The War On Bots: No Time For Doom & Gloom
On the heels of a bot fraud study from White Opps and the ANA, columnist Melody Gambino takes a look at how to fight back and reduce the impact of fraudsters.
Last week, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and White Ops, a leading digital ad fraud detection and prevention service, put out its annual study on digital bot fraud, which estimated a $7.2 billion loss for advertisers.
This report marked an increase from the duo’s 2015 report, which had pegged losses at $6.3 billion. Additionally, the IAB estimated $8.2 billion in losses from all fraud sources, including bots, infringed content and malware.
Digital ad fraud and viewability issues were two lightning-rod topics in digital advertising in 2015, and this report may have a disheartening effect on the industry. Many might conclude that fighting ad fraud is too difficult, if not impossible.
I’d like to take this opportunity to put the brakes on that engine of negativity before it becomes a runaway train. In this world of instant gratification, people seem to be losing the ability to cultivate patience.
Sure, everyone in our ecosystem is rightfully nervous about the fraud challenge, and we all want it to be fixed and disappear. But we all also need to take a step back, take a deep breath and exhale.
We need to remind ourselves in the midst of this type of sobering news that challenges of this dimension are not quickly and easily overcome.
To maintain the proper perspective, it would be helpful to compare the fight against bots and other digital ad fraud to the ongoing war against diseases like cancer. In recent years, the war on cancer has made great strides on the back of new technology and methodologies in health care that have made a huge impact on survival rates and longevity for those suffering.
The war has not been won completely, but we’re trending in a positive direction, and it is not unreasonable to hope and even expect that a cure for cancer is no longer a pipe dream. We must also take that long view as an industry in the fight against ad fraud.
Sure, the situation may appear bleak. It’s easy to say that the fraudsters will always be one step ahead, grabbing money out of the pockets of the consumer and the brand marketer, but it would be cowardly for us to throw up our hands and give up.
Progress is made one advertiser and one day at a time. We can win this war! We don’t need to abandon all the benefits of programmatic media in favor of direct buys as a method to avoid bots.
How Do We Win The War?
What can we do to start pushing back against the fraudsters in a meaningful way?
As a collective, be aware. Being aware and involved is the first step in decreasing your risk.
Make the distinction that an impression is not necessarily a human seeing an ad. Technically, it’s a web browser making a request to be served with an ad from an ad network, and the ad may or may not be viewed by an actual human being.
If we all agree this is true, it changes how we look at impression data. This then has a salutary effect on how impressions are valued and priced and will in real terms diminish the impact of fraud on advertisers’ bottom lines. More on this a little later.
Advertisers should also set realistic targeting choices. A common-sense look at basic demographic data tells you that there are clearly not three million Hispanic luxury-travel intenders in Arizona this week.
Many fraud-bots are heavily cookied, and while data management platforms are getting better at removing non-humans from their cookie pools, targeting multiple cookie pools at once increases the ratio of fraud-bots to humans targeted.
When your campaign is targeting hard-to-reach demographic quotas, you are opening yourself up to bots. Programmatic buys with Hispanic targeting parameters were almost twice as likely to encounter bots.
How To Reduce Your Exposure To Bot Fraud
Here are other important considerations that could potentially decrease your exposure to bot fraud:
- Consider changing your KPIs from Cost-Per-Impression and Cost-Per-Thousand to Cost-Per-Acquisition, which ensures human, not bot, impressions.
- Block regions with high rates of bot traffic. Be careful how you block. For site bot-based blacklists to be effective, they must be updated at least daily. Keyword blacklisting is more effective.
- Partner with a trusted anti-fraud partner who is working alongside the TAG (Trustworthy Accountability Group) initiative.
- Select a brand safety partner. Buy impressions only in a safe environment that blacklists harmful content, thus cutting down on the total number of impressions your fraud partner has to vet, saving you money in the process.
These measures will set you on the path to eventually minimizing the impact of bot fraud. Remember, it’s a marathon and not a sprint, but if we all stick with it for the long haul, we will overcome.