Digital advertising is a big part of marketing for many businesses online. In order to increase traffic and spread awareness of their brand, most companies will buy digital traffic from advertisers. These ad companies promise that their ads are delivered to humans.
Naturally, businesses assume that all the traffic they receive is 100% human. But is it really?
What the Experts Say
White Ops is an ad fraud detection firm. In 2014, it tracked the online ads of 36 major brands in the United States for one month. At the end of 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that 11% of ads displayed online for those 36 brands were shown to bots. The percentage of of video ads affected by bot traffic was 23% – more than double that first number.
Fraudulent bot traffic has become such a huge problem that the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has set up an anti-fraud division. Its aim is to stop fraudsters who deliver bot traffic instead of real human traffic.
In fact, the IAB has reported a much more sinister motive to bot traffic: it funds criminals. The white paper that accompanied their press release claims that these criminals infect PCs with malware. The malware is delivered through a link in an advertisement that the customer thinks is legitimate. They click on the link, and are taken to a compromised site. Their computer is instantly infected.
The malware is activated by the bot controller. When someone purchases digital advertising from a storefront online, the malware is used to deliver impressions. These impressions look legitimate to the person who bought them. They show up when the person checks their stats. But in reality all they’ve done is give their credit card information to criminals, and paid for fraudulent advertising.
That seems far-fetched. It’s easy to chalk that up to a conspiracy theory. But in reality, everyone who buys ad impressions is affected by bots. Even trustworthy advertising companies use bots to deliver traffic. In that same article linked to previously, the WSJ said that bot traffic was found on the top 1000 sites on the internet.
Why Use Bots?
You’re probably wondering why advertising companies would use bots instead of just delivering real human traffic. The reasons are simple.
- Bots can be programmed to mimic human behavior. That’s why the statistics seem legitimate to the person who is buying the traffic.
- Bots don’t tire. A human will get up and go to bed, or be away from the computer for a while. A bot can deliver traffic 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Bots are cheaper than human traffic. They deliver a better ROI for the advertising company and the marketer.
Most marketers expect a certain ROI percentage from digital advertising. Once advertising companies find out what it is, they will use bots to either deliver all of the traffic, or fill in the gaps left from human traffic. Both parties get what they want, and one is none the wiser.
How to Get Your Money’s Worth
Start by diversifying your advertising methods.So many businesses are so focused online they’re forgetting about traditional media. Print isn’t dead. It’s still pretty powerful, and it’s becoming more and more inexpensive.
That doesn’t mean you should give up on digital advertising. Just find a company that has ways to combat digital advertising fraud. There are companies that are improving their own digital advertising structure to address this problem. RevTap describes the use of captcha to stop fraudulent bot activity. There are some bots that can enter captcha codes but these codes are specifically designed for human interaction.
Bots can’t read colors or pictures, or words printed on sweatshirts. They can’t watch videos and answer questions. But humans can. Those are the types of captcha codes that they use. This ensures that all of the traffic they deliver is 100% human traffic.
Your advertising dollars are important. Don’t waste them on bots. Double check the background of any advertising company before you spend your money. Don’t just blindly go with the company with the cheapest price. Go with the one that can guarantee you human traffic – and is making an effort to actually deliver it to you.