Steve Guenther, Vice President, Digital Auditing
The amount of money marketers waste on digital ad fraud is enormous, with one estimate reaching as high as $100 billion worldwide in 2023. But advertisers aren't the only ones affected. Publishers lose revenue when ad fraud tactics divert ad spend from quality websites to fraudulent ones.
Legitimate publishers might think they are protected, but even quality sites can fall victim to ad fraud. Here are four questions that will help you evaluate your risk:
1. Do you purchase traffic?
Many publishers use third-party sources to drive traffic to their sites. Marketing practices such as email campaigns, sponsored social media posts and search engine marketing are legitimate ways to bring quality audiences to your website. However, the risk of introducing invalid traffic increases when publishers purchase traffic directly from traffic sellers. Traffic sellers may guarantee a certain number of human visitors at a low price. But bot traffic can be engineered to look human enough to pass through fraud detection software.
While bots may increase your numbers, they don't make purchases or offer any real value to advertisers. If advertisers aren't getting any conversions from their ad placements and campaign ROI isn't meeting expectations, they’ll invest elsewhere. The best way to keep bots off your site and deliver real audiences to advertisers is to engage in legitimate marketing practices and avoid purchasing traffic.
2. Have you implemented industry solutions?
As ad fraud becomes more widespread, industry organizations are creating solutions to address areas where publishers may be vulnerable. One example is domain spoofing. Fraudsters create fake sites to look like real ones and divert ad revenue intended for real publishers. In response to this tactic, the IAB Tech Lab developed ads.txt and app-ads.txt to help demand-side platforms detect unauthorized digital sellers in programmatic buys. In these files, publishers list all authorized sellers of their inventory and upload these lists to their websites. DSPs then crawl these files to make sure that they are buying from legitimate SSPs.
The IAB Tech Lab has developed other solutions that complement the ads.txt protocol. Sellers.json allows SSPs and exchanges to list all authorized sellers and resellers within the supply chain along with seller IDs. Buyers check both ads.txt and sellers.json files to make sure the IDs match. If they do, then they know that those entities are authorized to sell the inventory.
Once these tools are implemented, it is important to regularly update and edit these files to ensure accuracy. Publishers can ensure that ads.txt and seller.json files are in sync through a new resource, Sellers.guide. This tool allows publishers and buyers to gain insight into the authenticity of the parties who mediate between them. Providing buyers with up-to-date information makes it easier for them to see who is authorized to sell your inventory as they compare your ads.txt list with their ad tech vendor’s sellers.json file.
3. Do you have third-party oversight?
Using ad fraud detection software is an important step for publishers to detect and measure invalid traffic on their sites. But since different vendors use different methodologies, relying only on one solution can allow some fraudulent activity to slip through the cracks.
The AAM Digital Publisher Audit identifies areas of risk that technology alone might not detect. An audit takes a deep dive into all aspects of website monetization including the processes, procedures and controls that the publisher has in place to reduce the risk of fraud, adding another layer of assurance in addition to fraud detection technologies. If an anomaly or suspicious traffic source is identified, the auditor brings these concerns to the publisher’s attention with suggestions for remediation.
Third-party audits provide an extra layer of protection against fraud and help publishers stand out to advertisers by demonstrating that they provide transparency and maintain a high-quality advertising platform.
4. Are you taking a holistic approach?
While there are many tools available to minimize ad fraud, one solution alone cannot solve the entire problem. It’s important for publishers to take a multi-layered approach to widen their net. Make sure the vendors you partner with are accredited and adopt industry initiatives like those mentioned above.
In addition, establish good business practices for sourcing traffic and traffic monitoring. Communicating these best practices to your staff will help them understand their responsibility to combat fraud. Lastly, partner with a reputable auditor to add an extra layer of protection and demonstrate your commitment to transparency. By incorporating a variety of tools into your fraud arsenal, you’ll have a greater chance of preventing fraud while developing a reputation for being a safe place for advertisers.
To help rapidly grow the universe of audited media available for advertisers to buy, AAM created the Digital Assurance Acceleration Program to offer complementary Digital Publisher Audits to AAM publisher clients for the first year. Contact us to learn more about the program or enroll.