Click fraud: Who’ll make it stop?

By Deann Harvey

This month UK web security analytics firm discovered a botnet made up of 120,000 hijacked PCs popular websites that were responsible for nine billion of the 14 billion ad impressions served across popular websites like Groupon.

Since fraud touches everyone in the supply chain – publishers, vendors and advertisers – with different levels of benefit, harm and motivation it raises questions about who should pay for the detection and eradication of the practice.

There needs to be an understanding of shared responsibility and collaboration to make it stop.

Blinders and finger pointing

The networks and supply-side platforms are either not in a position to recognise fraudulent traffic, or are turning a blind eye to the fact that publishers lacking brand-name recognition suddenly have unexplained surges in traffic and revenue. Since their revenues are based on clicks they have less motivation to solve this problem.

Agencies also perpetuate the problem. They’re judged on performance, so as long as the campaign is under budget and appears to work, the clients are happy

Ad exchanges are a bit different. While the industry seems to put exchanges on trial under the premise that they should foot the bill for flooding the market with bad inventory, I’d argue that they shouldn’t be held responsible. It’s easy to blame exchanges when they control the majority of what enters the programmatic market, but they don’t benefit enough from fraud. Passing along dud inventory only makes it harder for exchanges to build positive reputations.

So while the market clamours for exchanges to clean up their acts – and they should have some ability to evaluate bot sites and bad actors – why should exchanges be held under tighter scrutiny when all they are doing is bringing the publishers’ inventory to market?

Advertisers are the party paying for fraud right now, but there are ways to avoid it. There is no shortage of options, but advertisers allow themselves to be victimised and point fingers at the problem. Using the available tools, advertisers could avoid giving money to the bad players and watch as fraud eventually recedes. In the absence of bot inventory, everyone would see an uptick in performance.

Where the buck stops

As for publishers, there are two groups: Those who know they are perpetrating fraud and those who don’t. The first group is the bad guys maliciously defrauding advertisers while the rest of the players can’t ¬– or don’t – do much to stop it.

Fraud often comes from advertisers and agencies trying to keep costs down, but doing so irresponsibly. Reducing overall cost by blending programmatic with premium is a general best practice, but there is a difference in the RTB impressions you can buy. Mixing Bloomberg inventory with 20-cent CPM for run-of-network inventory might bring cost down, but spending a little more for a 40-cent CPM and guaranteed clean environments will allow advertisers to save money while avoiding the problems.

Then there are those who just don’t know how much fraud affects them. I have spoken to a few publishers who have tried to boost their traffic at some point. This is a standard business practice and there is nothing wrong with looking to grow a business. The problem is that publishers need to be careful about how they approach this tactic and with whom they work.

A rise in page views may appear to be quality traffic, but it could come via illegitimate means, and the publisher may be left in the dark. At some point the publisher might realise what’s going on, leaving them to make a moral choice. There’s more money coming in from ad revenue, but it’s not the result of qualified human consumers.

I’d like to think that all publishers faced with this choice would clean up their act right away. However, online advertising is still a numbers game – higher traffic means more money, no matter where it comes from. The truth is that open marketplaces are full of garbage. If publishers can pass this to networks and still profit, they’ll do so.

The fact of the matter is that a publisher, real or fake, is making the lion’s share of the revenue, and the advertiser is footing the bill. Advertisers must maintain a responsibility to decide what they’re going to buy, and doing so helps them avoid victimisation.

Click fraud solutions are out there and advertisers can demand that agencies and networks put them to work. If advertisers inspect clicks more carefully and then refuse to pay for the suspicious ones, everyone will take notice, click fraud will have a harder time falsely bossing clicks undetected.

About the author

DG’s VP of EMEA, Deann Harvey has more than a decade of sales and marketing experience across building, developing and leading strategic solutions. Enthusiastic about working with clients to meet their business needs, Deann is an expert and thought leader in technology marketing, and the future of the marketing and advertising industry.

DG (NASDAQ: DGIT) is the leading global multiscreen advertising management and distribution platform, fueling campaign management across TV, online, mobile and beyond. Through a combination of technology and services, DG empowers brands and advertisers to work faster, smarter and more competitively. Boasting the world’s largest hybrid satellite and Internet network for broadcast video delivery, the Company’s unparalleled campaign management encompasses multiscreen ad delivery, cross-channel research and analytics, and unified asset management. The DG product portfolio consists of two overarching product lines for online and video campaign management: MediaMind and VideoFusion.

With New York as a center of operations, DG is a global company that connects over 14,000 advertisers and 7,400 agencies worldwide with their targeted audiences through an expansive network of over 50,000 media destinations across TV broadcast and digital advertising in about 78 countries, managing approximately ten percent of the world’s media assets.

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