The world of online advertising is facing one big issue today: fraud. Fraud is the industry’s biggest problem right now and it’s causing advertisers to worry. In 2015, an estimated $18.5 billion was lost to ad fraud. The main problems come from malware and fake traffic.
Only recently have advertisers realized how much of an issue fake traffic really is. In 2013, Heineken USA launched an online advertising campaign. They were shocked to find that only 20% of the impressions were even seen be a real person. Last year, Chrysler tracked a video ad campaign and found only 2% of the video views registered as human. Obviously, this is a huge issue. Advertisers want a return on their investment, and they want to know that their ads are seen by actual people and not robots.
Fake traffic is usually facilitated by malware. Malware is any type of code that doesn’t do what it’s intended to do. Essentially, it’s anything trying to hijack the ad call or ad process. Redirects are the most common. Other types of malware include Trojans and viruses. A Trojan is a malicious computer program disguised as a useful and legitimate software. A virus is a program or piece of code that is loaded onto your computer and runs without you knowing it.
Trojans and viruses collect personally identifiable information or use your computer for their purposes. Malware results in a lot of fake traffic. The malicious program can get on your computer and use your browser without you even knowing it. That browser will go to a website hundreds or thousands of times to collect advertising dollars. This is fake traffic, and very illegal!
The important thing to know is that most malware attaches to your browser. They can be installed on your browser as an extension or add-on. That means as a publisher, your readers can be having problems with redirects or malware because of their browser, not necessarily because of your site. If readers are experiencing these issues, we recommend you have them clear their cache and cookies, and check any extensions or add-ons they have.
As a website, you should do the same. Get rid of plugins you don’t use anymore. Uninstall any unnecessary extensions. All a plugin or extension does is plug you into someone else’s data stream. So if you’re plugged in and that data stream has a vulnerability, you now have a vulnerability. These vulnerabilities may open you up to malware attacks. One of the easiest ways to avoid problems with malware is to only use extensions and plugins that you trust and use frequently.
Advertisers have lost a lot of money from fake traffic. Google tries to monitor fake traffic and shut it down, but the industry is so huge it’s hard to track it all. Just on Google alone, there are 40,000 search queries every second, which comes out to be about 4.3 billion searches every day. That’s a lot of traffic to monitor.
Google is cracking down hard on fraudulent traffic. The company has an entire team dedicated to monitoring traffic across their ad network. Google has online filters that continually look for indications of fake traffic. Google tracks IP addresses. If the same IP address is continually clicking on an ad, that can be an indicator of fake traffic. Google also monitors if IP addresses are clicking at odd hours of the day, or if a site experiences abnormal click-through rates. When Google identifies fake traffic coming from malware, it is immediately shut down.
Fake traffic is not something you want to mess around with. Google isn’t known for being very forgiving when it comes to fraud. If a website is caught trying to use fake traffic, the website will be blacklisted. Once that site is blacklisted, they’re basically off the Internet. Google blacklists nearly 10,000 websites every day. The blacklist will usually stay with the URL. So even if a user makes changes to the website, they may never be able to use that URL again.
Because the online advertising industry is so large, fraud may always be a problem. Search engines like Google are constantly trying to monitor the problem, but with millions of URLs and billions of searches happening daily it’s hard to completely stop the problem. Our advice for publishers is this: Don’t mess around with fake traffic. Keep a clean site and avoid unnecessarily plugins and extensions. Clear your cache frequently and make sure your computer is protected. Doing these things will help you avoid run-ins with nasty viruses and malware.
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