By Reid Tatoris, co-founder and COO, Are You a Human
Everyone knows there’s a huge problem with bot fraud and viewability in digital advertising, but as an industry, we’ve been framing the problem the wrong way. If you’re a marketer, your media dollars are being wasted, but most of that waste isn’t due to malicious ad fraud or out of view ads.
Many of the stats on bot fraud sound like they must be overblown. Can it really be possible that 11 percent of display ads and 23 percent of video ads are served to bots created by bad actors? Are fraudsters overseas really driving more than $6 billion in wasted spend?
Probably not. But it’s almost certainly true that those numbers are an accurate representation of how many ads are served to nonhuman traffic. You might be thinking that we’re talking about the same thing, but there’s an important distinction at play here: While a preponderance of ad impressions are being served to bots, most of those aren’t due to deliberate fraud.
We’ve been framing the problem the wrong way, leading to confusion in the marketplace. If you want to understand how your spend is being wasted, you need a better understanding of the problem of nonhuman traffic.
A guide to good bots
Every day, countless bots are scanning the Internet, many for purposes that have nothing whatsoever to do with advertising. Take a simple example that you’re probably already familiar with: Web crawlers. Search engines rely on bots to scan the Web and index pages. The bots’ purpose is to gather information and has absolutely nothing to do with display advertising.
Sometimes ad networks and exchanges will recognize when an impression is served to one of their own crawlers and discount the impression, preventing advertisers from wasting money – DFP, for example, discounts impressions served to Google’s crawlers. However, DFP is able to discount Google’s crawlers due to their specific relationship: We’re talking about two services offered by the same company. This is not the case for the vast majority of bots or exchanges.
People employ bots for a variety of other reasons completely unrelated to advertising fraud, like scraping weather data from Weather.com for a visualization of weather patterns or for another app, or pulling pricing information from Amazon to aggregate elsewhere or for competitive reasons.
Good bots are still bad for business
At the end of the day, if you’re a marketer, it doesn’t matter if someone is deliberating trying to steal your money or acting benignly. If your ad is served to a bot (malicious or not), your ad impression isn’t reaching a human, and it’s being wasted.
In some cases, benevolent bot traffic can be easier to spot and block than deliberate fraud because bots like crawlers aren’t attempting to dupe anyone into believing that they’re exhibiting human behavior. That said, while it’s relatively simple to spot a specific bot if you’re familiar with its pattern, there are so many bots, doing so many different things for so many thousands of sites that it’s impossible to identify and filter out every single one.
Changing the conversation about bot fraud
To prevent billions of dollars in wasted ad spend, we have to change the conversation about nonhuman traffic. Is ad fraud so sophisticated and effective that it’s currently driving 6 billion in waste? No, it’s not, and that confusion is causing people to assume these numbers are overblown and therefore, nothing to worry about.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if nonhuman traffic is related to fraud or not. Individuals and companies depend on bots to create the Web as we know it, and the unfortunate byproduct of the bot ecosystem is wasted ad dollars. The way to fight ad waste is by focusing on human traffic, regardless of whether a bot is good or bad.
Reid Tatoris is the co-founder of Are You a Human, curators of the Verified Human Whitelist. Reid holds an MBA and Engineering degree from The University of Michigan, and currently lives in Detroit where he is excited to be a part of the new Detroit story.