Much like traditional classifieds, the cost an advertiser pays to get space on someone’s website or content is directly related to how much traffic that content can expect to see. In the digital world, however, “subscribers” are replaced by impressions, or the number of users a particular ad will be viewed by when they go to their favorite site.
Unfortunately, current advertising methods make it easy for unethical web developers or advertising networks to “fake” traffic, allowing them to charge a premium for a high traffic site, but one without many human users. They accomplish this through the use of increasingly clever bots, or computer programs, that mimic humans browsing a site. Unsuspecting companies then pay for this increased traffic, only to discover later that much of it came from a computer and not someone that they can convert into a customer.
Fraudulent Traffic: A Growing Trend In 2015
According to a study by the Association of National Advertisers, the number of sites employing fraudulent bot programs is increasing and likely to cost advertisers worldwide more than 6.3 billion dollars. By monitoring 181 digital campaigns, their study found that bot activity accounted for:
- 11% of display ad impressions
- 23% of video ad impressions
In a separate study “The Bot Baseline: Fraud In Digital Advertising,” they discovered that the numbers were even less favorable for companies who paid for sourced traffic from a third party. Using this method, nearly 52% of all paid sourced content actually originated from bots and not from the users the advertiser assumed that they were buying.
Due to the increasing sophistication and prevalence of these user-spoofing bots, the Association of National Advertisers only expects this trend to increase in the coming year.
The Value Of Organic Traffic
While advertising can be an effective tool to get your brand in front of new customers, it should not be the only method you employ. Despite the increasing popularity of mobile apps, many customers still turn to Google when they start researching products or services they’re interested in buying. Having your content rank well in search is an effective way to improve your impressions and drive actual customers to your website instead of non-consumer bots.
Advertising networks and advertising associations are working together to make bot-nets less effective, but it won’t be easy. The thieves and companies creating these networks are also working to build more effective tools. Since most bot traffic comes from hijacked residential computers, the simplest way to minimize your risk of bot fraud is to only advertise during the day or when your target audience will be the most active. Companies or websites offering advertising should be transparent about where their traffic is sourced from, and clear language concerning anti-fraud policies and protections should be present in the terms and conditions of their agreements.
It’s not possible to completely protect your digital advertising budget from bot networks, but by taking a few steps before signing an agreement, you can go a long way towards minimizing your risk.