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4 min read

Are Some Channels More Vulnerable to Ad Fraud?

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Don’t Touch That Dial! You Don’t Have to Change Channels to Get Positive Ad Results

There’s so much for marketers to love about digital advertising. It reaches consumers online, where they spend more than six hours a day. It’s a flexible, cost-effective method to reach the target audience and increase brand awareness—all while delivering measurable results and an increased ROI. Marketers worldwide love digital marketing so much that they are expected to spend more than $440 billion on digital channels this year; that’s nearly 60% of their total advertising budget.

While there’s a lot to love, there is one thing to hate: ad fraud. The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that there is one; most marketers recognize that ad fraud is a big issue, but they accept it as a cost of doing business. It doesn’t have to be that way. Marketers can arm themselves with knowledge that can help them make informed decisions about how and where to place their ads to get the best return for their ad dollars.

As digital advertising budgets continue to outpace traditional ad spend, we’re looking at three of the top channels for digital ad spend: search, social media, and programmatic. Which of these are most vulnerable to ad fraud? How can marketers decrease fraud risk and wasted ad budgets in these key channels while increasing their campaign’s performance and ROI?

Search, Social, Programmatic: Popular with Marketers and Fraudsters

As digital ad spending increases, so do the ad dollars going toward search advertising, with more than 40% of digital advertising budgets going toward search. Not surprisingly, Google is the most popular search engine, with more than 80% market share. HubSpot lists Bing and Yahoo as the very distant second and third most popular, with Bing getting 7% of search traffic in the U.S. and Yahoo (which is powered by Bing) at a whopping 2% of worldwide share.

The good news for marketers is that Google has a relatively low level of fraudulent traffic in terms of percentage. In 2022, Anura found that 5-10% of Google traffic led to ad fraud. That’s the good news, but chances are that, as a marketer, you’re spending more on Google search than on other search engines, so you can still experience significant budget waste.

Bing and Yahoo are punching above their weight when it comes to fraudulent traffic. We found 22% of Bing’s traffic in 2022 was fraudulent, and nearly 12% of Yahoo’s traffic was fraudulent during this year's Super Bowl.

How can fraudulent search engine traffic impact your advertising budget? Let’s assume you have a total annual search ad budget of $100,000. Here’s a sample allocation of $89,000 across the top three engines, with the budget split based on their popularity and market share:

Search Engine

Search Ad Budget

Fraudulent Traffic

Wasted Ad Budget













In this example, you’ll likely lose $9,990, or nearly 10% of your search ad budget, not to mention the time and effort spent developing the campaign.

Search is still king, but consumers are starting to rely more on social media to find new products. As a result, we expect social media ad budgets to increase 13.5% this year. Facebook continues to be the most popular social media channel. Again, the good news for Facebook advertisers is that the percentage of fraudulent traffic remains relatively low at 5-10%, according to 2022 traffic analyzed by Anura. However, suppose you’re spending a significant percentage of your social media ad budget here, you’ll likely see the effects of this fraudulent traffic in your results with wasted ad dollars and low conversion rates.

Not all social media channels are created equal. For our clients, we identified that 72% of all website visitors sourced from X, formerly known as Twitter, were invalid traffic, which almost always leads to ad fraud.

Last but certainly not least is programmatic display advertising. eMarketer projects that programmatic ad budgets will grow three times faster than nonprogrammatic, accounting for more than 90% of U.S. advertisers’ digital display ad spend in 2024.

Where ad fraud is concerned, programmatic could just as easily be referred to as problematic. In our experience, as much as half of the traffic from problematic ads is fraudulent. There are many reasons for that; let’s look at a few.

With open programmatic, marketers have little to no idea where their ads run. They have identified their target market and other ad parameters, but the actual placement is out of their hands. The ANA Programmatic Media Study released late last year revealed that some campaigns were spread across as many as 44,000 websites. It’s not possible for an advertiser to review that many sites to make sure they are legitimate, much less know if the site caters to their target audience and if their ads are even visible.

If marketers did perform an audit, they’d likely find that their ads are mainly displayed on made-for-advertising (MFA) sites, those that are known to spread misinformation (or next to fake obituaries). Low-quality sites often draw low-quality traffic and fraudulent clicks from bots, malware, and human fraud farms. This activity frequently leads to ad fraud, causing businesses to lose money and risk their brand reputation; it also makes legitimate consumers lose trust in brands and become wary of interacting with their ads.

Anura protects against search and social fraud. Learn more!

How Can Marketers Safely and Effectively Use These Channels?

Many marketers find search, social, and programmatic the most convenient and effective channels for their digital advertising. For them, the reward is seemingly worth the risk. However, it is possible to get more, and less, out of these channels: more conversions and higher ROIs, as well as less ad fraud and less wasted ad spend.

One thing marketers can do is check if their chosen channels and their partners in the programmatic supply chain are Certified by TAG (Trustworthy Accountability Group) or accredited by the MRC (Media Rating Council). The top three search engines—Google, Microsoft (Bing), and Yahoo—are both, as is Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, Threads, and WhatsApp. Programmatic providers, including ad networks and ad exchanges, can also earn certification. The more partners you have on your team, working together and equally committed to a prescribed set of safety standards, the lesser your risk. It is worth noting that X, formerly known as Twitter, recently lost its TAG Brand Safety Certified status.

Marketers also need an ad fraud solution in their corner. The right ad fraud prevention partner can protect advertisers against fraud from search, social, and programmatic. Fraudsters can’t interact with your ads if they can’t see them, and an ad fraud solution can hide your ads from them, reducing your risk of ad fraud and wasted budget.

A proven ad fraud solution can also help you get the most out of your programmatic ad budget by stopping the sophisticated invalid traffic (SIVT) that leads to fraudulent activity. It can also provide accurate campaign data to show where your ads are having the most success so you can better invest your efforts to achieve even better returns.

At Anura, we catch significantly more fraud by diving deeper into the data. If you’re looking to enhance your ad fraud protection, we offer a free 15-day fully functional trial, backed by machine learning and the human expertise necessary to identify and block general and sophisticated invalid traffic; even better, we won’t block legitimate consumers so that you won’t lose out because of false positives. As a bonus, we’re also TAG Certified Against Fraud, providing an extra layer of assurance.

Find out how much more you could get from your favorite marketing channels. Contact us for a free demo!

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