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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Publishers: Focus on fraud

June 11, 2018 | By Amanda Forrester, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Programmatic and Publisher Products—IAS @integralads

I’m going to start by saying something that really shouldn’t shock you. Digital ad fraud is a crime. The word fraud is right there in the name. Fraudsters, whether they’re using sophisticated bot networks or deceptive spoofing tactics, are stealing money from advertisers. Yet the digital advertising industry has historically treated fraud as, at best,  the cost of doing business or, at worst, a budget-sapping nuisance. But if the headlines are to be believed, that’s changing fast and publishers need to take steps to clean house if they want to be sure they’re protected.

Over the last few months, we’ve all seen signs that public officials are taking a renewed interest in the digital media ecosystem. While Congress has been busy trying to figure out Facebook, the New York district attorney’s office recently launched an inquiry into the business practices of Newsweek owner IBT media, saw the company’s offices raided and their servers seized. Though that investigation was wide-ranging, ad fraud was significant component.

The investigation may be part of a wider trend. FBI investigators recently attended the Rubicon Projects Executive Exchange conference where Special Agent Evelina Aslanyan reportedly told ad industry executives that ad fraud “represents a whole new world of crime for publishers and consumers.” The appearance suggests that the bureau is gearing up for a push on cybercrime and that ad fraud will now fall firmly in that category.

While fraud is often framed as a challenge for advertisers, it’s possible for even legitimate publishers to unwittingly become entangled with ad fraud. There are a handful of steps publishers can take avoiding being caught up in the wave.

Avoid traffic-sourcing schemes

It’s not uncommon for publishers to “buy traffic” in order to deliver on impression quotes and meet their obligations to advertising partners. There’s nothing inherently wrong with employing third-party services to extend or increase the audience for your content, especially if that additional audience is human and comes from a legitimate marketing activity like sponsored posts or content recommendation services.

However, some vendors who offer additional traffic can’t deliver human eyes. Instead, the impressions they deliver are from bots. It’s this kind of invalid traffic that can leave publishers in hot water with advertisers and the authorities. Thoroughly vetting traffic vendors is the best way to avoid paying for fake views or even inadvertently charging for them.

Employ a verification solution

Verification isn’t just for the buy-side. Advertisers employ verification solutions to identify, and in some cases block ads from serving on invalid or non-human impressions. For publishers inadvertently receiving fake traffic. this can be a headache requiring refunds or campaign extensions to meet impression goals with legitimate traffic. However, verification cuts both ways and ad fraud detection solutions can help publishers to clean up their inventory and supply chain.

Additionally, publishers can use verification technology to detect fraud on their own sites and pages. Verification technology can help publishers with vet traffic vendors and ensure that none of the traffic they’re serving to advertisers is invalid. Sell-side verification technology gives publishers greater transparency into the quality of their inventory allowing them to make more accurate projections of its value.

Automate optimization

Sell-side verification solutions have been available to for over a decade. They allow publishers to assess their inventory and identify potential invalid traffic before exposing it to ad impressions. However, the process of cleaning up that inventory can be time-consuming and costly.

Automated optimization gives publishers a way to remove fraud from their deliverable ad inventory. Optimization solutions integrate directly into publisher ad servers which allow them to redirect fraudulent audiences to house ads. This prevents bots from collecting cookies and carrying them to other websites and provides an added layer of protection against inadvertent fraudulent traffic from unscrupulous vendors.

The takeaway

The focus on fraud isn’t likely to let up anytime soon. While publishers may feel some added pressure to deliver fraud-free impressions, this also represents a huge opportunity for premium publishers to capitalize on quality inventory. By taking a few simple steps to ensure that your inventory, as well as your traffic generation solutions, are safe and fraud-free publishers have the potential to score ad revenue worthy of their quality inventory.

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