The COVID-19 Era Underscores The Importance Of Rooting Out Publisher Fraud

Amanda Martin headshotThe Sell Sider” is a column written about the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Amanda Martin, vice president of enterprise partnerships at Goodway Group.

In the media, where there are eyeballs – time spent – there are dollar signs, and where there are dollars, there is fraud.

A recent investigation by CNBC revealed the ease with which bad actors can set up fake sites to siphon ad dollars. Publisher fraud is not a new concept, yet COVID-19 has created a level of content consumption that has increased awareness of its existence. Since this isn’t a new problem, marketers and advertisers should have already been addressing it.

The investigation by CNBC and the recent study by ISBA and PwC highlight the need to ensure advertisers understand how and where they are spending at a higher degree of granularity than most are currently. If there was any good news to emerge from the CNBC example, it was that most exchanges did not accept the fraudulent site, but some did.

Brands seek to deploy audience-first buying strategies to reach the right audience at the right time vs. on a specific site. Understanding and controlling an advertiser’s inventory supply chain is truly the only way to root out publisher fraud. It’s an ongoing battle, but one well worth fighting.

Exchange relationships

A brand’s relationship with its exchange partners needs to go further than just selecting a box in a DSP.

By curating partnerships with exchanges, advertisers can assess the measures being taken by exchanges to vet supply sources to ensure they meet the brand’s requirements. Since it’s unrealistic to maintain relationships with 70-plus exchanges, it’s also unadvisable to buy from 70-plus exchanges.

Exchanges need to go the extra mile to ensure they are only accepting high-quality original content because fraudulent sites may not be fraudulent in terms of bot traffic but instead for plagiarized content. Prioritizing relationships with exchanges that value advertiser brand safety is a must, and having the ability to curate the inventory they send to a brand’s specific DSP seat helps to curb this concern.

Ongoing supply analysis

Advertisers should analyze their supply on a regular basis to ensure spend is not being routed somewhere no one intended.

Fraudulent sites are fairly easy to identify: They show up out of nowhere, usually with high volume, and can be clearly identified as fraudulent once examined closely. Tools such as SimilarWeb can reveal if they have a legit history of site traffic. Sites that go from zero page views one month to millions of page views the next should be a red flag, as well as sites with no organic or direct traffic. Fraudulent sites found with this approach are then added to the block list to ensure no further spend is directed there.

The issue with this approach is it truly is a last resort since the traffic already found its way into the brand’s spend. But it can help a brand hold its exchange partners accountable. When exchanges are held to high standards they usually perform to high standards, while those that are not are incentivized to cut corners or look the other way.

Truly understand the long tail

Ultimately one of the key strengths of the independent internet is the ability to reach consumers where they are spending their time. In an effort to avoid fraudulent sites the goal should not be to avoid the value of long-tail publishers, but not all access to the long tail is created equally.

Assessing exchanges on their ability to not only vet but serve long-tail publishers should be part of a brand’s inventory curation efforts. The CNBC investigation highlighted that resellers might make avoiding fraudulent publishers more complicated. Buyers can lean on outsourced yield management companies, such as CafeMedia, to confidently gain access to authentic long-tail publishers. Sophisticated buyers continue to move toward path-level bidding to control inventory sourcing beyond the exchange level.

Despite the ad tech tax backlash, there is a value exchange between buyer and seller. Brands must understand where there is value added and what is duplicative, redundant or just value extraction. While buyers work diligently, publishers play an important role in routing out the opportunity for fraud, and their direct actions to disentangle the unnecessary complexity of today’s ad stacks would help to eliminate the numerous access points that fraudulent actors can use to their advantage.

Follow Amanda Martin (@amandaemartin), Goodway Group (@goodwaygroup) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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