How to detect online ad fraud
When an advertiser and a publisher enter into an agreement to run online ads, there is an expectation that things will be done fairly so that both sides have a profitable partnership. The problem here is that there are ways to manipulate things so that the balance is tipped in the favor of one side or another. Online ad fraud is certainly not a rampant issue. However, you need to be aware that there are some unscrupulous folks out there looking to increase their ad earnings or destroy their competitors by whatever means possible. If you are concerned about becoming a victim of online ad fraud, you need to be aware of the signs that it may be happening. Here are a few things to monitor using your ad server:
Views/clicks are too close together
It’s certainly nice to see your number of views or clicks rise, as this is generally a sign that your ads are getting noticed. The issue is that if views or clicks coming too close together, it may be the result of pages being refreshed and the same people clicking the ads over and over again, in order to boost these ad numbers. There are certain situations where views or clicks may come quickly but naturally, such as when a website hits its peak time. However, when it happens too regularly or unexpectedly, it may be because of ad fraudulent activities.
Too many views/clicks from the same source
If you are running local ads, it may not be an issue if the majority of the views or clicks are coming from your target region. However, things become a little more suspicious if the ad is aimed at a much wider market and yet the bulk of views or clicks are from a few specific sources. If there are repeated views or clicks only from a few IP addresses, or countries, it may well be a sign that something is not as it should be.
A shift in traffic pattern
This is not something that you can notice right away, but rather when an ad has been running for some time. It is normal to have ups and downs in the viewing and clicking of ads and you will be able to recognize a regular pattern. Ads may be more active in a specific region or at a certain time of the day, but those numbers will tend to stay close to the same each day or week. When the pattern starts to take some dramatic and unexpected shifts, you need to find out why.
Another thing to consider here is the view to click ratio or vice versa. This ratio should not be reasonable and is a metric that should remain fairly consistent over time for an established ad. There will be periods where the ratio is a little lower or higher than normal, but when there are sudden or huge spikes, you are again potentially looking at fraud. If you see too many clicks without a view or too many views without any click, something is probably not right.
Review detailed reports
The only way to get real information about what is going on with each ad is to review the detailed or even raw activity logs. This is a time consuming task that is not a lot of fun. However, you can be sure that the numbers you are seeing are an actual representation of what is actually happening with your ads. You can see if bots or automated software are major contributors of those clicks and impressions.