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3 misleading metrics that could destroy your advertising budget

3 misleading metrics that could destroy your advertising budget Richard Murphy

Ad fraud has put marketers in a tight spot. For every $3 marketers spend on digital advertising, $1 goes to fraudsters.

It's a systemic challenge with no easy answers. With more than 40 percent of internet users opting for ad blockers, some unscrupulous publishers are shoring up their ad revenues with fraud-heavy paid traffic solutions.

Marketers don't want to pay for fraudulent impressions, but they also can't postpone their campaigns until the industry defeats ad fraud once and for all. Until that time, a marketer's best solution is to minimize their exposure to ad fraud by knowing where to look for it.

Where does ad fraud hide?

Ad fraud stems from invalid traffic, and misleading impressions data perpetuates it. So if you're concerned that your company's online ad performance isn't what it should be, pay attention to these commonly misleading advertising metrics:

Served impressions

According to some sources, bot traffic makes up nearly half of internet traffic, which means many ad requests stem from bot-initiated page loads. Unfortunately, served impressions make it tough to distinguish bot "views" from human views.

Served impressions can deceive advertisers at every level of the food chain. Just two percent of the impressions on a Chrysler video ad on lifestyle site Saveur.tv were human, according to a 2015 study performed by White Ops and the Association of National Advertisers. If a corporation like Chrysler can be victimized by ad fraud, so can any other brand.

Fortunately, viewable impressions data offers a clearer picture of ad effectiveness. Because viewer engagement rises with time spent viewing an ad, brands should emphasize viewable impressions rather than served impressions. For instance, a consumer should spend four seconds or more viewing a banner ad to achieve a 25 percent chance the ad will convert the viewer, according to Cadreon.

Thankfully, the industry has begun to move toward viewable impressions. Facebook, for instance, announced last fall that it will combat ad fraud by offering advertisers verified, fully viewable impressions. As publishers follow Facebook's lead, viewable impression metrics will gain even greater traction.

Viewable mobile impressions

Viewable impressions are an important step forward from served impressions, but platform matters. Viewable mobile impressions can be a volatile metric for advertisers, with a mobile ad's impression figures varying up to 54 percent depending on the measurement technique used. Marketers should beware of the risks of measuring viewable mobile impressions, but they shouldn't discount the metric entirely -- it'll play an increasingly important role in measuring digital marketing campaigns.

Raw traffic numbers

Marketers who employ third parties to drive ad traffic must be particularly weary of ad fraud, according to the aforementioned White Ops and ANA report.

The organizations' research showed that sourced traffic had three times the average number of bot occurrences than non-sourced traffic. Sourced traffic providers defraud clients with rotating ads on sites that are thin on non-advertising content and redirect traffic to increase revenue, according to DoubleVerify, Inc. 

If you currently use sourced traffic, move away from this model to guard against bot traffic.

Avoiding ad fraud

As technology advances in the fight against ad fraud, so will fraudsters' strategies for avoiding detection. However, there are a few steps you can take today to protect yourself from ad fraud.

  • Begin by ditching cost-per-impression (CPM) campaigns. CPM strategies have been the go-to for advertisers in recent years, but advertisers should avoid them because they incentivize publishers to pursue scale at all costs, which leads to bot traffic overrunning those ads.  
  • Additionally, use ad-fraud detection services. White Ops, Forensiq, Integral Ad Science, Double Verify, Inc., and other fraud detection companies have improved their software and can now catch a majority of manipulative, bot-like activity.
  • To further cut fraud from your marketing campaigns, take care when transacting in the programmatic exchange. Be sure to vet programmatic partners for how they source inventory and measure conversions. 

Online advertising is one of marketers' best strategies to reach today's customers, but it's also become a haven for online scammers. While the industry mobilizes to destroy ad fraud at its source, marketers must ensure they're vetting advertising partners thoroughly, placing ads carefully, and measuring results with metrics that guard against ad fraud.

Richard Murphy is a senior vice president at BPA Worldwide, a not-for-profit assurance services provider that performs third-party media audits to verify audience data used in the buying and selling of advertising. Richard is a certified public...

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