ADOTAS — We recently published an investigative report on the rise of online ad fraud, and how the botnet ZeroAccess hijacked computers around the globe to push fake traffic through specific publisher sites, inflating metrics so that advertisers would pay a premium to purchase impressions on the sites. The Wall Street Journal first broke the ZeroAccess story, but the ad fraud topic has been around for several years, yet never formally addressed by the industry until the IAB launched its new Task Force on the subject earlier this month.
Fraudulent website traffic has now surpassed legit online page views, according to new research released by Solve Media. The company’s Bot Traffic Market Advisory Update shows that in Q3 2013, bot traffic reached an all-time high of 51 percent in the United States, an 8 percent increase over Q2 2013. This calls into question the validity of online traffic and page views on publisher sites and is a wake up call for advertisers to ask the right questions before simply buying into agency campaign placement recommendations.
“Bots have been a problem for a long time, but the increase in bot traffic is due to how easy it is to procure a bot (costs are minimal/open source),” said John Brown, General Manager of Click Forensics at Adometry. ”Bad actors always take advantage of open systems. Additionally, the bots are better at mimicking human behavior, and since everyone wins, except the advertiser, the incentive to reduce traffic is lacking.”
A Growing Problem
As Digiday reported earlier this month, there hasn’t been much incentive for agencies or ad companies to really take on the issue of ad fraud. According to industry reporter Jack Marshall, “Many legitimate players in the online ad ecosystem have benefited to some extent from the presence of fraudulent traffic. More impressions equals more money, whether those impressions are being served to real people or not.”
At long last, the IAB has recognized the problem and founded its Task Force of Good Intent last month to address the issue. Still the industry is resisting.
“There is incentive to do things that are NOT good for the long term health of the industry,” added Brown. “Cracking down on fraudulent traffic would have a negative impact on revenue, and add overhead costs to combat the bad traffic. The TOGI task force, which I am on, is useful. To date, we’ve gathered many of the leaders from the major players in the adtech industry. With the collective work of the group, two white papers have been written, giving a broad overview of the problem. I think the collective effort by leaders, increases the friction, and cost for bad actors engaged in this activity. With publishers, and networks, they need to be skeptical about their traffic, and question everything. In my opinion, if they see tremendous growth on sites that have little content, and do not investigate what is going on, then they are a part of the problem.”
Ari Jacoby, CEO of Solve Media elucidates the problem and calls for a CAPTCHA-like security platform to help verify that humans are actually the ones viewing ads online.
“As fraudulent web traffic in the US rises, marketers must defend their hard-fought budgets by investing with publishers that ensure their branding is being seen by actual people who can truly complete purchases,” said Jacoby. “With a verified audience, comes the guarantee that brand marketing will be effective online. As the market size of global display spending swells to $48.2B in 2014, it’s a clear win for both publishers and advertisers to ensure audiences are human. To that end, we will see a rapid increase in investments made to protect audience integrity, as advertisers demand secure, verified engagements.”
These new findings are a wake up call for publishers and advertisers who need to demonstrate their commitment to combating ad fraud. It’s not just good PR – paying attention to this issue will ultimately grow revenues by guaranteeing accuracy of performance and ad viewability by humans. Online bot traffic is undeniably chipping away at the overall quality and effectiveness of campaigns, and if we fail to act, robots threaten to destroy an industry artfully created by humans.