With recent CEASA data revealing that almost a third of all advertising dollars spent in Australia are spent online, ahead of both free to air television and newspapers, and this week’s IAB/PWC Online Advertising Expenditure Report for the March quarter showing a 17.1 percent year on year growth, the digital marketing ecosystem can no longer claim to be the new kid on the block.
But as it continues to become more of a sophisticated medium for advertising, the industry needs to close ranks to ensure that its standards, behaviours and practices reflect its increasing maturity.
Fake and fraudulent traffic is a universally acknowledged issue within the digital ecosystem but the influx of Botnets continues to increase as the less scrupulous players remain focused on delivering the Holy Grail of scale to clients at the expense of scrupulousness.
The financial impact on an advertiser's bottom line has been well documented, with US IAB Chairman and Ziff Davis CEO Vivek Shah estimating earlier this year that 36 percent of all Web traffic is non-human traffic, but publishers all need to be aware of the challenges this zombie invasion poses to them. Bots can significantly water down their inventory and call into question scale, a once infallible metric.
With this in mind, here are the five things that publishers should be doing to safeguard against traffic fraud
1. Know your traffic sources. Obvious, but it needs reiterating. Publishers need to understand their traffic sources intimately. It’s necessary for conversations with advertisers, but it can also help in identifying any traffic source aberrations, possibly driven by botnets. Anything other than organic and search traffic brings some level of risk. Sometimes, even when the traffic is organic, there are bots out of your control that may crawl your site.
2. Invest in analytics technology. You can’t fight a pack of zombies on your own. You need tools and weapons. Publishers need site analytics tools that enable them to measure all of their traffic partners’ metrics. Beyond that, publishers need to employ mechanics in-page to verify real audiences. Publishers should also have their audience metrics validated by third-party vendors to create neutral benchmarks for measuring advertising engagement.
3. Know your marketing metrics. To understand traffic vulnerabilities, publishers need to go beyond top-funnel metrics like clicks or impressions and consider downstream data. It’s at the top-of-the funnel where metrics can often be gamed with ease. But by analysing marketing channels, you get a better sense of bounce rates (high = zombie), engagement metrics (low = zombie), and overall odd patterns of behaviour. These numbers speak to traffic quality and can indicate non-human actors.
4. Avoid buying traffic. Admittedly, this one is difficult for most publishers. Even premium publishers are known to purchase traffic in some form. But consider the risk of ceding scale to an external party that is strictly incentivised to deliver quantity on your behalf. Quantity can dilute quality, with outsourcing leading to fraud.
As a result, sites with poor-quality users and suspect traffic can encounter serious monetisation problems. Being added to the blacklists of third-party verification companies can put a publisher in eternal purgatory where they can’t receive brand budgets from ad network partners. Even if the site avoids blacklist denotation, some networks will optimise premium dollars away from sites showing suspicious patterns and low-quality traffic. It can then be hard to right this ship, so the risk is huge.
5. If you buy, buy smart. Buying traffic inherently increases risk for the publisher, and buying non-organic traffic could drive drastically disastrous results. However, if you find yourself needing to increase inventory to deliver the expected impressions for the advertiser then you need to be asking how they are generating traffic for the site. If they deliver a credible, clear explanation, that’s a good sign. If not, it’s best to stay away.
If we’re smart, it’s very possible for us to stave off the zombie apocalypse. But as automated systems take hold in the industry, we’ll need to work that much harder to ensure traffic’s legitimacy.
Rick Abell, VP Global Publisher Development, Exponential Interactive