Digital ad fraud has become subtle as never before. It gains power and multiplies the spheres of its performance by implementing new digital formats. By 2023, ad fraud is estimated to cost over $65 billion, a monstrous sum and a great threat to businesses.
Entrepreneurs apply for ad verification to avoid wasting funds dedicated to advertisement promotion. What is it? How does it work? What do you need to know about digital ad fraud to save your advertising campaign from failure? Let’s flesh the term “ad verification” and clear things up.
What is Ad Fraud?
Ad fraud is a wide-ranging concept related to simulated traffic, fake impressions, clicks, and data done for revenue. Over the past few years, it hasn’t shuddered to a halt – cybercriminals continue exploiting methods to fake traffic. It is easy to fall across a fake site or an ad bot like Pay-per-click that rewards hackers for each action on a website. Ad verification is a consistent method to prevent various advertisement frauds.
What is Ad Verification?
Ad verification is a process that indicates the percentage of online ads that serve their purpose. It serves to collect metrics that reflect the ad visibility as well as to show the traffic has been on-target. It provides additional information to those given in publishing platform reports.
Ad Verification Standards
Two internationally recognized sources that issue ad verification standards are Media Rating Council (MRC) and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Platforms dealing with advertising measurement can get their technology accredited by MRC. For marketing professionals willing to understand the technology in depth, there are certifications provided by IAB.
Principle of Ad Verification
1. Confirm the traffic has a human nature
Non-human sources like click bots and web crawlers are common things for online marketing. These sources inflate the overall traffic as well as the cost of the advertisement. As a result, we have invalid traffic, also known as IVT. The tool identifies IVT by measuring the frequency of requests or identifying the IP type used for sending these queries.
2. Measure the size and the placement of ads
Running multiple advertising campaigns inevitably leads to manual mistakes. They can occur because of failures done when preparing an advertisement or while buying the campaign. For big advertisers, it is impossible to audit every single ad manually. Large platforms use web crawlers to scan their location and performance automatically.
3. Check whether the ads are visible or not
Ad visibility is a parameter that reflects the likelihood that the advertisement meets its audience. According to MRC standards, 50% of the pixels must render on the screen for at least 1 second. Only that can make an advertisement viewable. To determine visibility, advertisers add a tag on the ad that measures the activation of pixels. Large platforms like Facebook offer their solutions for checking visibility. Nevertheless, advertisers tend to use third-party measurement tools for tagging their ads.
4. Check the reliability of the platform
Advertisers need to ensure their brand is not shown along with unsuitable content when placing ads. A few years ago, brand safety was a serious challenge even for the largest companies. In 2016, Procter & Gamble boycotted YouTube because of brand safety concerns. To retain investors, YouTube hired thousands of people to filter its content manually. Text scraping and image recognition technologies made the process only easier. Thanks to more advanced technologies, protecting brand safety has become attainable. Unfortunately, it is still not guaranteed.
5. Verify the audience
By verifying ads, advertisers get information about the percentage of traffic issued by the targeted audience. Large platforms like Facebook provide access to the demographics. Google collects cookies that determine the audience segments. Targeting specific audiences, these platforms send a report on the percentage of the traffic that reached the goal. They underline that part of the traffic came from unauthentic accounts or incognito sessions.
Third-party companies and proxies for ad verification will never show a 100% accurate result. Online users tend to delete cookies and use an incognito mode making 100% thorough research impossible. Nevertheless, such an approximate measurement is quite beneficial. It can give exposure to the advertising campaign performance. Besides, the advertiser can save funds by paying only for on-target ads.
Proxy Servers and Ad Verification
Proxy servers turned out to be the leading solution for ad verification and are also known as ad proxies. For example, SmartProxy, Oxylabs, and GeoSurf. They help advertisers to detect malicious actions and improve the performance of ads.
Why do advertisers use proxies when verifying ads? Proxies allow verification vendors to bypass IP blocking by fraudsters. Fraudsters detect IPs and disrupt all attempts to stop fraudulent activity. To avoid this problem, advertisers use residential proxies. Since residential proxy IP addresses belong to real addresses, it’s incredibly difficult to ban them. In case you are tracking fraudsters for more than a day, it is better to use rotating proxies. The rotating proxy will adjust your device to a new IP address with each request you send.
Areas Detected by Ad Verification
When placing ads, companies set criteria they want to see fulfilled during the campaign. Here are some of them:
- Ad placement
- Site context
- Competitive separation
- Ad visibility
- Fraudulent activity
- Frequency cap
Let’s discuss advertising visibility, fraudulent activity, and content brand safety. Why are these spheres so important for advertisers?
Ad visibility is about whether the advertisement can be seen with a human eye – will prospective clients see it or not? This parameter includes:
- the placement of ads in the viewable space of the browser window;
- The fulfillment of pre-established criteria such as the length of time the ads are visible on screen and the percent of pixels they occupy.
Based on actual views, advertisement verification helps advertisers to calculate their reach. It gives them information about which purchases and publishers perform best. To track visibility, providers use tags that find the location of ads and identify the time the user was active there. Besides, this tool allows us to consider the percentage of the intended audience viewing the ads.
Unfortunately, ad traffic and impressions are subject to fraud activity. Here are the main fraud forms:
- Invisible and hidden ads. The advertisement designed to increase the number of customers appears technically but never meets the human eye. This method implies hiding ads, rending them behind the main page, reducing to the size of a pixel, or simply dislocating them.
- Impression laundering. This method conceals the real website of the current advertisement location so that users could never find it.
- Hijacking ads. Fraudsters steal the slot dedicated to the company’s ads, place their own over there, and generate revenue instead of a publisher.
- Hijacking clicks. This method is similar to hijacking ads, but fraudsters steal user clicks here. The attackers redirect the user’s click to a different site. Thus, they get revenue and steal prospective customers.
- Popunders. Popunders means placing pop-up ads mostly behind the main browser window. Often, this method goes along with the impression-laundering technique. It allows fraudsters to generate additional revenue.
- Bot traffic. To make the ad space of a particular site more expensive, traffic bots amp up the number of its visitors. They use a set of cloud servers, proxies, or compromised user devices for these purposes.
- Fake users. From time to time, fraudsters recourse to fake accounts to imitate human activity. Typically, this method involves malware, bots, and app-install farms. Each has a single purpose – to build large audiences of fake accounts.
- Fake installs. A group of real people serves as dedicated emulators that install apps and interact with them en masse. That is another way to imitate human activity.
Contextual brand safety
Contextual brand safety means ads should never appear next to inappropriate context. Otherwise, it will set a stamp on the company’s reputation. Companies apply keyword verification to protect the brand from the wrong location and context. This method implies monitoring specific content or keywords found on the pages.
Keyword verification is especially important to companies promoting alcoholic and pharmaceutical items. These categories of advertisement have a list of restrictions, the violation of which can result in costly fines for the company.
A great number of ad-verification providers have already introduced several categories of content. These categories can help them decide whether they see this content on pages or not. Among these categories are:
- Adult material
- Psychotropic substances
- Hate and profanity
- Copyright-infringed content
By blocking these categories, advertisers can ensure their ads will not stand on the line with undesired content. Thus, they can ensure contextual brand safety and feel secure about the company’s reputation.
Ad verification is an essential part of an advertisement to protect ads from fraudulent activity. Keeping track of traffic movement, user clicks, and audience can help advertisers detect fraudulent or malfunctioning traces. To make the process even more secure, you can use proxies for ad verification. They will rotate your IP, ensuring identity security and expanding your user opportunities.