Ad fraud is increasingly prevalent as more companies use the internet to advertise. If the above thoughts ever crossed your mind, know that you’re not alone. Worries of this sort are common amongst advertisers and digital marketers. It’s an issue that affects virtually all businesses, with products both online and offline.
What is apparent is that fraudulent activities drive advertising costs. Ad clicks are being tampered with, images are being edited, and tracking is being manipulated. Add to the fact that it is already tough for marketers to ascertain what their actual ROAS is — considering the fluctuating estimations they made — and it’s not surprising to find that ad fraud poses a serious threat.
In our latest white paper, we've tried to detail how the pandemic affected fraudsters and touched on measures you could take to protect your revenue. In this article, we’ll further explore nine forms of ad fraud, how they affect your business, and ways to tackle them.
1. Hidden Ads
Fraudsters use hidden ads to manipulate a website's tags to display an ad outside the display area or overlay it onto another ad banner to get impressions. These ads are usually placed where the user cannot see them but are still counted as an ad impression each time they are seen, resulting in a high impression rate on the fraudster’s site, even as it yields little or no result for you.
Another variation of this is when the fraudsters earn impressions by hiding the ad in a tiny banner such as a 1x1 pixel. The overall impact of this type of ad fraud on the user is often as deceptive as it is hard to detect.
2. Auto-refresh Ads
Auto-refresh ad, also called ad refresh, is a technique used by some publishers to automatically refresh ads on their site to increase impressions per visitor’s session. While some sites randomly update their pages, others update the ad display as the user scrolls.
These sort of auto-refresh ads are becoming more common on longer content videos, such as those found on YouTube. Sometimes, the ads can generate up to 1,000 invalid impressions by the time a user is done watching a video.
3. Domain Spoofing
Domain spoofing is a form of phishing used by fraudsters to impersonate a high-quality domain website and take money from advertisers. This involves the creation of a fake domain — or a string of them — that looks exactly like a well-known domain with the same or similar name. In the past, this sort of phishing took place by redirecting visitors to a real website. But more recently, phishing has taken on a new form as more websites gain widespread adoption.
Fraudsters now use a fake URL that combines the affected domain name with a seemingly believable domain name. In such cases, if a user is tricked into logging in to the fraudulent website, they cannot distinguish the two because the scam website’s URL looks exactly like that of the affected websites. Naturally, this also affects the credibility of the affected brand.
4. Impression/Click Bots
Bots are programs that manipulate browsers to generate impressions and invalid clicks. This can cause digressions in user behavior by generating massive amounts of clicks at repetitive intervals. Not only can these bots be found within data centers but also on any terminals that have been infected with malware. Since devices can be infected with malware whenever they download free software, users can inadvertently aid browser bots without knowing it.
5. Ad Injection
Ad injection is a method where web ads are replaced by a program called an “injector.” The injector installs itself onto a web browser where it replaces an ad the user had viewed. Ads that have been replaced by the injector will reach non-targeted users. It is difficult to identify injectors because they are often built to be profitable add-ons and installed in a variety of places.
6. Click Farming
Just like a real-life farm, click farming is a method used by fraudsters to harvest large amounts of ad displays and clicks via bots/operators. Low-paid workers, with the sole task of clicking online ads, are sometimes hired to waste the money of advertisers. Coinciding with the popularity of smartphones, social networking sites has become an important front for businesses — now more than ever, product reviews represent a deeper connection with most funnel conversions.
7. Data Centers
IP traffic from data centers or rental servers is quite different from regular user traffic. As clicks from regular users only come through cellular or internet provider lines, it is easy to distinguish data center clicks. In recent years, however, as businesses hid their access to data centers, this has become increasingly difficult.
This is because as soon as a user accesses a data center, the ID of the data center is stored to recognize traffic. With all the log analysis, however, this hardly happens in real-time. There is a time lag between the mobile device and the data center they accessed, and a lot can happen in that short span of time.
8. Click Flooding
Click flooding is more prevalent in app marketing. Often called click spam, it is a way of falsifying a click even where there is none. What fraudsters do is flood the system with numerous invalid clicks, resulting in useless installs.
9. Install Hijacking
Install hijacking is when fraudsters infect a user’s device with malware to monitor their activity within an app store. The malware detects when a user attempts to install an app and then generates a fake click. These are not only contracted through the app store but from already installed apps on Google Play and other third-party sources.
Note: Google has measures in place to handle these types of fraud
How to Deal with Ad Fraud
Now that we’ve taken an in-depth look at some of the many ways ad fraud can affect your business, let’s delve into how you can detect and tackle it yourself.
Analyze Performance Data
Ad fraud can be detected by looking within your own company, monitoring the performance data after ads have been delivered, and inspecting the number of impressions that occurred. If you see ads perform unusually then consider that an alarm. If you find the IP addresses delivering large amounts of access in a short span of time — or those that are not from a cellular company or internet provider — then there is a good chance that you are dealing with invalid access. By analyzing and blocking these IP addresses, you will differentiate genuine access from fake ones.
Examine Ad Effectiveness on Other Placements
Another aspect that you need to scrutinize is the effectiveness of your ad placement. Additionally, if there are a lot of impressions and no new conversions, or you notice an unusual increase in clicks from specific ads, then you should analyze and possibly exclude those placements for your ad campaign.
Use an Ad Verification Tool
Although you can detect ad fraud by examining the performance data of your ads, doing so requires a lot of manpower. As more advanced methods of ad fraud continue to spring up, a simple solution would be to use an ad verification tool. Most of these ad verification tools also come with customer support that is eager to assist you with any fraud-related activities on your ads.
Benefits of Combating Ad Fraud
Lowers Customer Acquisition Cost
When you detect ad fraud and block invalid traffic, you can gather insight from legitimate users and eliminate any potentially useless data along the way. In turn, you will be able to better serve the right users and lower your customer acquisition costs.
Provides for Smoother Ad Operations
The more knowledge you have about ad fraud, the more you can block invalid traffic and stop delivering your ads to inappropriate placements. Knowing where to serve your ads will help you get the best result, and you can expect to improve your ad operation and performance.
Protects Brand Credibility
Marketers need to make sure that their brand lives up to its reputation by avoiding placements sites that have contents irrelevant or may possibly bring the wrong impression to the user. If left unnoticed, your ads may negatively affect the perception of your business and decrease customers' willingness to buy from you.
Analyzing your analytics data, monitoring and blocking ads, and using ad fraud prevention tools can give you an edge over your competitors. As a result, you'll not only be able to develop a better - long term plan, but you’ll also be able to achieve better returns on your marketing investments.
To ensure your ad clicks and conversions are coming from real potential paying customers (⚠️ not bots or invalid users), you can try out our ad fraud prevention tool, Spider AF. Sign up to our 14-day free trial and experience the difference when your ads are clean of ad fraud.
You can also click here to download our newest Ad Fraud White Paper.