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Are Your Retargeting Ads a Magnet for Ad Fraud?

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Online ad campaigns are a valuable channel for nearly any organization that wants to promote its products, services, or cause to the general public. Retargeting ads, in particular, can be an effective way to capture the attention of consumers and guide them back to your website to complete a conversion.

However, like many other forms of online advertising, retargeting ads can be vulnerable to ad fraud. Fraudsters frequently use bot programs to engage with online ads—and retargeting ads are no exception.

To protect your retargeting ad campaigns from fraud, it’s necessary to understand bot fraud can be used to harm your marketing efforts.

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What Are Retargeting Ads?

Retargeting ads are ads that are specifically targeted towards potential customers that have visited your website before, but did not complete a conversion—such as filling out a form, completing a transaction, watching a video, etc.

These ads use tracking cookies to identify visitors to your website and serve them with content specifically related to the pages they visited. The marketer or website owner then buys ad space on other websites—often through a demand-side platform (DSP) solution that integrates with supply-side platform (SSP) that networks numerous websites.

For example, say a consumer was shopping online for health foods and visited a webpage featuring gluten-free pasta noodles—but they click away without buying anything or signing up for notifications. When they visit a website that sells ad space through a SSP, they would get served an ad about that gluten-free pasta (assuming the company placing the ad had the highest bid).

Does retargeting work?

Retargeting ads can be highly effective at recapturing leads and turning them into customers. According to Skai: “retargeting can lift ad engagement rates up to 400%” and “Retargeted ads average a CTR 10x higher than that of Display ads.”

This increased effectiveness can be attributed to the fact that retargeting ads are showing content to consumers who have already displayed a clear interest in whatever product or service being advertised. This makes them more receptive to the ads being served.

How Likely Is Bot Fraud to Affect Your Retargeting Campaigns?

As effective as retargeting ads towards visitors based on specific webpages they’ve visited can be, there is a risk of encountering ad fraud. However, it’s important to remember that this is true of virtually any online advertising method.

Some sources (often those involved in the sale of ad space) try to play down the risk of retargeting fraud being used against your ad campaigns. The claim is typically that it would be too complex—the fraudster would have to have a bot visit your page, load a tracking cookie, then visit another site to click on the retargeting ad. While this is a somewhat complicated process, it’s not a terribly difficult hurdle to overcome for modern fraudsters.

Modern bot fraud schemes are more sophisticated than ever. Fraudsters can easily bypass common anti-bot measures like CAPTCHA and setting up the logic for going from one webpage to a pre-programmed destination site to click on an ad banner is fairly simple for someone with even a little experience in coding.

Plus, the fraudster only needs to program the bot a single time. Once set up, the bot can run the pattern of going to the page, getting a new cookie, and returning to the destination page to click the banner endlessly. Fraudsters may even employ IP masking techniques to hide the fact that the same bot is repeatedly visiting the same pages over and over again.

So, while a little more complicated than the standard click fraud that fraudsters often engage in, it’s an all too real possibility that your marketing will run into retargeting ad fraud.

In fact, some fraudsters may be counting on the sense of security that retargeting ad sellers promote in order to increase their illegitimate earnings. If ad space buyers assume that their ads are more secure, then they’re less likely to scrutinize the leads they get. This helps the fraudster commit more fraud with less risk of detection.

To play it safe, it’s best to assume that fraudsters are actively targeting your ad campaigns and take the appropriate measures to counter their efforts.

How Does Retargeting Fraud Hurt Your Marketing?

What is the impact of retargeting fraud on your marketing efforts? It’s largely the same as ad fraud in general. Some of the biggest impacts of such fraud include:

  • Increased Digital Ad Spend with Lowered ROI.
    With any form of ad fraud, the most obvious impact is that it can leave you spending more money on ads while generating fewer conversions. This hurts your ROI (return on investment) for your ad spend—which can be especially noticeable in retargeting campaigns since they usually have such a high ROI compared to more generic programmatic advertising.
  • Potential TCPA Violations. 
    Say that a bot clicks on an ad leading to a form fill. To complete the conversion, the bot would then fill out the form on the page. But, being a bot and not a real person, how would it achieve this? Some bots may use real data from actual consumers to make the conversion look more realistic. However, since the person behind that info never actually consented to receive communications, attempts to reach out to that fake lead would annoy a real consumer who wasn’t interested in the product or service being advertised. This could lead to complaints and possible TCPA violations costing $500 to $1,500 per contact attempt.
  • Damage to Brand Reputation. 
    Another issue with reaching out to fake leads from bots in your retargeting campaigns is that it risks hurting your brand image. TCPA lawsuits can make major headlines and attract negative attention—which hurts both PR efforts and long-term business prospects.
  • Skewed Marketing Metrics. 
    Data is crucial to making more informed decisions for your organization as a whole. One of the problems of retargeting fraud is that it skews your marketing data. For example, if bots are targeting the same few webpages to trigger your retargeting ads for those pages, then you might be led to believe that the topics of those pages are more popular than they actually are. This could, in turn, lead you to overinvest in marketing related to those topics—wasting your ad budget. Of course, a sudden increase in interest in a page without a major marketing campaign or commensurate rise in conversions could also be a warning sign of bot fraud.

These are just a few of the most likely impacts of ad fraud on your retargeting efforts. Any one of these problems could easily justify the cost of investing in ways to stop ad fraud.

Stop Ad Fraud in Your Retargeting Ad Campaigns

What can you do to stop retargeting fraud (and many other forms of ad fraud)? One way is to use an ad fraud solution to detect bot activity on your web pages and disavow the fraudulent traffic so you don’t pay for bad leads.

By accurately identifying fraud as it happens and tracking where that fraud comes from, you could identify problematic websites and take steps to ensure your ads aren’t displayed on those sites. For example, say that 90% of your fraudulent ad clicks are tracked back to a particular website (or a group of websites managed by a particular SSP). You could then block that website from displaying your ads. Or, in the case of a problematic SSP or network, stop buying ad space with that network.

To make this more effective, it’s important to have access to all of the data showing why the traffic was flagged as fraud. With this data, you can confront the fraudsters and, if necessary, escalate the issue to the proper authorities. This is why it’s important to partner with an ad fraud solution provider that provides total transparency by giving you access to all of your fraud detection data.

Are you ready to stop ad fraud cold? Get started by reaching out to Anura!

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