The Ad Fraud Scam that Wasted $7 Million of Advertiser’s Budgets
In April this year, “The Traffic Alchemist” was exposed as one of the biggest online traffic scams to date. Discovered by Protected Media, a global provider of anti-fraud solutions, the scam disguises junk traffic as views from reputable sites. Junk traffic- a term used for traffic originating from porn and torrent sites, was disguised as traffic from high ranking sites, like Google and Twitter. The scam was able to evade detection because it involved real users and not bots. The scam managed to burn through $7,000,000 in one month.
This scam opens up a discussion about the use of online media. Crowned as the fastest growing media innovation in history, digital has surpassed TV and is now the top advertising category in the world, according to the New York Times. This incredible growth bred a whole market of fake results payed for by clients. These “views” are web-surfing algorithms that mimic human traffic and hijack web browsers.
An annual “Bot Traffic Report” by Incapsula revealed that in 2016 51.8% of online traffic was driven by bots (fake traffic). 28.9% of that traffic was considered to be malicious bots which include impersonators, spammers and hackers. In addition, Global Web Index reported that approx. 40% of the worlds web browsers have some sort of ad blocker installed. This trend of blocking ads is a huge issue for the internet. (These ads we are blocking pay for videos, news, email, maps and music. If we all use ad blockers, many of these services will cease to exist.)
“The Traffic Alchemist scam is unusual not because of the sophistication of one single technique but because it combines several methods together to keep the fraudulent activity under the radar”, said Asaf Greiner, CEO of Protected Media
In a recent study, the Association of National Advertisers estimates that bot fraud will cost brands $7.2 billion globally this year. “The Traffic Alchemist scam is unusual not because of the sophistication of one single technique but because it combines several methods together to keep the fraudulent activity under the radar”, said Asaf Greiner, CEO of Protected Media.
As marketers aim to target more specific audiences and hold higher expectations of media performance, fraudulent traffic will continue to grow. But don’t be discouraged from buying online media. Here are a few warning signs you can look for when look at your ads:
Once you have been granted access to analytics, check the following factors in the Audience Overview.
· Bounce Rate: An extremely high Bounce Rate may be cause for concern.
· Pages/Session: An extremely low Pages/Session may be cause for concern.
· Avg. Session Duration: An extremely short Avg. Session Duration may be cause for concern.
· New Sessions: An extremely high percentage of New Sessions may be cause for concern. Likewise, an extremely low percentage of New Sessions may also be cause for concern.
Three other Google Analytics’ Audience Overview metrics which can be helpful in identifying fake traffic are Language, Country, and City. You should be looking to see if the sessions are consistent with the content of the website. For example, if the website content is aimed primarily at an english language audience, but it is receiving significant amount of it’s traffic from primarily non-english speaking countries, this may be cause for concern.
Finally, in addition to analytics you can also check onsite factors for signs of user interaction. For example, if a site is claiming a high number of unique visitors but none of the articles on the site are being commented on, and/or the social networking accounts have little to no interaction, this may be cause for concern.