I know ad fraud exists — I even wrote about it last week. Still, this Digiday interview with a former web traffic buyer lays it out so plainly that it made me shudder. It’s one thing to know this kind of thing happens, and another to read about it in such clear terms. In this guy’s words: “If you’re buying visits for less than a penny, there’s no way you don’t understand what’s going on.” And, “There are so many ways they could police this, but the incentive just isn’t there.”
The full article, Confessions of a Fake Web Traffic Buyer, is definitely worth a read. Here’s one of the more disturbing quotes that shows ad networks know exactly what they’re doing: “You can tell it’s bot traffic just by looking at the analytics. We’d see a traffic spike in our real-time analytics dashboard and then we would see all of our traffic for the day serve in a couple of hours, or it would all come from users using the same really old version of Internet Explorer. Almost all our users had Flash versions from 2003, according to Google Analytics. That just doesn’t happen with real users.”
So why isn’t this kind of fraud stopped? Here’s why: “Unfortunately we couldn’t go out and prove categorically that these were bots. We couldn’t find a smoking gun.”
Having worked for larger/older publishing groups in the past, I say with confidence that this type of fraud never happened with us. My opinion is that this fraud is happening with more of the web-only publications that have to buy traffic to inflate numbers to make the economics of RTB work.
If we keep hearing about this, then maybe we will eventually find that smoking gun. Until then, how do you protect yourself? I’ll repeat my last blog post: Ask questions. Keep digging, and if you don’t think you’re getting a straight answer, move on to someone who’ll give you one. Here’s a list of questions that should get you started.