Much like newspapers, radio and television that went before it, advertising built the internet we know today. Search engines, social media platforms, and news publishers all have one thing in common: they wouldn’t exist without digital advertising dollars.
And for as long as internet advertising has been around, “ad fraud” has existed alongside digital ads. While ad fraud is a somewhat well-known issue facing the online marketing world, it’s estimated that for every dollar marketers spend on online advertising, almost half of the value is lost due to ad fraud. And while ad fraud can be committed by malicious software and human actions, the majority of ad fraud is carried out by automated bots.
Some marketers are already cognizant of the issue as many rank click fraud and bot traffic to be among the highest concerns for digital ad buying. To get a better perspective on what havoc these bots are having, here are a few statistics to take a look at:
- $7.2 billion: The estimated cost of ad fraud in 2016 (ANA)
- Half of all online ads are never seen by a human being (Google)
- Only 8% of all impressions have the opportunity to be seen by a real person (Mediapost)
Because of the fraud committed by these bots, marketers must deal with the fact that the issue will not go away and that action must eventually be taken since it affects SEM, SEO, and affiliate marketing efforts.
Common Ad Fraud Types
Third parties who either want to drive click costs or fabricate impressions on their sites to reap the benefits of ads have multiple ways by which they can operate.
1. Using malware, clickjacking involves hidden software on an unwitting user’s computer and sends them to websites they never planned to visit. Malicious coding is hidden beneath what appears to be legitimate buttons or other clickable content. A similar method is to create a network of bots to simulate real users and click hundreds of times on a digital ad or repeatedly loading a single page.
2. Content farms are sites that are typically created by fraudsters to scour and scrape the web for content hosted elsewhere and then distribute bots to make non-existent, “qualified audiences” appear. They’ll then try to get listed on one of the ad exchanges, and while they’ll be blocked by most, will become successful and still receive ad revenue.
3. For programmatic ad buying, fraudsters can cloak the URL of where an ad will eventually be served. So when the bid is made, marketers will essentially have no idea what type of site their ad will be displayed, so placement quality and relevance are essentially thrown out the window.
4.Pixel stuffing is a systematic way of cramming one or multiple advertisements into a 1 by 1 pixel unit at the bottom of a page. Indecipherable to the average human eye, there’s just no way that ads held hostage like this are ever seen by an actual person.