Falling web ad prices sounds like good thing for advertisers, but the secret tax you may be paying is fewer actual impressions. We all know that CPC advertising can be exploited by bots, making it look like ads are getting click traffic when they’re actually not. CPM seemed to be the smarter way to pay: by impression, and not by click.
But now, like a sequel to a bad ‘80s movie, the bots are back. Those clever scammers are wreaking havoc on CPM and making it look like ads are being viewed when they aren’t. Behold, a few tricks of the ad-scam trade:
- Behind the curtain: An entire site is shrunk to a 1×1 pixel (the Internet equivalent to the head of a pin) and hidden onto a high traffic site featuring popular material like music lyrics or porn. It looks like your ad is being seen, but the viewer is really looking at … well, let’s not go there. Suffice it to say, in this case, size does matter.
- Tetris for scammers: The scammer is hiding, or “stacking” one ad behind another. In this case, the videos are all playing to completion, but the action is happening where the user can’t see it, often in inactive tabs.
- Flash in the scam: Ads run on accelerated schedules or in inactive tabs, so ad calls are refreshed more often than the user can process them.
- Now you see it, now you don’t: As many ads as possible are running out of view so you get charged for “view through attribution” on a closed loop success metric, but no real people view your ads.
No group is going to fess up to engaging in this kind of behavior, but fraud is rampant on lots of networks, DSPs and trading desks. It’s possible for this to happen without the knowledge of the perpetrator, so it’s important to choose your partners carefully and be sure you’re doing business with people who acknowledge click fraud and will be proactive about making sure it doesn’t happen to you.
Three simple ways to protect yourself from impression fraud: buy closed exchange, buy based on transparency, and buy from trusted vendors. The truth is, if you’re looking for bargain basement prices, you’re probably not getting much for your money — that’s the hidden tax you pay when you buy dirt-cheap. A better way is to spend your ad dollars on a vendor you trust, who won’t give you convoluted explanations and complex excuses. Remember to trust your gut. If things don’t sound right to you, they’re probably not. My rule of thumb is, if technology can’t be explained simply, it should be questioned.