How to Combat Invalid Traffic and Boost Revenue
Naomi Rabbie, June 24, 2021
Naomi Rabbie, June 24, 2021
Traffic is a publisher’s best friend, right? It feels like that should be a pretty straightforward question, and most people would answer an undeniable ‘Yes!” However, the truth is a little more complicated. Building consistent, high-quality traffic for your website is the holy grail. But, when even a small portion of that traffic is flagged as invalid, the impact can be detrimental.
Invalid traffic, or ad fraud, is alive and well. By 2022, ad fraud costs will reach $44 billion, and by 2025, that will increase to $50 billion. Although the digital advertising and publishing world has been combating fraud for years, it seems that each step forward results in a half step back. Almost as soon as new technology is introduced to identify and decrease ad fraud, bad actors come along with an answer that allows them to continue profiting off their unscrupulous behavior.
As a publisher, it’s your responsibility to understand your traffic sources. If you don’t make this a priority and take proactive steps to eliminate invalid traffic, you risk losing revenue, damaging your reputation, and potentially even losing access to platforms such as Google AdSense, Ad Exchange, and other third-party partners.
To avoid these severe consequences, you need to understand what qualifies as invalid traffic, how to identify it, and how to combat it.
Google considers invalid traffic as “any activity that doesn’t come from a real user with genuine interest. It can include accidental clicks caused by intrusive ad implementations, fraudulent clicking by competing advertisers, advertising botnets, and more.”
Accidental clicks are just what they sound like: users click on an ad by mistake. Generally, this happens because the ad placements on your site aren’t optimized. The ad might be too close to another call-to-action, or the click could be due to visual stability issues on your site. No one is trying to do anything nefarious in these situations, and Google has a slight tolerance for these mistakes. However, that’s not always the case.
General Invalid Traffic (GIVT) can be detected using standard detection methods such as parameter checks and routine filtering. GIVT encompasses both neutral activities such as search engine crawlers and fraudulent activity driven by bots, known data center traffic, and activity-based filtration, for example.
Sophisticated Invalid Traffic (SIVT) is challenging to detect because it uses more sophisticated behavior that closely mimics how humans behave. To identify it, you’ll need to use advanced analytics or third-party technology providers with the necessary resources and know-how. Typical forms of SIVT, all of which are considered intentionally fraudulent, include non-human data-center traffic, injected ads, hijacked devices, and emulators.
Invalid traffic results in fake impressions and clicks. For advertisers, this non-converting traffic translates into increased costs and wasted budgets. In turn, that can lead to your inventory being devalued and automatic ad revenue deductions, as known as clawbacks.
The first step to take is to use Google Analytics (or another analytics tool) to segment your traffic by device, geolocation, channels, or other metrics. Suppose you see dramatic fluctuations in terms of visitors or suspicious behavior. In that case, this should be a sign that further investigation is needed.
You should continuously check two additional metrics as they can offer insight into whether your traffic is invalid. If the Average Session Duration is one second or less and you see that the Page Scroll Depth metric is consistently less than 10%, you’re most likely looking at invalid traffic.
Ideally, you should focus on organic methods to bring traffic to your site, such as providing high-quality content, a great user experience, and SEO optimization. If you choose to work with a third-party provider for traffic, make sure you vet them appropriately to ensure they are a reputable company and send real traffic. Google provides a valuable guide that will help you determine the vendor’s credibility.
You may also want to take an additional step and work with an ad fraud detection company that detects SIVT in real-time and blocks it even before your site ads load.
By monitoring IP addresses, Google can quickly identify if you are clicking on your ads and trying to inflate your data. Of course, accidental clicks happen, but Google will penalize you if the frequency appears to be more than just a random mistake.
Although we mentioned this above, it’s worth highlighting the importance of ad placements. Google is now rolling out page experience updates which focuses on three indicators the search engine will consider when determining your site’s user experience score and search ranking position. One of those metrics, Cumulative Layout Shift, measures the visual stability of pages.
Elements including ads, iFrames, and dynamically injected content can impact visual stability. If those elements aren’t correctly optimized, they can cause your page’s content to shift around. Users might inadvertently click on an ad when they intended to click on a different link, scroll down the page, or take another action. Take the necessary steps to optimize ad layouts and placements, so you avoid this issue.
Bad actors continue to develop more advanced tactics to steal ad dollars, making SIVT harder for both publishers and Google to identify. Google has updated its algorithm to identify SIVT with more consistency to combat the new methods and behaviors. While this is a positive step for the industry as a whole, it means the consequences of having invalid traffic will have a more significant effect on publishers.
If Google determines that you have invalid traffic of any kind, you could be impacted several ways. From a financial standpoint, you will face ad revenue clawbacks, with some publishers reporting losses of 40-60%. Your site can also receive a poor health score from Google, translating to low-quality ad inventory and a lack of premium advertiser interest.
Another issue that you will encounter is the inability to work with Google Certified Publishing Partners. These approved third-party companies can help dramatically boost publisher revenues and grant you access to higher-level platforms such as GAM360 and DV360.
The risks of having invalid traffic are numerous. It is worth investing in knowing your traffic to block the sources sending invalid traffic and eradicate it. The rewards you will reap will pay off tenfold as you will enjoy higher CPCs, increased revenues, and access to premium advertisers and third-party services.
Naomi Rabbie is VP of Marketing at Total Media. Find Naomi on LinkedIn or reach her by email at naomi(at)totalmediasolutions(dot)com.