Every corner of the programmatic ecosystem can be affected by ad fraud – even premium publishers and quality ad tech vendors can get inadvertently pulled into programmatic’s fraudulent underbelly. Some publishers are unaware of a problem until they’re blocked from a platform. On the flip side, an ad tech platform on the supply side might approach a normally quality publisher with evidence of ad fraud and the publisher legitimately doesn’t know where the problem is originating or how to fix it. So how does this happen, and what can publishers do to prevent ending up on someone’s blacklist?
Use Caution Around Purchased (Sourced) Traffic
There’s an increased risk of fraud in traffic that is purchased or sourced. Period. Here, purchased and sourced traffic can be defined as any non-organic traffic to a site. Purchased traffic can include buying clicks, impressions, or actions across display, video, or mobile channels and encompasses many different sources, including:
- Blind networks, where someone is paid for clicks or impressions and in return they’ll “drive traffic to a site from millions of global websites”, but it's not clear where the traffic is coming from;
- Direct from other publishers;
- Second and third-tier search networks (i.e., search traffic from extended search networks);
- Traffic exchange partnerships;
- Pop-under traffic, toolbar traffic, and parking page traffic.
If purchasing traffic, a publisher needs to understand the sources and be cautious. They should know who and where the traffic is coming from and track metrics closely.
Have a Quality Solution in Place
It’s best for publishers to have automated, real-time quality measures in place to block invalid traffic coming to sites. This is especially true if they’re sourcing traffic. Publishers should make use of both publicly and privately available publisher, domain, or IP-level block lists. Additionally, they should analyze traffic logs on a regular basis to help identify anomalies and signal bot-driven traffic. Publishers can audit logs for things like:
- Old, outdated browsers;
- Large unexplained spikes in traffic;
- Abnormally high CTRs;
- Heavy traffic to sites at odd times;
- Traffic coming from referring sites with unrecognizable domains.
Be Careful Where They Advertise: Ads for a Website Could Drive Fraudulent Traffic to the Site
Publishers should be sure ads are really running where they think they are – where they’re being told. If ads for a site are showing up on low-quality domains, they may be unknowingly generating fraudulent traffic to a site through their advertising and marketing efforts.
Domain spoofing can affect a publisher without them ever knowing. A fraudster forging a publisher's domain on a bid request could not only steal ad revenue that was intended for that publisher's domain, but could also cause the domain to be flagged as fraudulent. Using ads.txt can protect a domain from being used on fraudulent bid requests and its reputation in the eyes of advertisers. Major players in the ad tech stack are increasingly looking at ads.txt files. It’s possible that within the coming months publishers that do not have ads.txt implemented, or an accurate ads.txt file, could lose out on lucrative ad placements because their authorized sellers were not declared, or there was no ads.txt file at all.
Additionally, no matter how much traffic or how popular a site is, publishers should implement ads.txt and be wary of domain spoofing. There are many shady publishers that have been blacklisted from the RTB space because of fraudulent content or brand safety issues (e.g., sites with pirated content) that use domain spoofing to get back into the market to monetize their sites, and they'll target any legitimate domain name.
Consider Domain Spoofing, Brand Safety, And Viewability Affecting Quality Scores
Domain spoofing, brand safety, and poor viewability may get a domain flagged for poor quality by some verification vendors. Publishers should consider all aspects of their sites, not just traffic, when thinking of quality (e.g., if they have high traffic volume but their viewability is hovering around 0%, their site’s overall quality score may suffer).
Publishers can use these suggestions to help pinpoint where low-quality traffic may be coming from and what they can do to avoid fraud. Ad tech vendors are encouraged to use them as a check list for publishers and as a way to facilitate conversations with publishing partners about quality.