Are brands wasting billions of advertising dollars on bot traffic globally?
Research group Solve Media says ‘yes’, with estimates that about $4.6 billion of the $11 billion spent by retailers on digital advertising last year was wasted on bot traffic fraud. It’s further estimated that a total of $6.3 billion was spent on fraudulent traffic overall in 2014, with video advertising taking the hardest hit.
What Are ‘Bots’ Exactly?
‘Bots’ are computer programs designed to mimic actual human traffic – these bots are hosted by DSPs (demand side platforms) to deceive advertisers by simulating interest in a product or service. For example, a bot may use signals from a car dealer’s website to behave as if it is interested in buying a car, prompting a series of ads that never see human eyes. This allows the DSPs to sell targeted traffic to retailers and other businesses without spending money on real traffic buys, and since the bots are acting like humans, there’s no easy way to determine that the traffic is fake.
A Growing Threat
In recent years, bots have become extremely sophisticated – most even use residential IPs, which makes them even more difficult to detect. They do so by hijacking a web user’s browser, identity and machine, creating fake IDs and cookies to prompt ads and video plays as if they were the user. They continue to engage like this on the advertiser’s website to further drive up the amount paid to the DSP for ‘highly-targeted traffic’. In many cases, bots are made to disguise themselves as ‘high revenue potential’ users, leading to even larger payouts for traffic that is essentially useless.
Despite popular belief, bot traffic is not exclusive to small, unknown companies – in fact a large percentage comes from well-known, reputable media companies. As a result, brands looking to buy traffic should always be wary of fraud.
Fraudulent practices can be difficult to spot however, as many traffic suppliers will temporarily replace bot traffic with real human traffic when their buyer performs an audit.
Additionally, many DSPs will provide ‘human incentivised traffic’ (humans paid to click on ads), which also results in wasted advertising dollars. This sharp rise in traffic fraud has many advertisers seeking new ways to measure ‘CPH’ – cost per human traffic.
How to Beat the Bots
Currently, a number of Australian media industry organisations, including Integral ad science, IAB and FraudIQ have been focusing strongly on the elimination of these bots. However, according to leading US firm White Ops, many of the measures being taken against bots are no longer working, including blacklists and botnet trackers, due to the increasing sophistication of bot programming.
One solution that is still effective is constant monitoring of advertising campaigns. Additionally, it can help to clearly inform affiliates and partners that such monitoring is taking place, which usually discourages them from implementing large botnets. In order to keep fraudulent activity at bay, it’s important that this heavy observation is continued for the life of the campaigns.
To help accomplish this, Mind Carnival developed their robust data monitoring platform Glasslab, which allows companies to easily monitor their traffic campaigns, money, data, and profits in a transparent third-party platform. This provides a means for detecting possible fraud from affiliates, maximising conversion rates and minimising cost per action.
Additional precautions for advertisers to take when dealing with traffic suppliers is to lay down strict terms to ensure reimbursement for any known fake traffic, and even switching off campaigns in the evening when more bot traffic occurs.
While bots may be impossible to avoid altogether, a combination of in-depth monitoring software like Glasslab and the general safeguards outlined above can help brands bring fraudulent activity to a minimum and avoid wasting money on fake traffic.