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In 2015, advertisers wasted $6.3 billion in ad spending as a result of fraudulent advertising practices.¹ This number is only expected to grow, with an anticipated scale towards $7.2 billion. Yikes.Ad fraud produces a high profit margin and carries no legal ramifications for the fraudsters’ actions, making it a lucrative, illegal business. If they’re caught, fraudsters simply tweak their practices and target new websites, until the next time they’re discovered.
Their business model: create ad fraud, get paid, get caught, start again.
Source: Aol Digital Matters²
While you can’t stop all online ad fraud, you can make it harder for cybercriminals. Let’s take a deeper look into who these fraudsters are, how they go about their fraudulent acts, and what we can do to be the “Superman” of online advertising.
Thieves aren’t the only ones committing fraud. Every day, innocent consumers naively commit several forms of online fraud. Perhaps you’re a fraudster, too. Before we get in too deep let’s take a look at the difference between good bots and bad bots.
Superman can tell the good from bad, and so can you when it comes to internet bots. Of course, to be the best Superman we can be, we must destroy the bad bots and seek the good bots.
One example of a good bot is a search engine spider - don’t let the name dissuade you. These internet bots creep through the web, looking for new sites and changes to pages, then indexing these sites within search engines. These good bots are the reason your search for ‘new year resolutions’ tells you the definition, healthy resolutions, and how to achieve them.
Bad bots are the opposite and the ones we want to avoid. They’re usually part of a botnet (more on that in a moment), which performs illegal or questionable activity like:
Once your computer becomes infected, you become part of a botnet.
Here are four types of bad bots you should keep an eye out for.
Botnets (groups of bad bot-infected computers) create a network of infected zombie computers that are controlled by cybercriminals who want to perform illegal plans on your behalf. Think of it as identity theft - would Superman let this happen? Some issues that botnets cause include:
With botnets, you’re bound to get caught up in fraudulent activity. The actual fraudster has hijacked your computer to complete actions like those previously listed, so you, too, may be a fraudster, without even knowing it.
Traffic brokers come in many forms and an ad network can easily fall into this category. Many advertising networks have a host of publishers providing traffic, and advertisers who want a piece of that traffic. As a result, ad networks can be seen as the broker between publishers and advertisers.
This practice isn’t abnormal, it’s actually acceptable, and many reputable networks have business models built around it (e.g. Google AdWords). But for every good apple, there’s a bad apple to spoil the bunch. And let me tell you, those bad apples can be deceiving.
Some traffic brokers knowingly purchase traffic generated by a bot farm, and then sell it to unsuspecting advertisers and publishers. For the unsuspecting advertisers, if they’re not protected by a third-party traffic scoring solution, they may be throwing away valuable advertising dollars.
For publishers, this is where knowing your feeds comes in handy. Should a publisher unknowingly purchase bad traffic from a traffic broker, and pass that dirty traffic along to an advertiser that monitors traffic quality, they’d be stuck with both an angry advertiser plus the bill of fraudulent clicks. (Not exactly ideal.)
When publishers know exactly where the traffic has originated, they’re more likely to pass along desirable traffic, which is better for both the publisher and advertiser.
Scroll through your followers on Twitter. Although Twitter is actively deleting any accounts associated with this type of fraudulent activity, you probably have at least one follower with a profile similar to this one:
And Twitter isn’t the only social media site using Superman techniques to fight back. Facebook has a system that allows them to detect most accounts associated with the act and shut them down.
Click farms have become a profitable business for third-world areas. Dhaka, Bangladesh, a city of 7 million in Southeast Asia, is proclaimed as the international hub for click farms.4 These click farms employ hordes of underpaid workers who are armed with active social media profiles. Since these are real people, it’s very hard to identify them without looking closely into their activity.
For brands, these followers and ‘likes’ aren’t worth the bump in social presence. Click farm workers don’t intend to convert. Worse yet, some click farms are paid to commit click fraud, and are clicking on your pay per click ads to drain your budget, all for the benefit of your competitors.
While the latter form of click farm is easier to catch (same IP address routinely hitting the same ad will get flagged), it still is an everyday pain in the butt for brands.
One thing you must absolutely understand is that affiliate marketing is a robust industry filled with plenty of legitimate marketers. But with any paid attribution model, there are cheaters, too.
For instance, affiliates make a set commission for each lead they achieve in favor of the advertiser or brand. Fraudsters are lazy and recognize it’s easier to copy them versus trying to join them. Some examples include:
Completely putting an end to online advertising fraud is unrealistic. However, if you're like the rest of us trying to stave the bleeding, there are some tactics you can employ to protect yourself:
Although online advertising fraud doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, we can all do our best to weaken the damages from it while working on a collective and cohesive solution. Let’s go Superman on these frauds!
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