Update your mobile ad strategy to stop losing money on ad fraud - ClickZ

30-second summary:

  • The mobile advertising industry is expected to be worth $240 billion by 2022, but last year advertisers lost more than $23 billion to ad fraud.
  • Companies need to reassess how they operate in the sphere and protect themselves against the threat of ad foul play.
  • Knowing the risks, diving into the data, and targeting specific audiences can help overcome criminal activity.
  • Interactive content like quizzes can improve growing skepticism among mobile users and position brands as trustworthy in the ad space.

More than 3.5 billion people around the world own a smartphone – that’s 44.8% of the total population and a significant audience for mobile advertisers. It’s no surprise that the mobile advertising industry is expected to be worth $240 billion by 2022, with more and more companies investing in the platform to expand their brand’s reach and sales.

However, it’s not all smooth sailing (or rather, selling) – mobile ad fraud is becoming an increasingly big concern.

First – let’s agree on a quick definition. Digital ad fraud is where purposeful activity takes place to prevent ads being delivered to the right audience or location.

In some instances, attackers ‘steal’ ad clicks by redirecting them elsewhere using a proxy server or compromising the users’ computer or ad publisher’s website. Other times, scammers use bots to create fake clicks on ads they have placed on their own websites, generating revenue (Read more...) themselves.

Recently, this behavior has been increasing, and in 2019 alone, advertisers lost more than $23 billion as a result. As mobile continues to be one the most effective and direct ways to communicate with audiences, companies need to reassess how they operate in the sphere and protect themselves against the threat of ad fraud.

For greater ad transparency, a fairer landscape, and a better return on your advertising investment, here’s how to update your mobile ad strategy:

Be aware of the risks

Ad fraud is getting more sophisticated, and understanding the malicious risks you face is the first step to shaping a more robust strategy.

No matter whether you’re a seasoned pro or just entering the ad space, devote some time to doing your research before you launch a campaign. Consider if the partners and publishers you’re planning to work with are safe; you can do this looking at reviews and using Google’s Safe Browsing to confirm that the sites are secure.

If you have the capacity, get a legal team to comb through any contracts you’ve been offered and make sure there is no fine print that allows for potentially harmful loopholes.

Next, brush up on your knowledge of how exactly fraudulent actions take place on mobile. A few of the most common techniques scammers use include:

  • Click flooding or spamming – where large amounts of fake clicks are made on behalf of a person using an app or visiting a website on mobile. Sometimes, the user may not even view the ad but the clicks take place regardless.
  • Click injections – a genuine app installation has been made but scammers send a fraudulent click report to claim the ‘last-click’ attribution to claim the money for that conversion. Click injections target Android devices specifically.
  • Fake installs – device emulation software makes it appear like a user has installed an app.
  • Ad stacking – multiple adverts are placed underneath one visible ad. All brands are charged for impressions but only the top ad actually reaches audiences.
  • Invalid ad traffic – bots, crawlers, and automated systems masquerade as real users and commit fraudulent ad activity.

Being aware of how scammers operate puts you in a stronger position to avoid vulnerable ad placements. It will additionally make you savvier in identifying if and when foul play is taking place.

Dive into the data

Once you’re sufficiently clued up about ad trickery, it’s time to take preventative action. In an online world, everything can be measured and provide you with data that tells you a story about how your ads are performing.

Think of this data like a team member in your compliance department: they inform you when you’re exposed to risk, and they highlight areas where controls are needed.

In-house tools can be great for data collection, but it’s worthwhile incorporating third-party metric solutions to verify your data. Moat comes highly-recommended as it recently applied its invalid traffic detection mechanisms to uncover a video game that was facilitating ad fraud.

Other cases where ad fraud has been discovered typically rely on suspicious or anomalous data.

  • For instance, if the click-to-install time is short and there are high volumes of downloads, it’s likely that click injection is occurring.
  • If ad clicks and installs take place at the same time on different days, that’s an indication that a programmed bot is at work.
  • Another red flag is if there are several installs using the same name, device number or operating system.
  • Likewise, pay attention to whether the country and the language are different (e.g. the downloads took place in Italy, but the language setting is English US).
  • The IP address also says a lot about ad fraud: if the intensity of your traffic is coming from repeated IP addresses, or if the click IP address is different to the install one, something suspicious is going on.

By monitoring metrics like these to validate your ads are free from fraud, you can then make sound future predictions. For instance, some tools analyze a range of data points like viewable time and share of screen, to gauge the scope of engagement with your ads.

Once you know that your ads haven’t been compromised, you can use this functionality to help forecast the impact of your ads strategy as you scale up.

Target highly specific audiences

This may sound counteractive to your advertising goals, when really, it can accelerate them. Limiting your target audience on mobile eliminates the possibility of fraudsters acting on your ads because if you narrow down who sees your ad, you filter out the volume of fake traffic to it.

For example, Chase Bank reduced the number of sites showing its ad from 400,000 to 5,000 – a 99% decrease – and yet witnessed no negative impact on its business outcomes.

A quick and powerful way to be more targeted with your mobile ads is to turn off the ‘search partner network’ in your Google campaign settings. This option will remove your ad from hundreds of non-Google websites, streamlining who views it and where.

If you’re not able to take this route, manually exclude sites that are exhibiting strange data like abnormally high clicks or similar metrics listed above.

Recognize that transparency equals trust

It’s extremely important that you don’t forget about real users and traffic. Mobile audiences are aware of ad fraud and so may have heightened levels of mistrust around promotions they see on their devices.

In fact, 96% of customers say they don’t trust ads, and considering that the mobile ads market is particularly harsh, it’s even more difficult to convince users that you’re legit and valuable.

To combat this skepticism, offer incentives that position you as a thought-leader in your industry: a free ebook download, a free trial, or something that doesn’t immediately push for a conversion.

Use social proof like links to reviews, certifications, awards or your press page to reassure viewers that your advert is from an authentic company. Remember to be consistent across your advertising platforms too, as users may cross-reference your messaging.

A more modern fix is opt-in ads in interactive content such as online quizzes, which are entirely user-driven and directed. These types of ads embrace quizzes and interactive content to allow people to learn something about themselves or a topic, then submit information voluntarily.

Doing so establishes a question-and-answer dialogue, that mirrors real, human interactions and emphasizes that your brand can be trusted. Research even shows that 82% of people engage with quizzes on their newsfeed – and up to 40% opt-in to in-quiz lead forms.

The mobile ad space is evolving fast, and companies need to stay ahead of criminals to see traction and curb unnecessary losses. Knowing the risks, diving into the data, targeting specific audiences, and turning to interactive content like quizzes that put transparency first are core to overcome mobile ad fraud.

Beyond running an efficient ad campaign, these steps will keep your brand smart, sincere, and memorable.

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