A Complete Guide to Invalid Traffic (ITV)

There are several types of invalid traffic, but all of them do the same: hurt your website and ads. Be proactive in detecting and blocking IVT and maximize your ROI.
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Invalid traffic (IVT) is a threat to anyone whose business relies on online revenue.

In 2022 alone, the global budget waste related to invalid traffic (IVT) was almost 55 million dollars. This year, the number should increase to 72 billion.

Understanding what IVT is, how to detect it, and how to prevent it is crucial if you want to save your hard-earned budget and precious website analytics. And we are here to help.

In this article, you can find a comprehensive guide about invalid traffic (IVT). You can finally get the answers to your key questions:

  • What is IVT?
  • What are General Invalid Traffic (GIVT) and Sophisticated Invalid Traffic (SIVT)?
  • What types of IVT are there?
  • What is the impact of IVT on websites?
  • How can Spider AF mitigate that impact?
  • How can you detect IVT?

What is Invalid Traffic (IVT)?

IVT is any interaction that does not come from a real person with genuine interest. Sometimes referred to as ad fraud, invalid traffic does not translate into conversions or sales, but it consumes ad budget, which is why it concerns advertisers. 

Because it is a broad term, IVT includes all activity that does not come from a real user, whether accidental or malicious.

Accidental: when a person unintentionally clicks on an ad, for instance, due to poor ad placement.

Malicious: this is the most concerning type of IVT. It involves inflating ad clicks or impressions through sophisticated bots or manually clicking on your own ads.

IVT can differ in intent, complexity, and difficulty of detection. So, to better understand and analyze it, the Media Rating Council (MRC) created two sub-categories of IVT: General Invalid Traffic and Sophisticated Invalid Traffic.

General Invalid Traffic (GIVT)

GIVT is a broader subcategory of IVT. It encompasses various types of invalid traffic, from accidental clicks to basic click fraud schemes. The MRC considers this type of invalid traffic easier to detect, as it can be identified through “routine means of filtration.”

Examples of General Invalid Traffic

  • Known invalid data-center traffic: Traffic originates from IP addresses identified as data centers with bots and scripts that can generate fake clicks or impressions on ads. It can be easily identified by tracking the user pattern, as these data centers usually exhibit abnormal patterns.
  • Some bots and spiders: Bots fit several categories: GIVT, SIVT, and non-IVT. In other words, some bots generate invalid traffic, whereas others do not. Some bots generate GIVT, and others are more complex, thus belonging to the SIVT subcategory. Some examples of GIVT bots are:
  • Bots that automatically click on ads with click patterns that do not resemble human behavior.
  • Poorly configured bots, such as, for instance, a bot programmed to monitor website health that accidentally generates invalid traffic through excessive clicks.
  • Bots designed to extract content from websites automatically can overload the servers and generate invalid traffic.
  • Unknown browsers: Every HTTP request from a browser includes a line of text called “user-agent header" where you can identify the respective browser software and operating system. There are many reasons traffic can arrive with user-agent headers that do not match any known browser, such as malicious activity using bots trying to go undetected. 

Sophisticated Invalid Traffic (SIVT)

As opposed to GIVT, sophisticated invalid traffic is more complex and challenging to detect. It often involves bots that mimic human behavior or organized groups of human agents, making it more intricate and undetectable without advanced methods.

Examples of Sophisticated Invalid Traffic 

  • Automated browsing from a dedicated device: Malicious actors can use devices designed to run sophisticated bots that mimic human behavior, exhibiting realistic mouse movements, scrolling patterns, and varying click durations. These programs can click on ads and manipulate website traffic metrics.
  • Automated browsing from non-dedicated devices: Instead of a dedicated device, the fake clicks come from compromised personal devices, such as computers and phones. Fraudsters hijack personal devices and turn them into bots that generate fake clicks or collect data without the owner’s knowledge. 
  • Click farms: Click farms are one of the main sources of SIVT. They consist of large operations created to generate fake clicks. Click farms can be operated in two ways: with bots or low-paid workers who click on the links manually. 

Common Types of Invalid Traffic

Fraudsters are always reinventing themselves and coming up with new tactics to create invalid traffic. However, these are some of the types of IVT you will find more often:

Click Fraud

Click fraud involves generating fake clicks on Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads. This can be done manually in human click farms or through automated bots. Click fraud artificially inflates advertisers’ costs, as they are paying for clicks that do not represent genuine user interest. For instance, a competitor might build a click farm to click on a rival’s ads to exhaust their budget. 

Impression Fraud

This type of fraud involves inflating the number of times an ad is displayed using bots to load web pages containing the ad repeatedly. Besides being charged for clicks, advertisers might also have to pay for impressions (ad views). So similarly to click fraud, impression fraud can deplete your budget without achieving any conversions. An example of impression fraud is a malicious agent creating a network of bots to visit websites containing their ads several times a day, thus generating fake impressions.

Ranking Manipulation

Ranking manipulation consists of using deceptive tactics to improve a website’s position in search engine results pages (SERPs). This tactic may involve creating bots to manipulate website traffic metrics that search engines track when ranking sites. Imagine a website owner using bots to generate fake clicks, backlinks, or social media engagement to trick search engines into considering their website more relevant than it is – that is ranking manipulation. 

Web Scraping

The automated extraction of large amounts of data from websites is a common practice on the internet. However, excessive web scraping conducted by bots is considered invalid traffic as it can overload the servers and steal content. For example, a fraudster might use a scraper bot to steal product information and descriptions from an e-commerce website to harm their competitor.

Referrer Spam

This type of invalid traffic involves providing misleading information about where a website's traffic originates. The purpose is to skew website analytics data, making it difficult for website owners to understand the origin and interaction of genuine traffic. For instance, a spammer sends automated traffic to a website with fake referrer data about its source to deceive the website owner. 

Comment Spam

Have you ever come across comments that look strange or repetitive? It is probably a spam bot. Fraudsters create bots to post irrelevant comments on websites containing, for example, links to unrelated websites or product promotions. Comment spam creates a negative user experience and drives away genuine users with engagement potential. 

Form Spam

Another type of invalid traffic is sending fake data into website forms. Usually performed by bots, form spam can create several issues, from wasting the website owner’s time to crashing the website, also known as a Denial-of-Service (DoS) attack. In addition, form spam makes it difficult to identify genuine leads and can impact sales volume. A competitor can use form spam to submit fake lead registrations and damage their rival’s performance. 

What is the Impact of IVT on Websites?

Let’s dive into how invalid traffic can impact websites. 

Ad Budget Wastage

When you do not keep track of IVT, it can make you lose money big time. Fraudulent clicks increase the cost of PPC campaigns because you are paying for clicks or impressions that do not translate into conversions, as they do not reach genuinely interested users. This severely reduces your ROI because you are targeting the wrong audience due to IVT distorting your metrics. 

Analytics Distortion 

Website traffic data is crucial to understand if your strategy is working. IVT is a problem here because it can mess up that data and thus make it difficult to understand user behavior and make optimizations that resonate with the users.

The lack of accurate analytics data leads to poor decision-making regarding website content, marketing strategies, and user experience improvements because it is impossible to understand who the real users are and what their preferences and needs are. 

Decreased Website Performance 

Bot activity can impact the website performance by overwhelming the servers. This leads to slow loading times for real users, impacting the user experience and potentially leading to lost conversions or sales.  

Plus, putting a strain on the servers can lead to downtime, which is detrimental to website reputation and user trust, as it also negatively impacts the user experience. 

SEO Implications

SEO is the secret behind getting organic or paid traffic to a website, but IVT can take away the power of SEO and negatively impact a website’s rank on Search Engine Results Pages. (SERPs). Despite the efforts of search engines like Google to identify and stop invalid traffic, high amounts of fraudulent activity can still harm your website performance in many ways, such as:

  • Overloaded servers and slowed down site speed, which can hurt rankings. 
  • Low-quality links through comment and referrer spam.
  • Degraded user experience due to slow speed, invasive ads, pop-ups, and other IVT techniques that drive search engines to signal low quality.
  • Distorted analytics data that directly impact SEO decisions. 

Spider AF Solutions for Detecting Invalid Traffic

Spider AF offers a multifaceted approach to detect and prevent invalid traffic. 

Advanced Bot Detection

Machine learning algorithms contribute to effective bot detection by analyzing vast amounts of data to learn and predict behaviors commonly associated with bots. 

For that reason, Spider AF uses a combination of machine learning and behavioral analysis to detect and block invalid traffic, including bot traffic. Our advanced algorithms are constantly evolving to keep up with the latest tactics used by fraudsters, ensuring that you are protected against bot activity. 

This adaptive approach allows the detection of both known patterns of bot fraud and emerging threats that simple scripting tools may not catch.

Comprehensive Monitoring

Spider AF uses a Javascript tag to capture device and session signals from users. Using this combined with several lists, Spider AF detects and blocks invalid traffic. 

We look for bot-like signals in combination, such as data centers, web drivers, and consistent session behaviors where typically human traffic is more random.

After detection, we do not stop: with our real-time blocking feature, suspicious clicks are prevented from entering your database. 

Detailed Reporting

Spider AF provides you with detailed reporting on the performance of your campaigns. Our reporting tools allow you to see exactly how your campaigns perform, giving you valuable insights to optimize your website and advertising efforts. 

In Spider AF’s dashboard, there is a section dedicated to ad network breakdowns, which are updated in nearly real-time. You can see the most important metrics you should track to detect invalid traffic, such as:

  • Paid clicks and blocked clicks by network and campaigns
  • Fraud Type by network and campaigns
  • Invalid Clicks Rate

You can also find insights in each section of our dashboard and download them to analyze or share them with your team. Additionally, our Customer Success team usually sends reports, and you can set up a meeting with the team and clarify any doubts about the results provided.

Case Studies and Success Stories

Spider AF has a proven track record of helping companies and marketers detect fraudulent activity and save thousands or millions of dollars in wasted ad spend, as happened with E.N. Japan.

E.N. Japan specializes in recruitment services, aiming to improve society by connecting job seekers with companies.

After subscribing to Spider AF's email newsletter to stay updated on countermeasures against invalid traffic, the company became more aware of the potential impact of undetected invalid traffic on its advertising costs. To safeguard our advertising expenses, they reached out to Spider AF. Implementing Spider AF uncovered potential losses of approximately $1.37 million annually because of invalid clicks and traffic. 

How Can You Detect Invalid Traffic?

Analytics Tools

Monitoring traffic data is an essential step in identifying IVT. Analytics platforms like Google Analytics offer a wealth of information about user behavior that can help you analyze traffic patterns and detect anomalies. For instance, using Google Analytics, you can look for unexplained surges in traffic from unusual locations, measure the time between the moment users enter and leave your page (bounce rate), and analyze traffic inconsistencies throughout the day. This type of information can get you closer to detecting and stopping IVT. 

Manual Checks 

Checking your server logs can be time-consuming, but it is an effective way of detecting IVT. Access your server logs and analyze a representative sample period (a week, for example). If you already suspect recent fraudulent activity, focus on logs from that timeframe. Then, analyze the information in the columns like timestamp, IP address, request type (whether the user wants to retrieve or submit information), requested URL, and user-agent string. Server logs may vary in format, but the vast majority include columns with this data. 

After getting familiar with your log format, look for possible signs of IVT:

  • Entries with abnormal user-agent strings (unknown browsers or devices), especially if they appear repeatedly. 
  • A large number of requests from a single IP address within a short timeframe, which is usual bot behavior to scrape content or overwhelm the server. 
  • Unexplained spikes in traffic from unknown or unrelated websites. You can find this in the “referrer” field of your server log. 

Professional Services 

Third-party solutions that specialize in detecting and preventing invalid traffic are the safest option to guarantee your website or ad campaigns are protected against IVT. Professional services like Spider AF empower you with innovative and cutting-edge tools and technologies that detect and eliminate fraudulent traffic. Spider AF offers a wealth of tactics to mitigate IVT, such as thorough scans and analyses of device and session-level metrics, including page locations, referrers, IP addresses, and user agents. 

Bot Protection Solutions 

Detecting bots that generate IVT involves analyzing user behavior to identify unusual patterns, such as repetitive actions. The best and most effective solution to protect your website against bot activity is specialized bot services such as Spider AF. Spider AF combines machine learning technology with sophisticated algorithms to differentiate human activity from bots and employs device fingerprinting to pinpoint discrepancies that indicate bot activity. 

IP Rate Limiting 

IP rate limiting restricts the number of requests a single IP address can send to the website within a specific timeframe. This can be an effective way to throttle suspicious activity often associated with IVT.

For instance, if a single IP address is bombarding the website with login attempts, IP rate limiting can temporarily block that IP, preventing potential brute-force attacks. However, it's crucial to set appropriate limits to avoid inconveniencing genuine users.

Captchas and Behavioral Analysis 

Captchas and behavioral analysis can do wonders in deterring bots. Whereas captchas can add an extra layer of security against more basic bots, behavioral analysis takes a more sophisticated approach. Analyzing use behavior patterns like mouse movements, scroll speed, and time spent on a page helps you identify inconsistencies that might indicate you have IVT. 

Regular Monitoring 

IVT tactics are constantly evolving, with bots and malicious actors coming up with sophisticated techniques to mimic genuine user behavior. Regular monitoring of analytics data and server logs helps detect strange patterns or anomalies within your traffic data early on and prevents further damage to your platform. 

Updating Security Measures

Website software, plugins, and themes can contain vulnerabilities that fraudsters can exploit. An important step to address these vulnerabilities is through updates. Updates typically comprise bug fixes, compatibility issues, and security enhancements designed to combat several threats, including IVT activity. By applying these updates, you are essentially patching the gaps in your website's security defenses.

Emerging Trends in Invalid Traffic

Invalid traffic (IVT) continues to plague businesses online, and attackers are constantly innovating. Let’s take a look at some of the current emerging trends.

Advanced Bots

Simple clickbots are a thing of the past. Today, bots employ machine learning (ML) to mimic human behavior by adapting their movements, click patterns, and even dwell times on web pages to appear like real users. This makes them significantly harder to detect using traditional methods.

Mobile and CTV Ad Fraud

Techniques like app install injection and click flooding on in-app advertising are becoming increasingly common. These methods can inflate app install numbers and drain advertising budgets without generating genuine user engagement.

In CTV advertising, techniques like pixel stuffing and ad spoofing are emerging threats. These tactics can trick advertisers into paying for ads that are never seen by real viewers.

AI Content Scraping

Content scraping, the unauthorized extraction of content from websites, combined with AI is a huge concern. Advanced scrapers are utilizing AI to bypass traditional anti-scraping measures. These scrapers can analyze website structures and user behavior to mimic human interaction more effectively, making detection a constant battle.

Key Takeaways –

Invalid traffic (IVT) poses a significant threat to any business with an online presence. It wastes advertising budgets, distorts analytics data, and hinders your website's performance. By understanding the different forms of IVT and its impact, you can take proactive measures to combat it.

Start with traffic analytics tools to identify unusual patterns and manual checks on server logs to detect suspicious activity, regular monitoring, and regular security updates.

In addition, consider looking into professional services or specialized solutions like bot protection tools for enhanced security. Tools like Spider AF can protect your website or ads from ever-evolving online fraud and ensure they receive genuine engagement.

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