How Identifying Quality Publishers Helps Minimize Ad Fraud
This piece was first published in Talking New Media.
A simple question
A couple of years ago, Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, asked me a simple question:
What could the Alliance for Audited Media do to help minimize digital fraud and improve assurance in digital advertising?
At the time, AAM had just merged with a company that had deep experience in digital ad technology auditing, including pre-assessment work on MRC measurement audits and IAB certifications. Combined with AAM’s expertise auditing website traffic of hundreds of digital publishers, our team of 150 media assurance professionals took a fresh look at the challenge.
Get ready to slap someone
When you dig deeply into digital ad fraud, it’s tempting to turn tail and run. The ad ecosystem is complex, and consequently, there has been little to no transparency into how things work. The key decision-making metrics aren’t always accurate. And the industry has an inertia to work the way it works. Some say ad fraud is just part of how things work, some level of fraud is acceptable, and we should get over it because we can’t do anything about it.
That’s the problem. Accepting outright fraud in digital advertising allows it to exist and grow. So, please slap the next person who says ad fraud is acceptable. Please slap them twice. Once for you and once for me. This is serious money leaking out of the media ecosystem, and there is definitely something we can do about it.
A few fraud flavors
As auditors, we see the many flavors of fraud ranging from directly intentional to vaguely unintentional. We’ve all heard stories of ad fraud that is perpetuated from garage-based hackers located in far-off locations. And some of the fraudsters are there for sure, and these are the intentional types who know exactly what they are doing.
But fraud might even be facilitated by publishers' own employees when good business practices are not well defined. If, for example, aggressive revenue targets are set with no rules against buying traffic, someone in revenue ops might be tempted to buy the traffic outright, instead of using legitimate digital marketing tactics. And even when the traffic supplier appears to be reputable, this practice often introduces high levels of non-human traffic to campaigns. If a publisher’s site experiences traffic spikes at the end of the month in the middle of the night, you can be fairly sure that this is not human traffic. Humans don’t rally that way on the internet.
Buying traffic invites the very kind of bot fraud that we are trying to stop. And while it may boost revenues in the short term, it hurts both advertisers and publishers in the long term. Clearly defining good business practices in detail is key to maintaining high quality and protecting the reputations of good publishers.
Inertia has made it too tempting and easy to commit fraud. It’s kind of like leaving a big pile of money on a table in the center of Grand Central Terminal and expecting it to be there the next day. Without safeguards, there will always be people who find ways to take advantage of the system. That’s how the industry has been operating. We need to change that by addressing the full spectrum of fraud. We know how to put safeguards in place. Now is the time to do it.
Back to the basics
Advertisers deserve better assurance that their money is invested wisely. And good publishers deserve more credit than they get for doing the right things to deliver quality audiences. At AAM we are focused on connecting the two through AAM Quality Certification.
AAM Quality Certification is a publisher-focused certification program that ensures publishers are doing the right things to provide advertisers with quality audiences. The program uses a preventative, holistic approach that connects marketers with AAM Quality Certified publishers to support a clean ecosystem and to help them reach valid audiences. It drives ROI for advertisers and revenue for quality publishers.
An AAM Quality Certified publisher undergoes continuous verification that their systems and people are in sync to deliver what they promise to advertisers. These publishers participate in the following steps to verify the credibility of their website:
- Process review: AAM’s digital auditing experts review the publisher’s business processes and adherence to industry best practices. This is a critical step that validates that a publisher is doing the right things from a people and management perspective.
- Quantity validation: The publisher’s website is continuously monitored by AAM auditors with advanced technology to verify proper implementation of third party analytics packages (i.e., Google Analytics, Adobe), which validates the publisher’s key website metrics.
- Quality audience validation: At the same time, the publisher’s website is also continuously monitored by AAM auditors with advanced technology to verify that it has low levels of invalid traffic. Said another way, this step ensures that the audience delivered is highly human versus robotic. During this process AAM helps the publisher mitigate any identified issues as well.
AAM Quality Certification separates the wheat from the chaff. It’s what AAM has always provided publishers and media buyers. Through Quality Certification, advertisers can trust publishers and the audiences that they deliver. And premium publishers can stand out and get the credit they deserve from advertisers.
The ANA is calling for all publishers to become third-party verified through AAM Quality Certification. It’s time for the industry to regain trust and credibility through this program.