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Ad fraud simplified

Published July 31, 2019

People have been talking about ad fraud for years, but most still don't understand what it is. Here's our quick guide on what you need to know.

In recent years, ad fraud has become a hot topic of conversation with some studies claiming it is rapidly being reduced and other studies saying it has ballooned out of control. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle.

Ad fraud was very widespread in digital advertising before tools and analytics became more advanced. Now, basic ad fraud can often be conquered with simple tools and analytics. Because of this, many companies consider the problem handled and do very little to protect themselves from the more profitable and sophisticated scams that exist now.

The problem persists because many companies don’t understand ad fraud and have no way to easily see how it’s draining their resources. So, what exactly is ad fraud?

Think about it like this:

You need to advertise your sports equipment in the city and know a billboard that is available in a prominent location right next to a stadium. You contact the company that owns this billboard and set up a contract to have your ad placed there for 2 weeks. During that 2 weeks, you drive by the billboard and discover that your ad is not there. Instead, it’s been placed on the side of a very controversial political figure’s offices. Or it’s been placed in a city hundreds of miles from your store. Or it never got put up at all.

At this point, you’re probably pretty angry. You call up the billboard company and they tell you that their records indicate the subcontractor did their job and your billboard is right where it’s supposed to be. Because of that, they refuse to give you a refund or look into the matter further. You would probably never use that company again.

This happens in digital advertising constantly. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to see when your ads are out of place online as it is with a giant billboard. However, there are ways to determine when your advertising budget is being hijacked.

The Problem

There are a number of different types of ad fraud: click fraud, impression fraud, retargeting fraud, etc. Each type of ad fraud then has different schemes associated with it. These include pixel stuffing, click farms, ad stacking, domain spoofing, and more. But they all boil down to the same idea. To insert bots or fraudsters somewhere in your digital advertising journey and drain your advertising resources.

To find when this is happening, you’ll probably need help. You could scrub the analytics of every past campaign to determine where fraud was occurring and how to set up new campaigns to avoid it, but new fraud techniques would likely just pop up and cause different problems. The best way to find ad fraud is to fight technology with technology.

The Solution

You likely already have metrics that you use to determine how well a digital advertising campaign is performing. One of them is often how many clicks or impressions you get. But that number is useless if it’s being inflated by bad traffic. Likewise, conversions are a reliable way to tell if your campaign is successful – unless that number includes fraudulent orders and chargebacks.

Utilizing a solution that can score your traffic and help you pinpoint fraud using behavioral analytics is a great way to combat these schemes. You can see when campaigns are reaching real customers and use additional metrics to determine which campaigns are most successful at converting real sales. You can even use those scores to block known bots and invalid traffic from retargeting and other future campaigns.

There are a variety of solutions that will do this. The key characteristics to look for include:

  • Easy customization of fields and KPIs
  • Scoring that includes multiple factors like behavioral analytics, payment attributes, and device fingerprinting
  • Integration with major ad services


If you don’t currently have an ad fraud solution, there are still a few things you can do to avoid wasting money on useless traffic and underperforming campaigns. Here are a some ways to find problems quickly and reduce their impact:

  1. Check analytics for unusual patterns. Humans rarely create obvious repeated patterns in data, such as a spike in orders every day at 3 pm. If you see patterns like this, look into which campaigns are bringing this traffic as it is likely bots.
  2. Set up customized reports for your campaigns. Include multiple factors like total traffic, conversion rates, and total revenue. Once a month, compare your best campaigns against chargebacks and fraudulent orders to ensure that no campaigns are bringing in mostly bad traffic.
  3. Ask questions of any digital ad agencies and programmatic companies you use for your campaigns. Find out how they handle ad fraud, what protections they already have in place, and if they provide refunds when fraud is found. Talk to them about how they vet publishing sites and how much control you have if you find a problem. If they can’t answer your questions, it may be time to look for a new company.

While risk scoring technology is the best way to find and prevent ad fraud from occurring, adopting these techniques will help you to protect your ad budget. Being informed is the first step in your defense against ad fraud.

Post Author: Jackie Long
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Blog Manager at NS8. With a varied background and over 5 years of content creation experience, Jackie works hard to provide a compelling range of informative articles.