Is ad fraud killing your marketing budget?

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Andrius PalionisAd fraud is a set of techniques that defraud digital advertising networks for financial gain and it costs more than just money. Ad fraud impedes marketing strategies and destabilises the entire online advertising industry while ruining the online experience for consumers and eroding trust.

Online ad fraud is a serious problem

Ad fraud misrepresents online advertising impressions, clicks, conversions and other data events through sophisticated techniques to manipulate the numbers. Most of these revolve around the way ads are displayed. You pay more and receive less value while filling the fraudster’s pockets with your valuable advertising pounds.

Ad fraud is everywhere, from your desktop browser to your mobile phone. Here is just a sample of some of the techniques fraudsters use to defraud unsuspecting clients:

Domain spoofing

Bids for ad space take into account placement type, website content and traffic quality. This means higher charges are levied for higher quality traffic and vice versa. Domain spoofing is used to trick advertisers into believing they’ve paid for high-quality traffic while substituting lower quality traffic through the following methods:

URL substitution

URL substitution replaces the URL of an actual placement with a false one. The result is that advertisers think they’re placing an ad on a high-value site when they’re actually bidding for space elsewhere.

Cross-domain embedding

This technique uses two websites of varying quality where fraudsters use an iframe to overlay the better quality site on top of the low-quality site. This tricks the advertiser into believing their ad is on the high-quality site.

Bots & custom browsers

This uses bots with their own customised browsers to visit sites that can change the URL of the sites they visit with a premium-site URL. This creates an illusion that the advertiser’s ad was delivered on a site that it was not placed on.

Click injection

Click injection uses malicious apps downloaded consciously or unconsciously by users that run in the background and click “invisible” ads without the user’s knowledge. Their use inflates the number of clicks and maximises revenue earned for the ad placement.

Click spamming

Click spamming produces fraudulent clicks by injecting rogue code that floods measurement systems with low-quality clicks in order to steal credit for app installs or other metrics. This is often achieved with software, however it can also be accomplished with human-powered click farms, where individuals are paid to click on ads and either install or uninstall ads to generate revenue.

Pixel stuffing

This one is particularly clever. It uses website code to cram a maximum amount of advertisements into a tiny 1×1 pixel area, allowing fraudsters to “present” many ads in an almost invisible space to get credit for maximum impressions.

Ad stacking

Like pixel stuffing, ad stacking overlays multiple ads on top of each other using website code. Visitors may see one ad, but it is on top of a stack that can generate maximum revenue from multiple ad impressions.

Ad injection

Ad injection literally “injects” ads into places where they don’t belong. Fraudsters hijack servers to slip ads into spaces that belong to different advertisements. The technique then produces non-existent clicks through browser extensions and adware plugins.

Geo masking

Costs for traffic depend on a location where some customers can generate more value than others. Geo masking is the technique where fraudsters make money by substituting location-based lower-quality traffic for higher-quality traffic.

Ad fraud is a billion-dollar problem

Experts estimate that digital advertising fraud losses will grow exponentially through 2022 from $19 billion in 2018 to $44 billion in 2022. Experts estimate that Japan has the highest ad fraud rates in addition to the United States, where close to 40% of ad impressions served in 2017 were fraudulent.

Ad verification: the ultimate solution

Ad verification verifies that the designated attributes of a served ad match specified terms laid out in the ad campaign settings. These settings could be site, geographical, and content parameters. Along with the ad, verification tags or beacons are deployed that analyse the content of the publisher’s page and ensure the site is appropriate for the ad.

Fraudsters know they are being watched and can block your IP in an attempt to evade detection. Proxies combat this issue successfully by rotating your IP addresses so you remain undetected and anonymous. Without proxies you can only detect the simplest ad fraud cases. Proxies let you access ads worldwide and prevent geo-location blocking, allowing you to check all locations. For example, if your audience is in Iceland, several proxies with at least one in Iceland will show whether the ads are being served correctly or not.

Residential proxies – the weapon of choice in the war against ad fraud

Residential proxies are a robust ad verification solution that provide unique, organic, and diversely geo-located IP addresses. They help you monitor ads without being blocked, and fight ad fraudsters effectively and anonymously.

Ad fraud is a severe problem that will erode your advertisement budget and disrupt your marketing plan. With proxies at your side, you can win the war against ad fraud and ensure your marketing plans reach their full potential.

Author: Andrius Palionis, VP Enterprise Solutions at Oxylabs

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