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5 steps to protect your website from digital ad fraud

April 2, 2019 | By Steve Guenther, Vice President, Digital Auditing—Alliance for Audited Media @SteveGuenther13

There are many estimates for how much the digital advertising industry loses to ad fraud every year. Whether the number is $6 billion or $60 billion, fraud is a critical issue that causes advertisers to waste their ad spend and digital publishers to miss out on revenue that is stolen by fraudsters.

There are steps that everyone in the supply chain—including publishers—can take to protect their businesses against fraud. Here are a few suggestions to reduce your website’s risk for becoming a target for ad fraud.

1. Don’t Purchase Traffic

Legitimate publishers work hard to create quality content and drive audiences to that content. There are vendors that sell a fixed number of website visits for a fixed price. If the promise of generating a fixed number of website visits for a few dollars seems too good to be true, that’s because it probably is. A publisher might not know that the traffic is robotic because it was designed to pass through fraud detection as human. The best way to keep bots off your site is to avoid buying sourced traffic. Drive human audiences to your website through legitimate marketing activities such as email campaigns, sponsored social media posts and search engine marketing.  

2. Separate Humans from Bots  

There are some easy-to-implement preventive tools publishers can use to increase human interaction and limit bots. Encourage users to register for website access or implement a paywall. CAPTCHAs are another method that give users simple tests that only humans can answer. Newer CAPTCHA programs are efficient at determining whether a visitor is a human with little or no user input. Another non-intrusive technique to detect bots is referred to as a “honeypot,” which is an invisible image or form field on a webpage. While humans can’t see it, bots parsing through the html code will interact with it. Once identified, this nonhuman traffic can be filtered out of site measurement reports.

3. Continuously Monitor Traffic

It is important for publishers to understand where their site traffic is coming from and to continuously monitor traffic sources. A critical part of every digital marketing campaign is setting up the landing page URL to determine which campaign is responsible for traffic. A publisher might drive traffic by running a social media contest or sending an email blast. These types of marketing activities can be easily identified in web analytics. However, if the source is unknown or if the traffic exhibits suspicious characteristics such as spikes at unusual times or if it’s coming from one location or device type, these are red flags that the publisher needs to address. Publishers can take the proactive step of protecting media buyers by filtering traffic from bots and data centers and encourage their advertising partners to do the same. This prevents ads from being served to nonhuman traffic and increases exposure to real viewers.

4. Don’t Rely Solely on Fraud Detection Companies

Ad fraud detection services are a significant part of how the market transacts because they measure general and sophisticated invalid traffic and add friction to combat fraud. There are, however, limitations to any technology and different methodologies used, so it’s important to implement good business practices and human intervention to guard against bot traffic on your site and help minimize the risk of fraud.  

5. Follow Best Practices

Quality publishers do everything possible to minimize the risk of exposing their clients to fraud. By adhering to best practices, you can assure advertisers that you are taking necessary steps to attract human audiences and eliminate bots.

  • Work with accredited vendors you can trust (and make sure those vendors do the same).
  • Establish good business practices for monetizing your site such as those mentioned above.
  • Educate your staff to make sure they know that they are responsible to follow best practices.
  • Keep up with current and upcoming industry solutions. Publisher adoption of ads.txt, for example, helps demand-side platforms detect unauthorized digital sellers. With the release of OpenRTB version 3.0, which includes “Ads.cert: Signed Bid Requests,” the industry is taking the next step to improve transparency and security in the buying and selling process by ensuring that bid requests cannot be tampered with by downstream parties.
  • Engage in an independent, third-party audit to identify areas for improvement and show advertisers that you are taking steps to provide transparency and a safe place to reach their target audience.

Learn more about what you can do to help minimize ad fraud by downloading the AAM white paper: Three Truths That Help Confront the Digital Ad Fraud Crisis. 
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