Digital Marketing: Beware the Bot

Digital advertising continues its steep growth curve with no end in sight. The rate of year-over-year revenue growth for 2015 was 20% — faster than 2014 or 2013. That pushed ad revenues in the U.S. alone to a record-breaking $59.6 billion. With this kind of money at stake, it’s no wonder the industry finds itself battling a more sophisticated kind of ad fraud. Bot fraud is on the rise.

Here are a few things to know as you develop marketing strategies to ensure your ad dollars are reaching actual humans.

Digital Marketing: Beware The Bot.What is a bot?
A bot is an automated bit of software. Installed on servers or networked PCs, a bot will come to your website to check your pages, download your content, or take an action.

And what is bot fraud?
Bots impersonate visitors to a website. These little code packages are installed by fraudsters on the computers of real people, usually via malware, then go to work impersonating a visit to a website by the user of that computer. Advertisers pay to show their ad to that visitor, but no visit ever happened and no ad was viewed.

Are all bots bad?
Not at all. Indexing bots, for example, are used by companies like Google to check out your content for prospective visitors. Monitoring bots can check your website’s performance and alert you of issues. And bots are finding new uses in chat and other apps.

Is this kind of ad fraud new?
There’s nothing new about ad fraud. But the tremendous increase in demand for inventory has raised the stakes for fraudsters. At the same time, automated ad buying capabilities have created new tools for them to use. The same advancements in data and programmatic buying that allow us to target more effectively can be subverted by fraudsters.

What’s being done to address this?
A cross-industry group of companies and associations across the digital supply chain have created the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG). This coalition is developing a new set of protocols designed to reduce fraud and piracy, and block malware. For example, they recently announced the first group of TAG registered companies that have been vetted and certified as legitimate operators in the digital ad space. Another initiative is the Payment ID protocol, which will track who actually receives the money for ad impressions to ensure the integrity of the full supply chain.

What should I do today to protect my advertising investment?
The most important step you can take is to work with knowledgeable, trusted partners. Make sure they are vigilant in their quality control, and are following the latest industry standards from TAG, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and other associations.

Second, be aware. Ask questions and make sure your partners are doing everything they can do eliminate non-human traffic. Add clauses to that effect in your insertion orders. The more transparent we can make each step in the process, the likelier it is that criminals will look for easier victims elsewhere.

Finally, monitor results against your goals. While you might be paying for impressions or for clicks, but what you’re really buying are results.

Wynn Saggus, VP/Group Account Director Wynn Saggus, VP/Group Account Director

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