. With suppliers like exchanges and ad networks facing increased scrutiny for turning a blind eye to fraud on their platforms, it has never been more critical for sellers to properly examine downstream partners before and during their partnership. For example, said John Murphy, vice president of marketplace quality at OpenX, said the advertising exchange typically rejects 30% to 40% of all partner requests.

One red flag in particular suppliers should look for is the proliferation of falsified sites, particularly, cookie-cutter sites. “We’ll block a particular site, and then a new site will appear on the list with the same look and feel as the old one, except a new domain,” said Kathy Leake, CEO and co-founder of Qualia Media.

Establish a baseline for ad fraud. In the end, every seller is susceptible to some level of nonhuman traffic or ad fraud. By taking the time to establish a baseline for such levels, publishers can have a benchmark upon which to accurately identify spikes and abnormalities.

“Identifying your number is step one,” said Jonah Goodhart, founder and CEO of Moat. “Step two is understanding if the number fluctuates, because nonhuman traffic might be dramatically shifting on a day-to-day basis.”

Once those spikes are identified, publishers can do a better job of tying them back to individual traffic sources or partners and weeding them out appropriately.

Get more on this topic with the full eMarketer report, “Ad Fraud in Digital Display: The Scope of Fraud and Its Impact on Buyers and Sellers.”

This report answers these key questions:

  • How problematic is digital display ad fraud today?
  • What are some of the most common types of ad fraud?
  • How is fraud affecting buyers and sellers?
  • What are some ways buyers and sellers can better protect themselves against fraud?

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