ADOTAS – Fraudulent traffic continues to be a major issue plaguing the online advertising business. And the reality is that every website gets bad traffic, even websites produced by the most legitimate publishers. At the 2014 IAB Annual Leadership Meeting, our CEO Tom Phillips delivered a dramatic message to members of the industry by likening them drug dealers, addicts and corrupt agents. His point, then as now, was that we all play a part in the fraud game. (Check it out here, particularly if you’re a fan of “The Wire.”) The good news is that it’s fixable — that is, if the industry commits itself to a few key principles.
Too Good To Be True, Usually Is
In 2011, we started to observe clustering behavior that was making our models go crazy in a seemingly positive manner. We look for patterns of behavior in consumers that indicate brand preference. Clusters of activity are generally viewed as strong signals that we can turn into high performing ad campaigns. What we started to see was the level of user overlap between certain unrelated sites reach unprecedented volumes. A Chinese movie review site, a construction website and a pregnancy website, for example, started to show cookie pool overlap between 50 and 100 percent — levels that would never happen with real human traffic. We judged those clusters to be fabricated (by bots), and developed a methodology to identify the virtual networks. In 2012, we activated a process of detection and exclusion to turn off exchange inventory at a rate well north of 1,000 sites per quarter. The methodology is now US Patent 8,719,934 B2 for Methods, Systems and Media for Detecting Non-Intended Traffic Using Co-Visitation Information.
The First Step Toward Change Is Awareness
With the methodology in place, we educated our supply partners on what we were seeing in their supply and shared the detection methodology with them. We also collaborated with the likes of spider.io, IAS, Telemetry and Google, as well as multiple industry press sources, to put a spotlight on the issue. While the supply side was slow to respond at first, the long-term results of these joint efforts have been remarkable. The industry has taken notice, marketers are paying attention, and nearly all supply sources that we once measured between 30 and 50 percent suspicious are now below 10 percent.
Walking The Walk
In addition to our patented method for detecting fraud, we also take a series of steps to ensure that we maintain the highest level of inventory hygiene in the industry. If you’re a marketer, you should hold your vendors to these processes to ensure quality and safety for your campaign.
- All bid requests are evaluated by a third-party (e.g., IAS).
- Bid requests that do not meet minimum requirements in all brand safety categories are dropped.
- All bid requests from anonymous, unknown or adserver domains are dropped.
- All bid requests are monitored by a third-party for sites where copyright infringement is occurring. Any flagged sites are immediately dropped and no bid is placed.
- Bid requests with new URLs not previously seen are placed in “no bid” mode and must be reviewed by a human before they are made biddable.
- Any URL that has inventory with a click-through rate (CTR) above a conservative threshold is automatically shut off and must be reviewed by a human before being made biddable again.
While fraud is still a major issue, the industry has taken some major steps and is in its best shape since 2011. By working together, we’re building a stronger ecosystem that will bring more advertisers to the space and create a more honest playing field for everyone in the business. Only the nefarious perpetrators of fraud suffer. Everyone else wins.