Traffic verification has become an exercise in fear-mongering. We’ve reached a stage where everyone from publishers to verification vendors and agencies are bragging about their blocking rates, as if to say that blocking is the only or best way to stop ad fraud.
Ad fraud is the industry’s worst kept secret with $35 billion lost to fraudulent activities committed via online, mobile and in-app advertising in 2018 according to Juniper Research – and losses expected to jump to $42 billion in 2019. Everyone knows the risks of ad fraud, but as CPMs plummet in the name of blocking and the relationship between advertisers and publishers are at an all time low, we have to ask ourselves: is the cost of blocking worth less than the fraud? Blocking might be one way to handle fraudulent traffic but it seems to have much further reaching negative ramifications.
There has to be a better way to combat ad fraud without harming publishers, and inadvertently, the open internet itself. It’s time to move away from unilateral actions like blocking, and start communicating with publishers.
A media buyer has a number of options available to help them to eliminate fraud in their traffic. and the first is shutting down traffic sources entirely. It’s a high risk move and will influence access to audiences in the future. This is a tactic which should only be employed when you’re sure that a traffic stream is entirely or mostly fraud, or if you’re looking at a high volume of cheap traffic where it might not pay to carve out the legitimate traffic. In the worst case scenario where probabilistic detection flags up false positives, eliminating a traffic source means missing valuable opportunities.
Blocking is de rigueur – it’s trendy because blocking (by IP, device ID, browser etc) purportedly eliminates IVT while still serving ads to legitimate audiences, with a lower risk than shutting down a traffic source. Considering the lack of consequences for verification vendors who over-block, it’s fair to assume that verification partners err on the side of caution and take the approach of “if in doubt, block it out”. This is problematic because you risk losing legitimate users in a blocking exercise with a blocking happy vendor. You’ll also inevitably throw out non malicious IVT (scraper or indexing bots) and your publishers won’t understand why you’re refusing to pay for impressions which they have measured as clean. If media buyers don’t help publishers to understand why their traffic is being blocked then they cannot clean it up and eventually publisher CPMs will decline. This is a terrible consequence of over-blocking for media buyers who then lose out on audiences across the board.
Shutting down traffic sources and blocking IVT are all important components of a robust anti-fraud strategy but they cannot provide long term protection from fraud. Instead of harming reputable publishers by taking harsh unilateral steps, there are many opportunities for media buyers to investigate, analyze and research traffic. Conversations about traffic quality are critical and in fairness it’s the supply side who are closest to the traffic and are well equipped to have an open conversation about the validity of their audiences.
Media buyers have look at all of the variables in every scenario and choose the right tool from their anti-fraud arsenal. It’s important to keep in mind that if a marketer’s goal is to meet KPIs and they’re not buying traffic directly, it’s critical to use the right analysis tools so as not to take broad, unilateral steps which will harm them and exclude valuable audiences in the future.