Business owners focus on gaining new customers from the very first day they open the doors. While all owners share the same focus, how they go about achieving that goal varies. Some rely on word of mouth. Others put their faith in paid advertising. Still, some use one of the multiple other strategies available today.
For those who have elected to go the paid advertising route, specifically using mobile channels, have you ever stopped to think about how much of your budget is lost to mobile ad fraud?
It’s a scary thought: you’ve worked hard to generate revenue and you’ve finally reached the point where you can spend on ads. However, once your campaign goes live it is bombarded by bots and fake clicks and views. You’re spending money serving impressions that will never convert. Talk about waste!
For advertisers that don’t have the resources of Madison Avenue behind them, learning how to identify fraud in mobile campaigns is a wise business decision.
Know Industry Standards
One of the first lines of defense against mobile ad fraud is understanding industry standards. By identifying standards and using them as a benchmark you can begin to quickly spot outliers in your own campaigns.
The Click-Through Rate, or CTR, is a common metric that provides insight as to how many users have clicked on a link out of all those who viewed the advertisement. The first step is to identify the average mobile CTR for your particular industry. It is then up to you to analyze each campaign to determine if you are aligned with the industry benchmarks or overperforming.
While many of us like to overperform, having a higher than average CTR may be a sign of fraud. An advertiser in the finance industry using Google search should expect to see a 4.57% CTR and 0.53% for display ads on mobile at the time of writing. If you are seeing a CTR more than a few points above these averages, it’s time to start thinking about fraud.
Check the Operating System Distribution
Look at campaign data to determine if an unusually high percentage of conversions are coming from a particular operating system (OS). If you see that a majority of your conversions, or worse, all of them, are coming from a single OS then you may have a problem.
Fraudsters tend to target Android devices over iOS. In Q4 2018 Android devices experienced a 26.2% mobile ad fraud rate. For iOS, the rate was 15.9%. While it may not be appropriate to completely shut off all of your campaigns targeting Android devices, it is critical to understand the risks for each OS.
Monitor for VPNs and Proxies
Click fraud is a tried and true method used by fraudsters. The bad actor will click on ads to receive compensation. It may not sound complex, but it is extremely lucrative and can eat away at a marketing budget.
VPNs and proxies are used to hide the true identity and location of a user. Combining a proxy or VPN with a botnet can make detecting fraud very difficult. One method of fighting back is identifying and blocking proxies. Proxy detection tools, such as those offered by IPQS and other vendors, can provide connection details and an overall risk score of the connection.
Be Proactive to Avoid Mobile Ad Fraud
The above-mentioned steps will help you use the data at your disposal to identify ad fraud. However, you’ve likely noticed these are all reactionary tactics. By the time you see a 35% CTR, for example, the fraud has already occurred.
Fighting mobile ad fraud requires a strong defense and offense. In addition to looking at your campaign data, the following tactics can also be used to help prevent fraud before it ever takes place.
Work With Reputable Vendors
“Trust, but verify” should be the official mantra for anyone running mobile ad campaigns. The ability to verify results will largely depend on the partners you work with.
Transparency has been a buzzword in the advertising industry as of late. Don’t let a vendor throw around the word without providing concrete examples of how they deliver that transparency. Do they work directly with publishers or source inventory through an open programmatic exchange? What fraud detection solutions do they implement? Will they provide you with log-level data to analyze each and every impression?
Ask About App-Ads.Txt
The IAB Tech Lab has been working hard to develop standards and tools that can help fight ad fraud. App-ads.txt was released earlier this year and is intended to prevent bad actors from pretending to be something they are not (such as a quality app publisher).
While not a panacea, you should ask the vendors and app publishers that you work with about their adoption of app-ads.txt. Every little bit helps in the battle against ad fraud.
If All Else Fails…Stop Everything
If you suspect fraud is eating up your mobile ad budget then one approach is to turn off all of your campaigns. Add them back one by one and monitor the results. Campaigns that present a high fraud risk should be removed completely.
It may be tough for many business owners to cease all campaigns and conduct this review. However, it is better than wasting your budget on ads being served to bots.
Ad fraud is a 24x7x365 battle. Too much money stands to be made from fraud for bad actors to get lazy. In the first half of the year alone, advertisers lost $2.3 billion to mobile ad fraud. As a business owner, you must always be asking questions of your team and vendors. Where is the money going? What is the risk of fraud on those channels? What measures are being taken to prevent fraud before it happens and then to identify the fraud that gets through?
Mobile advertising can be challenging, but also rewarding. Stay vigilant, ask questions, and work hard to ensure your ad budget is working for you and not someone else.
For those of you that have fought mobile ad fraud, I’d love to hear what works and what doesn’t. Do you use any third-party vendors that have been especially useful? Please share in the comments and let’s get a conversation started!