These aren't the impressions you are looking for

Mar 10, 2014

On any given day at any advertising agency in the world, someone is pitching, ordering or counting digital impressions. Whether these impressions are on networks, portals or content websites, people generally believe that they are being viewed by a human being on the other side. Advertisers put their faith in the system.

To start, we can acknowledge that this assumption is flawed and that the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), the digital trade group of choice, specifically covers this in their definition of an impression.

“Impression is a measurement of response from a Web server to a page request from a user browser.”

Let’s leap ahead to a more persistent problem that could leave us questioning our faith in digital inventory. How many day-to-day impressions are connected to a real person? It turns out, not as many as we would like. Fraud is an increasing issue in the digital world and we are seeing up to a quarter of our inventory being fraudulently delivered.

“What we have found is the devaluation of digital media is causing us to lose about 25 percent of the roughly $30 billion that is being spent,” stated Wenda Millard, president of Medialink, in an interview addressing the fraudulent nature of the today’s web advertising.

How is this fraud occurring?

  • Sites are hiding an ad behind another ad to boost inventory.
  • Lower quality sites will spoof their domain to trick networks into believing they are a high-quality site.
  • Using bots to boost traffic and simulate honest user behavior.

Take the example of, a popular male-focused website. In a recent Adweek article, “False Traffic is Causing a Crisis for Advertisers”, was reviewed in an analysis by Harvard business administration professor Ben Edelman. Edelman found that was loading their site invisibly, primarily using iframes, onto other sites. So while the traffic would report back as if it was from, it was actually being loaded onto other sites.

How do we avoid digital fraud?

  • Utilize trusted partners. Companies who are currently operating in the media space have a vested interest in maintaining their reputation.
  • Be wary of those sites or networks who won’t disclose where your ads are running. The nature of networks often leaves us targeting an audience and not a particular site, but a trusted company should be able to showcase their site list prior to the campaign or as a domain report post-launch.
  • Question where a site’s traffic is originating from. Is the site pulling traffic from trusted sources like Google and Facebook or driving traffic directly to their site? Or, are they paying for traffic to their site and increasing the chances of bot-driven traffic that will keep us from reaching our intended human audience.
  • Set campaign goals. In the IAB report “Traffic Fraud: Best Practices for Reducing Risk to Exposure” (Jan 2014), it is advised that buyers set specific objectives for a campaign and then examine those goals to see if they leave the campaign open to fraud. For example, behaviors like purchases and subscriptions are more likely to indicate human interaction, while behaviors like ad views, clicks and click through rates can be easier for bots to fake.
  • Be willing to pay the real price for an effective campaign. A targeted campaign on premium sites will cost more but will offer more assurances of non-fraudulent delivery.

Our digital world is steadily becoming more complex, but there is help. If you are interested in connecting with premium local-news sites to secure an impactful campaign, contact MANSI Media.

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