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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

2019 will be tough on ad fraud—and that’s great news for publishers

December 14, 2018 | By Jim Egan, VP of Publisher Development—IAS @integralads

As the year winds down and we look ahead to 2019, it’s time to take stock of what changed in 2018, and what it means for the year to come. This year’s changes are not only next year’s challenges, but also next year’s opportunities. The digital landscape will become tougher in 2019 and the digital content industry will be no exception.

This year we saw significant and welcome change in how the world at large treats some of digital’s most prominent and longest-running dilemmas. A series of indictments handed down this year, combined with an ongoing investigation into at least one New York-based publisher make it clear that the U.S. Department of Justice will no longer treat ad fraud as an unavoidable cost of doing business in digital. Instead, the government plans to treat ad fraud like what it is: the intentional theft of advertising dollars. While that’s bad news for anyone peddling fraudulent traffic, it’s great news for the ecosystem as a whole, and for premium publishers in particular.

A positive outlook

The fact that the Justice Department is getting serious about ad fraud may not seem like a particularly positive sign for the digital content business. After all, it’s certain to occasion some difficult conversations between buyers and sellers in the short term as officials put pressure on digital to clean up its act. However, taken another way, the move by federal law enforcement is a sign of respect for an industry that has finally reached maturity. Digital is finally seen as capable of playing by the same rules that other businesses do, both online and off.

These interventions by law enforcement officials in recent months have cast new levels of scrutiny on the digital media space. That spotlight, while intense, will also enable premium publishers to shine by differentiating themselves from the fraudsters being exposed.

The coming year presents a huge opportunity for publishers that can successfully position themselves to take advantage of the drive toward quality media. Here are a couple of critical tips:

Know your buyer

Buyers may be shifting more ad spend to programmatic, but that doesn’t mean that it’s time to de-prioritize your direct buyer relationships. Partner with your buyers to identify their unique needs. In the current climate, low levels of fraud are going to be on everyone’s wish list. These insights can be used to help package your inventory for programmatic channels and private marketplaces where premium ad dollars are increasingly flowing as marketers seek out quality guarantees.

Know yourself

Partnering with a third-party verification and optimization provider can provide more insight into the kind of quality metrics that are increasingly top of mind for buyers. As fraud investigations ramp up in 2019, media buyers will be under increasing pressure to ensure that they’re buying genuine human impressions from transparent sources. Being able to authenticate your own inventory, understand quality levels across your properties, and hold any traffic partners accountable will provide a huge advantage in conversations that will be increasingly quality driven.

Onward to 2019

Authorities getting tough on ad fraud is long overdue, and will lead to some tough but necessary conversations. It will also give premium publishers, those that are creating quality content for engaged human audiences, a chance to differentiate themselves from the bad actors among us. Ad fraud has been a murky, under-discussed digital challenge for too long. That lack of exposure has only allowed bad actors to blend in with responsible businesses. This heightened scrutiny will highlight the differences between the two, and bring about very welcome change.

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