Invalid Traffic Is More Complicated Than You Thought

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Say you run a campaign and notice an enormous spike in views on one of your video ads. Before you start celebrating your success or call your boss to ask for a raise, you might want to do a little more research, as those views may be the result of ad fraud, not creative brilliance.

If odd outliers have flummoxed you in your campaign results, you’re not alone.

The scope of the problem

Invalid traffic (IVT) has long plagued the digital advertising industry—costing marketers all over the world billions of euros due to inflated impressions, misrepresented metrics, and inaccurate reporting. Despite notable industry steps to prevent such fraud, it has remained a significant problem for advertisers and publishers on a global scale, according to our latest benchmarks.

Germany, for example, has the highest IVT rate for desktop display and the second-highest IVT rate for desktop and mobile video among seven ‘highly developed’ advertising markets, according to Moat benchmark data.

But despite consensus in the industry that it’s a significant problem, there are still common misunderstandings about what IVT is, the differences between sophisticated and generic IVT, and how to identify and manage it accordingly.

This article will break down what you need to know about IVT to protect your budget.

What is IVT?

Invalid traffic includes any clicks or impressions caused without human intent that may artificially inflate an advertiser’s costs or a publisher’s earnings. Therefore IVT can consist of unintentional or accidental clicks as well as fraudulent activity.

And although ad fraud makes more of the headlines, it’s essential to understand the standard and relatively “harmless” forms of IVT as well.

Not all IVT is nefarious

Ad fraud is an important component of IVT. However, not all invalid traffic is fraudulent.

As an example, search engines and other legitimate entities use bots or “spiders” to crawl and index web pages, which cause non-human impressions that are considered IVT. Those functions serve a practical purpose for marketers. They categorize content, help deliver better search engine results, and drive organic traffic to sites. While that type of traffic isn’t malicious, it’s still non-human, and advertisers shouldn’t have to pay for ads delivered to a bot.

Regardless, ad fraud may be lurking within invalid traffic, driven by fraudsters determined to reap the profits from creating a false demand for your ads.

So how do you tell the difference between the two?

Types of IVT

To help distinguish between the “good” and “bad” bots, the Media Rating Council (MRC) launched the Invalid Traffic Detection and Filtration framework. It certifies the effectiveness of verification providers in measuring IVT for desktop, mobile web, video, and in-app mobile. The MRC framework defines two mutually exclusive sub-categories:

  • General Invalid Traffic (GIVT): GIVT is traffic that is identified through conventional means of filtration executed through the application of lists or with other standardized parameter checks. Examples include but are not limited to: Known data center traffic; bots, spiders, and other crawlers; activity-based filtration; and more.
  • Sophisticated Invalid Traffic (SIVT): SIVT includes difficult-to-detect situations that require advanced analytics, multi-point corroboration/coordination, and significant human intervention, among other steps, to analyze and identify. Examples include but are not limited to: bots and crawlers pretending to be legitimate users; hijacked devices and user sessions; invalid proxy traffic; and more.

Through this lens, the most significant ad fraud threats are generally SIVT because it is more complicated and harder to identify. That is why it’s essential to work with a trusted verification partner that can accurately measure your campaigns to detect any suspicious activity. Otherwise, SIVT can have expensive consequences.

The cost of IVT

eMarketer reported that advertisers lost €13.8 billion in 2018 due to ad fraud, underscoring the importance of education on IVT, so both marketers and publishers can better understand the solutions.

Take the German digital advertising market, for example. As a relatively new programmatic market, it allows savvy German marketers to adopt best practices against fraud while still early in the game. As the market continues to grow its investments in mobile and newer markets like connected TV and audio, advertisers will need to adjust the way they plan and measure their campaigns.

How to protect your budget from fraud

To safeguard your media dollars, brands and agencies need to be hyper-vigilant in fighting fraudulent enterprises. Regardless of what your campaign is trying to achieve – whether that’s generating leads, sales, or brand awareness – it’s imperative to ensure real people see your ads.

In addition to working with a proven verification partner, advertisers can take the following measures to combat IVT:

  • Define and measure metrics that matter to your team and tie them to outcomes.
  • Use IVT avoidance technology, like targeting capabilities or adblocking.
  • Set up alerts to inform campaign managers when inventory sources are reporting high IVT.
  • Collaborate with publishers to better understand the causes of IVT on their sites.
  • Test, optimize, repeat.

Tackling IVT in 2020

This year poses an exciting and potentially challenging time for the European digital ad market. Due to several global economic factors like Brexit, various research and media firms have predicted slower growth in total ad spending.

Those uncertainties mean a more rigorous approach against IVT is vital to protecting your ad budget in the programmatic world. As your marketing team formulates your digital strategy for 2020, working with a trusted verification partner can help maximize your investments and ensure real consumers see your messages and creative.


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