Commentary

Everyone Plays a Role in Combating Bot Fraud

While bot traffic may have peaked two years ago at about 60%, today more than half of all Internet traffic is still considered bot traffic (source: Incapsula). This has become one of the biggest issues in the advertising industry because brands obviously want their ads to seen by real people. In addition, bots increase traffic counts on analytics reporting, which extracts money from advertisers – an estimated $6.3 billion this year, according to a report from the Association of National Advertisers and WhiteOps.

Bot traffic varies greatly by the size and type of publisher. For instance, Incapsula found that small publishers – those with less than 1,000 visitors per day – are most susceptible to bots, which make up more than 80% of site traffic. On the other end of the spectrum, highly trafficked publishers – those receiving more than 1 million visitors per day – experience the lowest bot levels – making up just 52.3% of traffic. For most, this number still seems outrageously high, but you must consider the fact that not all bots are bad or fraudulent. Sure, there are malicious bots like scrapers, hackers, spammers and impersonators, but there are also what the industry categorizes as “good” bot traffic, which includes bots such as search engine-type crawlers. At the end of the day – good or bad – a bot is a bot, and they are all being counted against site traffic at the expense of advertisers. 

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How Automated Inventory Affects Bot Levels

Programmatic, which is set to double from this year’s $10 billion to $20 billion in 2016 (source: eMarketer), has made the ad-buying and selling process much more efficient. But, it’s only making the bot issue worse – the ANA/WhiteOps report found that bots are even more prevalent in programmatic environments. According to the report, display ads purchased through programmatic channels were 55% more likely to be loaded by bots than non-programmatic ads. As automated buying and selling becomes the new norm, publishers need to be extra diligent about what they are putting into their sell-side platforms (SSP), working with their SSP vendors to make sure their inventory is as ‘clean’ as possible.

Do Your Part to Combat Bot Fraud

But publishers aren’t the only ones responsible for combatting bot fraud. Every organization in the digital advertising chain – publishers, advertisers and agencies – has a level of responsibility when it comes to executing effective campaigns in this world seemingly dominated by bots:

  • Thepublisher is, of course, responsible for keeping bot traffic below a certain level. This can be done in a number of ways, such as by blocking at the IP level, denying certain traffic sources or using a third-party service. Focusing on impersonator bots is also one of the most effective ways publishers can reduce bad bot traffic. The publisher should also educate advertisers on viewability and set clear expectations from the start of the engagement. 
  • The advertiser’s role is to hold the publisher accountable by requesting accurate reporting on bot traffic. They should look through their own systems (ad serving, analytics, comScore, etc.) to determine whether they notice empty clicks and make the agency aware (or, if they are buying directly, make the publisher aware). It’s also important to not lose sight of the overall campaign goals while evaluating bot traffic. CPM pricing generally has certain levels of bot traffic factored into the equation, but too often, executives get caught up in traffic and viewability numbers, losing site of the fact that the campaign outperformed its goals. 
  • The agency’s responsibility is to educate clients so they are aware of the type of traffic they can expect to get and help them understand that assuming zero bot traffic from a publisher is unrealistic. This enables the advertiser to be proactive with publishers to minimize bot traffic before a buy even happens.

Assuming zero bot traffic today is simply unrealistic, but it’s time for key stakeholders to take responsibility for their role in combating bot fraud. It’s only through this proactive and collaborative effort that we will be able to reduce and eventually eliminate this threat to the advertising ecosystem.

 

 

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