We are in the era of digital revolution. Everything around us is changing and internet has already become an integral part of everything we do – reading, viewing, communicating, shopping, traveling etc. The digital world is witnessing exponential growth every day, and the advertisers looking to cash on the swelling traffic are dedicating more advertising budget on the digital platform. India has witnessed a whopping 44.5% growth in online advertising numbers in the year 2014 to reach 4350 crores and it is set to increase exponentially.
But not everything is hunky dory. With online advertising budgets closing on a billion dollar mark, fraudsters are on the prowl. Ad Fraud, one of the most critical issues in the current digital ecosystem is reaching gargantuan levels and can no longer be ignored. Immediate steps need to be taken to put an end to this plague which threatens the very growth and survival of the digital space.
The end user does not pay for the content, infrastructure or the technology costs to run the internet portals. It is the advertisers who sponsor all these. If the advertisers don’t get value for their money, they would naturally stop advertising on web portals, and the the digital ecosystem will become unsustainable.
The beauty of the digital advertising is that effectiveness can be measured. But with automated bots eating into billions of dollars of advertisements budget – huge percentage of clicks being generated by ad-bots or fraudulent ads – the whole idea of measurement and engagement have gone for a toss.
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Bot Traffic at Source
Publishers are buying traffic without conducting a check of the quality, creating a fertile ground for ad-bot fraud. They buy the cheapest available traffic from third parties to monetize it via advertising and instead of serving real users, these third parties create page views via bots. Publishers earn money via arbitrage from this traffic but the advertisers end up wasting their budget on fraudulent automated bots.
The irony is that advertisers are buying bot traffic at a premium. These bots imitate real human behavior and try to create their own individual identity – they are also referred to as humanoids – and thus become the most sort after target audience. For example a bot browses a few articles on new car launches, then goes to auto portals searching for the price of a car, clicks on a few auto related ads and becomes the most sort after target for auto clients. They will retarget this bot wherever it goes and end up paying a huge premium for catching the attention of the profile which is not even a real human.
There are various other ways in which ad fraud is being conducted like content management system (CMS) hacking, browser extensions for ad insertions, infecting the machines of end user with malware to open multiple pages in the background, ad layering etc.
With bots casting an ominous shadow over the digital ad world, it has become pertinent for all stakeholders to engage and take concrete steps to solve this problem.
Cut the problem at the source
The supply side needs to stop looking at immediate arbitrage opportunity and check the quality of traffic that they buy. The volumes may go down but that will for sure be compensated with premium pricing if they can ensure that they serve bot free premium audience to the advertisers. Publishers, advertisers and media agencies need to participate in this fight. Track the campaign performance and get the ad campaigns audited from third party technology companies specializing in detecting bot traffic so that money is spent only on real humans and viewable ads.
Once the money dries up for fraud traffic, there will be no incentive for the digital thugs to run the ‘humanoids’.