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How publishers can defend ad revenue from the threat of invalid traffic

April 17, 2023 | By Kean Graham, CEO and Founder – MonetizeMore @monetizemore

In recent years, various fraudulent advertising schemes have resulted in significant financial losses for publishers and advertisers. The digital advertising sector alone suffered a staggering loss of $65 billion in 2021 due to ad fraud. According to Statista, this figure is expected to increase to $100 billion by 2023.

This situation is already concerning, but what makes it worse is that the reports fail to consider the percentage of violations that occur due to ad setup policies. These violations include ads that overlap with other content or ads (in part or whole), ads that are completely hidden due to display or CSS errors, or ads that fail to behave as intended. For instance, an ad may render off the page or obscure other elements when viewed at certain browser widths.​

Even considering invalid traffic alone, a leading industry report estimated that around $35bn of ad spend annually is wasted showing ads to bots or crawlers. In recent years, publishers have become much more aware of this problem. However, it is important to remain vigilant and defend against this problem and potential loss of revenue. 

How to identify and prevent IVT

When looking to limit invalid traffic. A good place to start is to identify your site’s audience and traffic sources. Use analytics to analyze traffic patterns, looking out for anomalies or spikes in the data that don’t seem organic. A page or domain might have been targeted if a lot of the traffic increase comes from a particular area or the time on site drops dramatically. 

Google recommends segmenting your traffic using analytics (or other similar alternatives) to help track and review traffic across your sites. This allows monitoring of visitors who view the pages and their behavior there. Segmenting your traffic by source will enable you to see how they perform relative to one another. This can again alert you to anomalies, allowing you to identify potential invalid traffic quickly. 

Publishers should also be very diligent when it comes to checking ad implementation. Every ad should follow Google and IAB guidelines regarding the space around ads, visibility, intrusiveness, display properties, etc. 

Exploring the automation alternative

However, many publishers are moving towards a more automated method of filtering. That’s because bot attacks are getting more and more sophisticated, and ad setup policy violations are becoming harder to eradicate (or easier to miss). 

Ideally, when choosing an automated IVT solution, you want to fully understand what the product is doing and how sophisticated it is. Many vendors break down invalid bot traffic into “general” (spiders, crawlers, and robots that can be identified based on their non-human behavior) and “sophisticated” invalid traffic. 

Sophisticated invalid traffic is a lot more technical and harder to catch. It usually requires advanced analytics and significant human intervention to identify, analyze, and prevent threats. These include bots and spiders that look like human visitors, hijacked devices, hijacked sessions with hijacked devices, invalid proxy traffic, adware, malware, fraudulent incentivized promotion, falsely represented sites that present themselves for legal purposes, cookie stuffing, manipulation/falsification of location data, and more. An automated solution should be able to deal with both types and be continuously updated as new threats arrive. 

You also want the product to alert you to ad setup page violations or ad placements outside of IAB guidelines. These can seriously impact the reputation of your site and the bids you might attract from advertisers. 

Some solutions only provide an ad fraud report post-auction, but that could be too late. Ideally, your solution should restrict ads from serving where it appears either an ad placement violation exists or invalid traffic is detected to prevent network ad bans and ad revenue deductions (clawbacks). An optimal IVT solution can help you better understand the traffic your website receives to help you minimize revenue loss.

Final thoughts 

While the threat of invalid traffic and ad setup policy violations may seem overwhelming, automated solutions can offer a more efficient and practical approach to addressing these challenges. As the landscape of invalid traffic and ad fraud evolves, it is critical to stay vigilant and proactive to avoid and address these challenges in order to optimize advertising revenue. 

About the author

Kean Graham is the CEO and Founder of MonetizeMore, a leading ad monetization partner for web publishers and app developers. Under his leadership and guidance, the company has scaled to 15B+ monthly impressions for over 1000+ publishers worldwide.

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