When you have a team this awesome, you can’t keep an entire blog to yourself. That’s why we’re starting choozlechat, a series of blog posts with contributions from Choozle thought-leaders across every team. Today we’ll dig into the complex topic of ad fraud. Have an idea for a choozlechat? Email us!
Megan Sullivan-Jenks, Director of Marketing at Choozle: First things first: what’s your favorite ice cream flavor? (Not liking ice cream is not an option.)
Hunter Phillips, Ad Operations Engineer at Choozle: Coffee.
Kendra Rizzo, Director of Ad Ops at Choozle: Salted Caramel.
MSJ: Now that that’s out of the way, how would you explain ad fraud to your grandma, or in other words, someone who knows zero about it?
HP & KR: In short, ad fraud is an umbrella term that refers to any illegitimate activity on an advertisement at the expense of the advertiser.
Imagine if you bought a billboard on a busy highway under the impression that it would be seen by 10,000 drivers a day. A week later, you find out somehow that it’s actually only being seen by 8,500 drivers a day, or even worse, maybe it was posted behind a different billboard or on a totally different, less-trafficked side street. Unfortunately, due to ad fraud, these are all possible scenarios in the digital advertising space.
In most cases, the cost of buying online ads is determined by one of two things: the number of clicks or the number of impressions. With ad fraud, the perpetrator utilizes some type of scheme to generate fake clicks or impressions that offer no benefit to the advertiser. While these are the metrics most commonly associated with fraudulent activity, it’s worth noting that ad fraud comes in many shapes and sizes and can affect a variety of different performance results.
MSJ: Some marketers and advertisers may be unaware that this even affects them. How does ad fraud sneak its way into the equation on a day-to-day basis?
HP & KR: Well, one of the greatest advantages of digital advertising is the ability to accurately measure and report on the performance of your ads in real time. It allows marketers to better optimize their campaigns and make smarter, more informed decisions. Ad fraud significantly hinders this advantage by skewing the performance metrics with fraudulent data.
Additionally, ad fraud reduces the overall return that marketers get on their ad spend. A recent study by White Ops and the ANA estimates that $6.5 billion was lost to digital ad fraud globally last year. Not only does this hurt a company’s bottom line, but it also makes it far more difficult to plan and allocate your marketing budget appropriately.
MSJ: How are you two working together to contribute to the ad fraud landscape?
HP & KR: To start, we both strive to stay educated on the latest happenings and best practices. This is key because the ad fraud landscape is extremely complex and constantly changing. There are several different types of ad fraud and we need to be experts in all of them so we can work to prevent them and properly educate our clients and co-workers.
We often meet with partners and thought-leaders to discuss ad fraud and share our own developments and findings. We work individually with each of our partners to ensure that our traffic is coming from verified supply side partners. We also work with the top companies (IAS, Doubleverify, and MOAT) in the space on a variety of different campaigns and tactics at our client’s request to add additional layers and reporting. In addition to attending industry events, we are also both active on the public AdOps slack channel as well as the AdOps subreddit. These are both great places to exchange information and ideas and helps deter ad fraud as a community.
MSJ: What has Choozle been doing as a software to combat this? And our competitors?
HP & KR: At Choozle, we understand that ad fraud is a dynamic issue so we’re continually working to improve the way our platform deals with fraudulent traffic. Currently, we employ a 3-tier fraud prevention system on all campaigns run on the platform.
The first line of defense comes from our buy-side partners. They track patterns and monitor activity across IPs, publishers, users, and supply vendors to help detect and prevent fraud. They continuously scan for signs of fraudulent traffic like high impression counts on a single page due to a bot reloading the page, domain spoofing, multiple impressions won on a single bid and bots mimicking human behavior. They are placing all of these traffic sources on a network-wide block list.
Our second level of prevention is our own. Choozle has two internal block lists to help further reduce suspicious sites and supply vendors. One is a continuously-updated internal pre-bid block list and the other is a list of historically low viewable sites. We’ve created an automated system to scan network-wide performance data and identify any suspicious inventory as either red (actionable) or yellow (cautionary). Any site or app that comes back red is automatically added to our pre-bid block list and any inventory that comes back yellow is investigated manually. This block list allows us to quickly address and remove any site that is or could be affecting our clients.
The third and final layer of our system is at the user level. As a self-service platform, we heavily encourage our clients to build and use their own block and white lists to help reduce sites they are seeing a low performance on or that they deem to be fraudulent.
Our competitors are probably employing similar tactics to identify and block suspicious IPs and inventory, but Choozle’s unique positioning in the market allows for this 3-tiered system which is fairly unprecedented in the space.
MSJ: What are the first steps to avoiding ad fraud?
HP & KR: The first step to avoiding ad fraud is understanding ad fraud. Take the time to learn about the various types and what to look for in each. So many people think that ad fraud is all clickbots but other forms like ad stacking, pixel stuffing, and domain spoofing are all prevalent contributors that should not be overlooked.
Once you’ve learned about ad fraud, take that knowledge and use it to analyze your campaign data and create comprehensive block lists. And whenever possible, optimize your campaigns for hard conversions, like sales or signups – as these types of campaigns will be much less prone to fraud.
Kendra Rizzo is the Director of Ad Operations at Choozle where she manages the AdOps team, along with heading up partnerships and technical solutions. After graduating with her MBA she joined the team at Choozle as one of the earliest employees. Kendra has previously worked on the client direct buy-side and as a website developer. When not wandering the halls of Choozle, Kendra enjoys playing hockey and golf and cooking a well-paired meal.
Hunter Phillips is the Ad Operations Engineer at Choozle where he leads efforts in the fight against ad fraud. Prior to Choozle, Hunter operated his own consultancy, helping startups implement systems and workflows to improve operational efficiency and make better use of their data. Outside of the office, he enjoys snowboarding, seeing live music, and brunching it up with the boys.