Commentary

Robotic Click Fraud Signals Bright Future For Natives

Native advertising is on a seemingly insatiable rise right now, and with rampant click fraud, looks set to keep going from strength to strength.

Only someone with access to the data can stand a chance of figuring out whether a recent Mercedes-Benz campaign was clicked on by more bots than humans -- as headlines have suggested. Even with the figures, however, it might still be impossible to say for sure. Click fraud has apparently moved from pushing up cost-per-click (CPC) rates on search to put a dent in rivals' budgets to generate false clicks for display adverts. Just as bots controlled by criminal gangs can take over unwitting computer owners' PCs to spread spam and increase the size of their botnet, so too they now appear to be routinely generating clicks on fraudulent sites. These have been set up with no other intention than to host adverts that are then clicked on by a programme, rather than a real person.

The tragedy is that it's made all the easier by exchange networks. These allow publishers and advertisers to trade ad space for adverts in real-time, meaning that there is no immediate human intervention in buying and planning decisions -- beyond the initial parameters set up for a campaign. From there on in, all intelligence is gleaned by looking backwards and seeing the extent of click fraud. There are, of course, good tools available to help protect against click fraud -- but they are not foolproof.

Duncan Trigg, chief executive of advertising verification service Project Sunblock, estimates that more than 1.6bn adverts are billed as having been viewed but are in fact shown to "bots." There's no real way of knowing how accurate the figure is, but that's probably the point. Many estimates hone in around an average of 20% of advertising (both display and search) resulting from bots rather than consumers, but to be honest, the simple answer is that nobody knows.

When ads are bought in real-time, nearly at the speed of light, advertisers have virtually no visibility where their brand messages are going and who, or what, is viewing them.

So there is always talk of the tools that can reveal the IP addresses responsible for click fraud and the sites that appear to show fraudulent behaviour. This can be used proactively, but as the Mercedes-Benz case showed, intelligence is often applied retrospectively to discover how much fraud occurred so more humans can be targeted to make amends.

Which brings us to the inescapable truth. If you want humans to view your marketing messages, you need humans involved in the process. Not just afterwards, of course, but in the planning and buying.

This can only be good news for native advertising. Going direct to reputable publishers and planning and buying a campaign surely must be more reliable than relying on an ad exchange to bat your message around the Net to humans and robots alike.

Native is on the rise and click fraud simply gives it more credence

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