How Does Ad Fraud Affect Display?

Richard Kahn - February 08, 2018

Back in 1994, the Internet saw its first banner ad, marking the start of display advertising. The term is used to describe any visual advertisements that appear on a web page. Display ads are made up of many creative elements, including pictures, text, video, audio, and interactive media.

Unlike search ads, which are triggered by search queries, display ads show up on pages when users aren’t actively looking for them. You can think of display ads as Internet billboards: they appear in passing as you move around the web.

Display Ad Diagram.png

How Does Display Advertising Work?

Originally, advertisers and publishers directly negotiated deals for display ad placement. Advertisers agreed to pay a set price for a fixed amount of impressions. Since then, the display ad market has shifted to cost per click and cost per thousand pricing models:

Cost Per Click (CPC). Also known as pay per click, CPC is an ad pricing model in which an advertiser pays a publisher each time their ad is clicked. For instance, if a publisher charges 10 cents per click and a display ad gets 500 clicks, then the advertiser pays $50 ($0.10 x 500).

Cost Per Thousand (CPM). In CPM, advertisers pay a publisher a set price each time their ad receives 1,000 impressions. If a publisher charges $1.00 per 1,000 views and a display ad gets 3,000 views, then the advertiser pays $3.

How Does Ad Fraud Affect Display Advertising?

Unfortunately, a lot of people see display advertising as an easy way to make money. To artificially boost an ad’s clicks or views, and in turn, generate revenue, fraudsters rely on a number of common ad fraud tactics. These include:

Ad Stacking. Fraudsters place ads on top of each other within a page layout, but only the top ad is visible. When a user visits the web page, all of the ads, even the unseen ones, are charged for an impression.

Pixel Stuffing. Like ad stacking, pixel stuffing also involves hiding multiple ads on one page. Fraudsters “stuff” ads into a single page pixel. Even though site visitors physically can’t see them, the ads still generate impressions because they technically loaded on the page.

Ad Injection. Hidden within free browser extensions or toolbars, injection malware sneaks into people’s computers. The malware is programmed to display, or “inject,” real display ads on sites without permission. Advertisers get charged for any impressions or clicks the ad gets.

Related Post: Ad Fraud: You’re Not Sneaky If We Can See You

Click Bots. Bots are automated programs designed to do specific tasks. In the case of click bots, their goal is to click through display ads to drive up advertisers’ payments and make the fraudster money.

Domain Spoofing. Great ad space on premium sites is always in high demand, but often expensive. To trick frugal advertisers, fraudsters set up bogus sites with URLs that mimic reputable names. Then the fraudsters sell ad space on the sites at discounted prices and use other methods like click bots to generate revenue at the cost of advertisers.

Protecting Your Display Campaigns

While there isn’t a catch-all, fraudster-stopping solution available out there, you can mitigate ad fraud in your display campaigns. For one, make sure you’re working with legitimate ad networks. Established networks usually have safeguards in place that help filter out bad traffic and invalid clicks, such as traffic monitoring and scoring software.

You also need to keep in mind that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of that incredibly low CPC quote for a “premium” site. You might end up paying for low-quality traffic, a spot on a sketchy website, or both.

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Richard Kahn

Rich Kahn is the Founder and CEO of eZanga.com, a digital advertising firm and purveyor of the ad fraud traffic management platform Anura. He has more than 23 years of global experience in internet technology, digital advertising, and ad fraud management, and is often revered for his implementation of fraud elimination techniques and client growth. Previously, Rich founded his own internet service provider, First Street Corporation and co-founded Paid for Surf, an advertising software company, before joining the pay per click advertising network AdOrigin as its COO. Rich has held management roles at Verizon Wireless and Bloomberg.