Advertisers spend $455 billion in online advertising per year and $42 billion of it lost due to ad fraud in 2019, according to Juniper Research. In addition, the Wall Street Journal reported that 28% of all web traffic likely comes from “non-human” bots.
Why hasn’t ad fraud been stopped yet?
In short, it’s still difficult to detect.
Fraudsters are using far more sophisticated techniques today than in the earlier days of the web and a single advertiser can run millions of ad impressions across hundreds of websites, making it extremely difficult to spot irregularities at such a large scale.
It’s not a secret that ad fraud remains a major problem. But are advertisers aware of it and, if so, are they doing anything about it?
What is ad fraud?
Ad fraud is a means to defraud advertisers by using techniques that inflate the total number of ad clicks or views for financial gain.
With click fraud, malicious actors can employ robots or low-wage workers to repeatedly click on ads illegally. Unaware of the fraud, advertisers then pay for the clicks as if they were real humans with actual buyer intent.
Another type of ad fraud, impression fraud, is often done by serving ads in places that are invisible to the human eye. This can be done by stacking ads on top of one another, loading them in tiny iframes, or serving them in the background of a mobile application.
Here are a few of the most common types of ad fraud today:
- Ad Stacking: Multiple ads are stacked on top of one another where only the top ad is visible, however advertisers are charged for the non-viewable ads.
- Pixel Stuffing: A malicious publisher loads ads, or an entire website, inside a 1×1 pixel. The ads are non-visible to the human eye.
- Click Farms: Attackers hire a group of individuals whose job it is simply to click on ads throughout the day. Click farms use techniques that give the impression that each click is from a different user and device.
- Click Bots: One of the most popular methods of click fraud is done by web robots. These bots can be simple programs that click on ads repeatedly or they can be large operations that are installed with malware on user’s devices and click on ads unknowingly in the background.
- Location Fraud: The geographic location of ads are spoofed using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This makes ads appear to be shown in a more desirable location, such as in the US, despite actually being shown in a less desirable country.
- Video Viewing Fraud: The popularity of video channels can be easily faked to appear more appealing to advertisers, much like social media followers. Advertisers ultimately end up paying based on the view counts which a large portion of may not be from real humans.
- Affiliate Ad Fraud: Fraudsters manipulate the cookies on a user’s device to wrongly credit an associated affiliate as the source of purchase without the user’s knowledge.
- Source Spoofing: The data detailing where an advertisement ran is altered to appear as a more trustworthy publisher or mobile app.
- Domain Spoofing: The domain name is changed to falsely appear as if the ad came from a more premium site, such as changing from junknewssite.com to WSJ.com.
Visit here for more details on the different types of ad fraud.
Ad fraud still remains a large concern for advertisers
In the new survey, PPC managers were asked about their awareness of ad fraud, their overall level of concern and, what role in marketing they held to see if there was any correlation.
The vast majority of all respondents, 70%, stated they were somewhat or very concerned about ad fraud.
The survey also showed that more experienced marketers had a larger concern about fraud. These particular respondents may be able to identify fraud more frequently due to their dedicated marketing and analytics experience relative to more general business owners and consultants.
Ad fraud continues to significantly impact campaign performance
All respondents to the survey had direct experience managing PPC ad campaigns and most of them reported seeing a large amount of fraud.
74% of those respondents experienced more than five percent of fraud in their ad campaigns and an incredible 11% of marketers experienced greater than 25% of fraud. Even a small amount of fraud can have a tremendous impact on an advertiser’s budget and performance.
The types of ad fraud, and their marketing channels, still vary wildly
Historically, click bots were often the most commonly mentioned type of fraud, but today the survey shows “ad stacking” and fraudulent URL sources as the most common problems for PPC managers.
Click bots and “pixel stuffing” were the third and fourth most commonly mentioned and over 10% stated that competitors clicking their ads was a major problem for them.
The respondents also experienced fraud across every channel in nearly the same amount. Even newer technologies, such as over-the-top streaming TV (OTT), reported sizable issues of ad fraud. This could be due to it having less mature ad tech that creates a greater potential for exploits.
Experienced marketers use third-party software to help prevent fraud
Eliminating ad fraud entirely can be very difficult, but advertisers can rely on a few techniques to help save their budgets and improve their performance.
The first is to simply follow best practices to help identify bots, such as adding a “honey pot” to lead forms, or by frequently monitoring data from clicks, views, and leads to find irregularities and then adjusting advertising campaigns accordingly. However, these require experienced marketers to be able to identify the bad data and it can be labor-intensive to frequently monitor and take action.
Another option is to rely on anti-fraud services provided by ad networks, such as Google Ads. This can be effective; however, there is often a conflict of interest the ad networks generate revenue from each click or impression regardless if it’s fraudulent. Reducing their fraud clicks thus reduces their revenue. Some ad networks also provide very little transparency of invalid activity in their reports and then the burden can be up to the advertiser to request reimbursements if fraud is discovered.
Some ad networks, such as Google Ads, provide “invalid clicks” in their campaign reports for advertisers, but one man sued Google after allegedly discovering his invalid clicks were far greater than what the Google reports were showing.
When the survey respondents were asked if they believed Google Ads blocked click fraud, only half of the respondents, 49%, believed Google did. This should be a major consideration for advertising in 2022.
The final option is to use a dedicated, independent ad fraud detection software. There are several players on the market that can help advertisers detect, block fraud in real-time and the survey showed that about 50% of advertisers use these services, or have considered using one.
Overall, the results of this survey indicate the prevalence of fraud in advertising campaigns today is still very high. As marketers plan for 2022 they should consider taking action against this fraud to improve their ad performance and extend their ad budgets.
The Fraud Blocker survey was conducted by Pollfish and concluded on December 1, 2021. It was sent to a randomized group of PPC marketers and media buyers in the US and UK who purchased digital advertising in the prior 24 months. 200 respondents completed the survey. Pollfish is a leading survey company with a pool of over 480 million mobile audience members worldwide that participate in their surveys.
How to Leverage Visual Search for e-Commerce Growth
Online shopping is booming as people become more comfortable buying online as opposed to in-store. It’s easy, comfortable, and convenient, with the possibility of finding a wider range of products at better prices.
As with everything in the digital space, online shopping is evolving, and visual search is the latest opportunity to increase sales, boost revenue, and grow your customer base. So let’s learn more about visual search and how to optimize content to maximize profits.
What is Visual Search?
Visual search is appropriately named as it involves users searching with an image, as opposed to a keyword.
The reasons why someone would do this come down to the following benefits:
- Visual search makes it easier when you don’t know what you are looking for
- It can help to match a particular style
- Your search query may be long and complicated, so an image simplifies things
Consider visual search as a targeted and user-friendly method that involves pointing a camera at something to find an exact match or something similar.
The Differences Between Image and Visual Search
They sound similar but are incredibly different. Image search requires you to type in a query in the search box, with image results returned based on your keyword; a method that people are very familiar with.
On the other hand, visual search requires an image or your Google Lens camera to search and return images that match or are similar. Voice, visual, and conversational search are improvements on typing search, all with the goal of making life easier for us all.
The Popular Visual Search Options
The Pinterest lens was the first social media platform to use visual search. In the Pinterest app, a new or existing photo can be used to complete the search. This has been extended to hybrid search, which uses the aesthetic of an existing pin to find similar items, and the “complete the look” feature, which can generate case-based recommendations to match an outfit or room layout and style.
Google Photos lets you use an existing image for a visual search with the ability to identify over 1 billion items. You can also scan your environment to search for things in reality or have Google identify and recommend items on a menu. Other popular features include the ability to translate text from print directly onto your phone, identify animals and plants, and historical facts about your location.
Snapchat camera allows you to search for products on Amazon by pointing it at a physical product or barcode. If recognized, an Amazon card will appear on-screen with a link to buy on Amazon.
Visual Search Issues
Before we dive into optimizing your store for visual search, it is important to be aware that this new innovation still needs some improvements. Lenses commonly auto-select the wrong focal point, categorize a person instead of a product, or display items that are out of stock.
It is vital to be aware of these pitfalls as they may cause you to lose some sales along with the trust of your customers. Optimizing your images correctly can help lower the risk of this, however.
How to Optimize for Visual Search
Optimization of all kinds is important, as emphasized in this e-commerce SEO case study. Visual search success comes down to optimizing your images. By doing this, you will hopefully avoid the visual search mistakes mentioned above. To optimize your images and truly leverage the benefits of visual search, do the following:
- Submit image sitemap to Google
Ensuring your images are indexed is the first step, and you do this by submitting image sitemaps. With basic product data from the shopping feed, visual search technology will be able to understand your content.
Sync from your site with the Google merchant center and Pinterest catalogs to keep product info updated, allow people to search by brand, and avoid penalties from Google.
Put your USPs in the product description (especially free shipping), as this can help you get the much sought-after click. With a relevant schema for all images and rich pins to your site, you reduce friction and potential frustration by eliminating out-of-stock items from the user’s feed.
- Standard image optimization
We know about optimizing site images for site speed and user experience, but they also help with visual search. One of the most important elements is image size. Keeping your image sizes under control helps your website load faster, which reduces user frustration, and much like personalized content which helps users understand the information they’re seeing is specific to their needs, it can be the defining factor when it comes to making or losing the sale.
Use appropriate, targeted, and descriptive file names for all of your images along with alt-tags, which means an alternative tag, a name that appears in place of an image if it fails to load. The alt-tag text is also read by search engines to help them understand the purpose of the picture. Be sure to use the most relevant alt-tag for the image, as this can impact your rankings and boost sales. An SEO booster can help with all of this!
While all of this sets your digital assets on the right path, we also recommend looking into having a local presence in the real world to reach customers in cities outside of your local area. By allowing them to call you when they have an issue (which you can do by providing a local phone number), you can increase customer satisfaction!
Making the Most of Your E-commerce Opportunities
As an e-commerce store owner or digital marketer, it is always important to be aware of the opportunities that arise in the digital space, like visual search. Utilize the emotions of your audience via social media and adapt your content to be attractive and relevant to improve discovery, engagement, and above all, sales.
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