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2 min read

How Ad Fraud Affects Your Pixel Based Retargeting

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Fraudsters lack a moral compass and will jump at any opportunity to infiltrate a marketing campaign, with retargeting campaigns being no exception. The goal of most retargeting fraudsters is to eat away at your advertising budget, either to line their own pockets or as a malicious competitor who wants to drain your resources.  


Here’s what you need to know about retargeting and how fraudsters are manipulating this digital marketing strategy.   

Ad Fraud Insights • Bad Bots: How Ad Fraud Affects Your Pixel-Based Retargeting

Retargeting is a strategy to get a consumer who has already visited your website to return, ideally to complete a purchase. Businesses use two main types of retargeting: pixel-based and list-based.

Pixel-Based Retargeting. Ever wonder why Facebook’s ads seem to know where you shop? That’s pixel-based retargeting working its magic. With this strategy, an unobtrusive cookie is planted when a visitor accesses your site. When the potential customer leaves, this cookie will use information that it has collected to serve ads that remind the customer of what they’ve left behind.

Bulls Eye - pixel based retargeting

List-Based. List-based retargeting is less common than pixel-based retargeting, and also less vulnerable to fraud. It uses existing customer lists (e.g. email databases) to serve relevant display ads.

How Fraudsters Can Infiltrate Your Retargeting Campaign

With retargeting fraud, you think you’re converting a lead into a sale when in reality you’re wasting your ad budget on bots. Here are four steps the bad guys use to get you to waste money on a bad lead:

1. A Fraudster Purchases Bot Traffic and Sends It to Your Site. Fraudulent bot traffic makes it appear shoppers are browsing and filling their carts, but it's really just bots. Unfortunately, your ad program doesn't know that, and it identifies the internet bots as high-quality leads.

2. The Bots Leave Your Site. After acting like shoppers and filling their carts, the bots then exit your site. Since they’ve already been tagged as high-quality leads, their leaving triggers your program to target them with ads for the items left in their carts.

3. The Bots Click on Your Ad. Nowadays bots are smart and can perform a variety of functions. Not only can fraud bots act like shoppers, but they can identify the ads you serve them once they leave your site. Once they identify your ad, they click on it. This action forces you to pay for the supposed lead is generated when in reality, the bot doesn’t have any intention of completing a purchase.

Visual Pharm Icon - pixel based retargeting

4. Rinse and Repeat. Unfortunately, retargeting fraud isn’t a one-and-done deal. The fraudster’s bot army will continue this cycle of visiting your website and abandoning their cart until your ad money is depleted. 

How to Combat Bad Bots

Creating successful retargeting ads is time-consuming! Nobody wants to see their hard work go to waste, so the thought of fraud bots can be nerve-wracking. Luckily, these bots aren’t immortal, and there are strategies you can use to protect your campaign.


Research Your Ad and Retargeting Services. One of the best proactive measures you can take to prevent fraudsters from wreaking havoc on your budget is to research any third-party companies you use to help implement your ad campaigns.

Before using a service, ask to meet a representative in person, or over video call if the distance is an issue. Talk to them about previous clients they’ve had, and potentially reach out to those clients about their experience. In addition to this, use online resources to fact check, too.

Use Your Analytics Provider to Its Full Potential. When examined carefully, analytics programs can provide valuable insight into potentially harmful behaviors. Examining your analytics for anomalies is a reactive measure you can take to spot bad bots. Look for users who are from strange countries, or are consistently on your site at the same, odd time of day.

Unfortunately, bad bots are rampant and can infiltrate any corner of the web. Your retargeting campaign is not immune to these fraudsters, but research and vigilance can help you to keep them at bay.New call-to-action