How to Spot Digital Advertising Fraud

Alex McConnell
Alex McConnell
3 Minute read
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Article Contents

    Digital advertising is a highly lucrative business. Millions of dollars are funneled into online ad campaigns every day, with yearly ad spend expected to reach $645 billion by 2024. This makes the digital marketing industry a prime target for ad fraud.

    Advertisers and publishers alike can become victims of digital advertising fraud — so whether you’re running or publishing ads online, you need to be able to spot fraudulent activity on your campaigns.

    So what is digital advertising fraud, and how can you tell if your ads or publishing platform are being affected?

    What is digital advertising fraud?

    Digital ads work through ad exchanges. The ad exchange matches advertisers with publishers, and serves the most relevant ad to the user, based on factors like search intent and demographic information. Digital advertising fraud schemes manipulate this system to make a profit or reduce campaign effectiveness.

    There are many digital ad fraud schemes, including:

    • Click fraud — attackers redirect the target link for an ad, gaining traffic at the advertiser’s expense
    • Ad stacking — multiple ads are layered on top of one another, but only the top ad is visible to users. When the top ad is clicked, a click is recorded for every ad in the stack
    • Hidden display ads — attackers manipulate ads so real users don’t see them, resulting in false pay-per-impression charges
    • Botnets and click farms — attackers activate devices (botnets) or humans (click farms) to click on ads thousands of times, falsely inflating click-through rate and the number of site visitors.

    The risks of digital advertising fraud

    Each type of ad fraud is designed to manipulate your online advertising campaigns in a different way, but the goal is often the same: to make money. Each of these schemes generates profit for fraudsters at the expense of the advertiser and/or publisher.

    Fraud can have a big impact on ad revenue. If your campaigns are hacked, you’ll pay more for false clicks and impressions, and you won’t generate any return on your investment. You’ll also see skewed data and analytics, making it hard for your marketing team to assess campaign success and make the best decisions about future campaigns.

    But this isn’t the only risk of digital advertising fraud. Ad exchanges can punish you if they suspect you’re publishing ads from trick advertisers, or displaying ads to fake traffic. This often involves chargebacks, and ultimately banning you from the ad exchange. That means you’ll no longer be able to use ads to grow your business.

    Detecting and preventing digital advertising fraud

    By keeping a close eye on your advertising analytics, you can spot signs of digital advertising fraud, such as:

    • Higher than usual ad spend, or ad budgets being drained more quickly than usual
    • High ad click rate without an uplift in conversions or sales
    • Unusually high bounce rate from ad campaign traffic
    • High ad click rate without a high impression rate on the target page
    • Numerous visits or clicks from the same user or IP address.

    While these can indicate ad fraud, real-life campaign data isn’t always this clear-cut. You may have a broken or incorrect target page link, or an ineffective landing page that causes genuine visitors to bounce.

    In any case, these methods only detect fraudulent advertising after the fact. To truly protect your marketing data and your website, you must detect and block automated fraud attacks before they interact with your ads.

    How to protect yourself from digital advertising fraud

    Bot management solutions prevent ad fraud by mitigating bot attacks that target your ad campaigns. By deflecting malicious bots, ad publishers can:

    • Maintain your reputation with ad exchanges
    • Ensure you’re serving reputable ads that are helpful to readers
    • Earn trust from advertisers by helping them get the best return on investment
    • Protect your site from all kinds of bot attacks.

    Bot management systems can also help advertisers to:

    • Swiftly recognize ad fraud with real-time bot visitor data
    • Get the most from your digital ad budget
    • Protect your reputation with ad publishers
    • Block all kinds of bad bot traffic from infiltrating your site.

    Find out more about using technology to detect and block ad fraud, so you can protect your campaigns, revenue, and marketing data.

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