October 14, 2013 11:07 PM

Fake Traffic, Bots And Faker Websites

Fraud is everywhere. Wake up.

When I was younger (in a pre-Internet world), there was a dirty little secret about newspapers and magazines. The publishers could tell you whatever they wanted about circulation, distribution or pass-along metrics, but it was hard to hide the fact that if you ever pulled your car into the back of their printing facilities, you would often find hundreds and thousands (and maybe more) copies of their publications by the trash bin and/or recycling bin. Some advertiser paid for those eyeballs. They paid for an ad that would never been seen. Circulation and distribution has long been a subject of contention between brands, media companies and the publishers. So much so that circulation audits were (and still are) big business. In short, brands are looking for a way to shorten the chasm between what the publishers claim and what the audience really sees.

Digital and Web analytics put this issue to rest. Right?

Wrong. In fact, the same problems that existed in the traditional publishing realm have been exasperated online. You would not think that this is the case, but it is. What we have here is the multiplier effect. So many websites, publishers and networks that it's hard to sort the wheat from the chaff if you're a brand with millions of dollars to spend and the desire to spread a message far and wide. Back in the early nineties, when the Internet was first commercialized, it was easy to bulk up traffic, increase pageviews or even generate clickthroughs on banner advertising. Yes, it was as easy to buy traffic back then, as it is to buy Facebook friends and Twitter followers today. We turn to organizations like the IAB to help create standardization for advertising formats and beyond, but what about the legitimacy of where these ads are shown? Everyone is on the take. As sad and dire as that may sound.

Do we need a Better Business Bureau for the Internet?   

I hate thinking about regulating something as glorious as the Internet, but I'll urge you to read the AdWeek article, The Amount of Questionable Online Traffic Will Blow Your Mind. "During a recent interview, online ad veteran Wenda Millard, president of Medialink, made the bold claim that a quarter of the online ad market is fraudulent. 'What we have found is the devaluation of digital media is causing us to lose about 25 percent of the roughly $30 billion that is being spent,' she reported. 'It's stolen [ad revenue].' In defining fraud, Millard lumped together piracy, nonviewable ads, ads stacked on top of one another, inappropriate content and, of course, deliberate malicious behavior, in her analysis. 'In most people's wildest dreams, they wouldn't imagine how much [questionable traffic] there is,' she says. 'People should be very, very worried.'"

So, how do you feel now?

We try to be these loyal advocates for digital marketing. We try to convince brands that web analytics shall set you free. That digital provides us with one of the most amazing opportunities in advertising that our industry has ever seen... and it starts with accountability. We can know - down to the ad served and who clicked on it - what has been happening. The end of waste. And yet, when the dollars start shifting to digital, it appears that everything (or, at least, a lot of it) gets really sketchy really fast. Unfortunately.

Be vigilant.

Regardless of who the winners are in this mire of fake and fraudulent traffic, it is clear - beyond a shadow of a doubt - that the brand is the loser. And, if the brand is loser, marketing is the biggest loser. It may be Pollyanna to think like this, but it's true. If the brand loses, we should all lose. The engine of marketing is to create interest and sales in the products and services of businesses. If this becomes some kind of digital shell game that is blown out of proportion due to the sheer magnitude and demand of inventory, what is the true business model here? Connections and the sharing of information or generating as many impressions (regardless of how credible they are) as possible?

Seriously, you need to read this: The Amount of Questionable Online Traffic Will Blow Your Mind.

(you're going to be angry).