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How to Stop Programmatic Ad Fraud to Protect Your Ad Budget

December 15, 2021

Buying programmatic ads can be an excellent way to quickly grow your company’s list of contacts and create new sales opportunities. 

However, a large amount of online traffic comes from bots—many of them malicious ones designed to steal money from your programmatic ad campaigns.

Finding ways to keep ad fraud out of your online marketing campaigns is crucial for getting more out of your marketing dollars while avoiding becoming the next headline in a “Company Taken for Millions of Dollars by Fraudsters” type of story.

Get started with a free trial today to see exactly how much you could be losing  to ad fraud.

To help you master the art of avoiding programmatic ad fraud, here’s a quick explanation of programmatic campaigns, ad fraud, and some tips for fraud prevention:

What Are Programmatic Ad Campaigns?

The terms “programmatic buying” and “programmatic campaigns” refer to marketing campaigns in which advertisers use software to purchase advertising space. This software uses a variety of rules and attributes to determine when to display ads to specific users at specific times.

For example, a programmatic ad for backpacks might appear in front of someone who has recently searched for school supplies, hiking equipment, or bookbags. 

The upside of this is that it puts highly-targeted ads in front of an interested audience—which may explain why programmatic display advertising is so cost-effective compared to many other advertising channels.

The automatization of the purchasing process makes programmatic campaigns different from traditional ad campaigns which rely on negotiations with people, manual insertion orders, and the submission of requests for proposal (RFPs)—documents that solicit a proposal by a publisher interested in providing advertising space.

Based on a number of predefined criteria, programmatic advertising software makes decisions on what advertising space to purchase in less than a second. 

Unfortunately, because such rapid decision-making processes cannot be monitored in real time by humans, programmatic campaigns are vulnerable to ad fraud. 

Two Types of Programmatic Ad Campaigns

More than 50% of all digital display ads in the U.S. are purchased programmatically, and the practice is becoming increasingly popular as potential customers spend more time online and on their digital devices. 

Today, programmatic campaigns can be divided into two categories: direct programmatic advertising and real-time bidding (RTB).

1. Direct Programmatic Advertising

Direct programmatic advertising allows advertisers to purchase a specific number of impressions straight from publishers; the transaction does not involve other ad exchange parties.

Real-time bidding is an automated process that requires advertisers to bid for an advertisement space, and the banner of the highest bidder is displayed on the publisher’s website. Every business must determine their strategic advertising goals and then determine which type of programmatic advertising best suits their campaign objectives.

2. Real-Time Bidding

RTB campaigns can benefit from pre-bid solutions that monitor advertising spaces before ad placements are launched. 

Some pre-bid solutions are used to set strict rules for bidding on placements, thus allowing advertisers to pay only for ads delivered to the targeted audience at a time chosen by them. Other pre-bid solutions block adverse or contextually unsuited placement of banners, which is used to improve brand safety.

For example, a company willing to advertise a product containing sugar may not wish to advertise that product together with banners related to the prevention of child obesity and tooth decay. 

To avoid the incompatible placement of advertisements, pre-bid solutions may scan pages for content that contain specific words (such as expletives).

What Is Programmatic Ad Fraud?

Programmatic ad fraud is a subset of ad fraud wherein fraudsters take advantage of programmatic ad campaigns for their own financial gain. This type of fraud often involves deploying bots, malware, or human fraud farms to falsify impressions and clicks on programmatic campaigns—thus stealing your ad money.

Assessing Programmatic Ad Marketplaces

Although programmatic campaigns have important advantages, they are not risk-free. In fact, 39% of all internet traffic is from “bad” bots, while 25% is from “good” bots, and the remaining 36% is from actual people. 

In short, your ads are more likely to be displayed to a bot than they are to an actual person.

Ad fraud in the field of programmatic advertising still occurs regularly in spite of the fact that some programmatic advertising platforms have implemented strong security measures and offer fraud-free guarantees. 

Manual pre-bid, anti-fraud measures are unlikely to be effective in the field of programmatic advertising as this type of advertising requires decisions to be made in a fraction of a second. 

Even many automated pre-bid solutions are only useful for stopping General invalid traffic (GIVT), which largely consists of simplistic and uncomplicated bot programs that are easy to identify. 

Meanwhile, they aren’t equipped to handle Sophisticated invalid traffic (SIVT), which uses more advanced bots and even human fraud farms to fool more simplistic GIVT filters.

How to Stop Ad Fraud in Programmatic Campaigns

Ad fraud prevention can be incredibly important for programmatic campaigns. However, it isn’t always simple to stop fraudsters from taking advantage of your programmatic ads. Cybercriminals of all skill levels can enact a variety of ad fraud schemes to target ads placed using software solutions.

The question is: how can you stop programmatic ad fraud? Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Choose Fraud Identification Metrics

What metrics are you using to identify and eliminate ad fraud in your programmatic ad campaigns? Using a weak or unreliable metric (such as viewability) just because it’s simple doesn’t protect you from ad fraud.

Vanity metrics, or analytical numbers/KPIs that are often used to sell the validity of a solution but don’t provide the whole picture, are a poor way to detect fraud in any ad campaign. The problem is that they’re often too simplistic and easy to fool.

For example, the viewability metric doesn’t tell you a thing about who or what is viewing your ads, just that the ad was at least 51% “visible” on the page for a second or two. A bot program could fool this check easily by “scrolling” down the page to the ad, holding for 1.1 to 2.1 seconds, and then clicking off the page or on the ad.

Ultimately, it’s better to use a combination of many different metrics to identify fraud than it is to use any single data point.

2. Make the Domain Known

Domain spoofing is a common fraud technique used to target programmatic ad campaigns. Here, the fraudster drives invalid traffic to an illegitimate domain while making it look like it’s coming from a trusted domain. 

Some fraudsters may set up entire “lookalike” websites to trick unsuspecting ad space buyers into thinking they’re getting space on a popular website when it’s really a malware-laden trap.

So, it’s important to carefully check the domain names and registry data of websites when placing real-time bids. Also, if a website is known for not running RTBs, but it appears as an option in a real-time bidding process, that’s a red flag. 

3. Use an Ad Fraud Solution

Ad fraud can be incredibly difficult to detect in a timely fashion—especially when you’re running enormous ad campaigns and are trying to manually sift through your marketing data for signs of fraud. In many cases, by the time you’ve spotted the fraud, the fraudster behind it is long gone with your money.

To counter these fraudsters, it’s important to have a solution that can check for ad fraud in real time. This way, you can be alerted to the presence of fraud before you end up paying a fraudster for fake leads.

However, it’s also important to ensure that the ad fraud solution collects enough data to eliminate the risk of false positives. This way, you can avoid accidentally throwing away legitimate business opportunities.

Do you need help eliminating ad fraud in your programmatic campaigns? Reach out to Anura today to get started!

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