Digital advertising is a dynamic and exciting industry, but as with any rapidly evolving sector, it does have its sticking points. Ad fraud is one of these points, and overcoming it is proving a challenge.
Buyers and sellers are working together to combat this fraud, with the aim to create a safer and more effective ecosystem for all. Although advertisers are impacted by wasted ad spend, it is also in the best interests of publishers and their sell-side partners to reduce ad fraud. Why? Because genuine high-quality traffic, combined with the ability to demonstrate anti-fraud measures, makes their inventory far more attractive to buyers. This in turn ultimately boosts ad revenues.
So what steps can the sell-side take to reduce ad fraud as part of a unified industry-wide effort?
Ads.txt is an IAB Tech Lab initiative designed to prevent domain spoofing. This is a fraudulent practice where advertisers believe they are buying impressions on a premium website with a specific audience, when in fact their ads are being served on a completely unrelated website. It also reduces the prevalent practice of inventory arbitrage, where impressions are sold on multiple times, often without the publisher’s knowledge, providing an environment where fraud can thrive.
Implementing ads.txt is relatively simple, which is part of its appeal. Publishers simply place a tiny text file on their server indicating which partners are authorised to sell on their behalf. This provides increased transparency into who is buying their inventory, giving buyers confidence they are bidding on impressions from a legitimate source.
Sell-side platforms are quite rightly encouraging their publishers to adopt ads.txt, especially as buyers are starting to decision against it. However, the initiative is not without its teething troubles. Various reports estimate that around 45% of ads.txt files contain some errors, which could result in the publisher’s inventory no longer being available to buy through genuine partners. So check your ads.txt files carefully, the IAB offer some useful advice on this.
Embrace other industry initiatives
While ads.txt is a positive development, it is not a magic bullet in the fight against fraud. There are other ongoing initiatives also worth exploring. In the US, one of the most prominent is the anti-fraud certification for buyers, sellers and third parties from the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), with JICWEBS offering a similar function in the UK.
To be TAG certified, publishers need to submit to background checks, appoint a compliance officer, and adhere to the Media Rating Council’s guidelines on invalid traffic. They also need to filter out data center traffic using TAG’s Data Center IP List, and comply with its Publisher Sourcing Disclosure Requirements (PSDR) by revealing where their traffic comes from, as sourced traffic can be prone to bots and fraud. The high annual fees may prevent smaller niche publishers and bloggers from getting TAG certified, but they can still adopt the principles and can work with sell side partners (SSP’s) such as Sovrn that are TAG certified to make use of the available tools.
Publishers should look for partners who are verified by one of these associations when choosing digital advertising solutions. They can also look to see whether networks use third-party anti-fraud tools such as those provided by Integral Ad Science, ForensiQ, or Pixalate, which can identify suspicious activity and protect against bot traffic.
Form direct relationships
As previously mentioned, complex digital supply chains that involve multiple parties can be a breeding ground for fraudulent practices. Because of this, buyers are increasingly keen to reduce layers of intermediaries and work with networks that have direct relationships with publishers, so they can see where their ad spend is going.
These direct relationships between publishers and sellers promote upfront, candid conversations about fraud, as well as other elements of ad quality, allowing best practices to be shared and stringent standards to be upheld. They also enable continuous monitoring, for instance of the IP addresses publishers use to access sell-side platforms. This way, any unusual or suspicious activity can be flagged and investigated immediately.
All parts of the digital advertising ecosystem have a part to play in fighting ad fraud, not just the buy side. By correctly implementing ads.txt, continuing to uphold other industry initiatives, and forming direct relationships with well known SSP’s where possible that bring transparency to the digital supply chain, publishers and their sell-side partners can together make the digital advertising landscape a safer place.
Andy Evans, CMO, Sovrn
Sovrn owns and operates a proprietary ad technology stack with direct connections to every major buyer in the world. Sovrn gives content creators tools to make money; access to distribution and scale to grow their audience; and a massive data commons for extraordinary insights. Sovrn is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, with offices in Denver, New York and London.