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Beating Back the Bad Bots

Fake traffic is more difficult to spot and to quantify.

He mentioned he’d cut his online ads back dramatically, even though they’d been pretty effective at first, he’d noticed that they’d become less effective. Way less. And it wasn’t that he was getting less clicks, it was that the clicks weren’t coming from people interested in his ad, or worse from “people” who weren’t actually people, but zombie armies of hijacked computers. But he was still having to pay for all those clicks. Yikes.

His experience bears out the current conventional wisdom that for every $1 spent on online advertising, almost half is lost to digital ad fraud. And just how many dollars are being spent annually? Estimates for this year are $140 billion. That’s a pretty significant number right there. And it’s a real problem because no matter how affordable the initial outlay, ineffective advertising is, quite simply, too expensive.

“If we are paying any [cost-per-thousand rate] for an impression it should be an impression.Imagine you buy a dozen donuts, and you open the box and there’s one donut. I want to understand what I am getting for the money.”
-Amaya Garbayo, Associate Director Insights and Planning at Kellogg

Some experts estimate that close to 50 percent of web-traffic is non-human. More conservative estimates put it in the mid-30 percent range. That’s still high. Earlier this year, Google’s ad exchange chief Scott Spencer said the company is constantly battling to keep fake traffic out of its network. It rejected more than 3 million attempts by dodgy publishers and advertisers to join its network in 2013, he said, and also kicked over 500,000 of its existing customers out.

The big challenge with fake traffic is that it is more difficult to spot and to quantify, and is likely to become increasingly so as these players become more sophisticated and develop ways to game the system.

In an attempt to protect marketing budgets from bots  the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released Anti-Fraud Principles last month. These guidelines are intended to remove poor quality ad traffic from the system “once and for all.”

I wish I could plunk down a handy list of things you can do to make sure you’re not reaching more bots that you bargained for. There isn’t a quick checklist for you to monitor, beyond keeping a close eye on your costs month to month and your referrals.

Be careful out there!

Alison Christie

With a Major in witty comebacks and a Minor in motherhood, Ali is all about the words and has been sharing them liberally with all and sundry for years. Oh! The stories she could tell, but for those million dollar non-disclosure contracts she has signed. Moving swiftly on.