bot blog post-01Over the past few decades, the half trillion–dollar global advertising industry has made the move from analog to digital. For the most part, the shift has been beneficial—but every movement has its headwinds to battle. One of the biggies for this digital shift has been the set of challenges stemming from invalid traffic.

Invalid traffic can exist for a number of reasons, some malicious and some incidental. Many sources of invalid traffic are innocent and benign, like measurement bots and legitimate bots that provide analytics.Invalid traffic (usually caused by bots) only gets malicious when impressions artificially inflate advertiser cost and publisher revenue, but don’t translate into conversions for the advertiser.

Bots show no bias, so all ad exchanges are vulnerable to fraudulent traffic. Each ad exchange, network, and DSP has different checks and automated tools in place to detect and ban offending publishers. Unfortunately, no method is absolutely foolproof. Still, the entire industry strives to stay ahead of the fraudsters.

There is currently no way to catch or pre-filter for 100% of invalid traffic incidents, but we have found efficient ways to combat them that have minimum impact on our advertisers. In the interest of working together to create a safer industry for all advertisers and publishers, we’ve outlined what we learned along the way. We hope these recommendations will help other networks and DSPs curb the effects of invalid traffic:

  • Do right by your customers. Advertising companies should have a policy of repaying the advertisers impacted by an invalid traffic issue, no questions asked. Being honest and open and always doing right by the customer have been AdRoll’s core values since the beginning. They have gone a long way to building trust within our community.
  • Find the root of the issue. At the first sign of an incident, all partners involved, including the advertiser, should investigate which publishers are causing the invalid traffic. These publishers could be blocked immediately, but this would give the fraudulent publishers a warning and encourage them to find another way. An alternate approach is to let the ads serve on affected sites, but stop payment to the fraudulent publisher. This way the publisher is not forewarned, but the advertiser won’t get charged.
  • Prepare for the future. Make sure that you have a trust and safety team in place that can jump in immediately. In case of an incident, they will do everything needed to stop it, then dedicate their ongoing time and resources to review inventory quality. You can also work with partners such as The Media Trust to verify advertiser and publisher content.
  • Bring security and analytics together. By analyzing patterns of safe traffic vs. invalid traffic, multiple methods to detect invalid traffic could surface. Advertising companies should check for the timestamp between the impression being served and the ad being clicked: too little or too much time is a red flag. Compare the IP addresses of the ad impression and the ad click: bots might end up having different IP addresses. Networks should fine-tune these algorithms frequently to detect more patterns  and identify checks that result in a large number of false positives.
  • Work with supply partners to prevent invalid traffic. DSPs, networks , and supply partners should work hand-in-hand to ensure that they are doing their part to pre-filter suspicious publishers.

At AdRoll, we put our customers first. We will continue to optimize the checks and balances we have in place to deliver the highest quality ad inventory. Invalid traffic affects the entire advertising industry and, while there is no current solution for compromised inventory, we believe driving awareness and transparency is the first step in combatting the issue.

To learn more about protecting yourself from invalid traffic, visit our support center here.