3 Ways Publishers Can Take Action Against Fraud
Programmatic fraud steals money from publishers’ pockets every minute and if we’re being honest, no one’s really sure what to do about it.
Spoofed inventory is one of fraud’s most pervasive formats. With this, impressions on exchanges look like they’re from legitimate publishers but actually represent fake, low-quality inventory.
Google recently ran experiments to measure the scale of spoofing fraud. In its tests, publishers removed programmatic inventory from exchanges while Google monitored what remained. The result? Millions of spoofed video and display placements available for purchase including many on Google’s own exchange.
This is a problem for advertisers, but it’s publishers that feel the burden of identity fraud and the loss of advertising income. It’s time to take action and stop waiting on exchanges to clean themselves up. Here are three ways the publishers can tackle the ad fraud problem.
1. Bet on the Simplicity of Ads.txt
The IAB introduced ads.txt, a specification for authorized digital sellers, earlier this year in hopes of stomping out ad fraud with the power of simplicity. To comply, publishers simply upload a text file to their domain listing authorized sellers of their inventory. Buying platforms then crawl these lists to make a record of publishers they can sell inventory for. Because everything lives on publicly searchable domains, advertisers can also verify that exchanges are selling legitimate inventory.
It’s a great option for publishers because it means major reward with little work. Text files are easy to update and upload to domains, and the required information is pretty minimal. For example, Business Insider’s ads.txt file lives at businessinsider.com/ads.txt.
However, ads.txt’s success hinges on adoption from the entire ecosystem. That could hit a snag with exchanges and supply chain partners that profit from less-than-stellar practices and prefer to sell large amounts of inventory regardless of quality. While it’s still early days for ads.txt, publishers can get ahead of the game and work with exchanges that support it now.
2. Break the Mold with Custom Units
Display ads are a carryover from print practices and were never really optimized for the web. That’s the root of most people’s complaints with the format, which has led to ad blocker adoption, falling click-through rates, and frustration with intrusive practices.
Most publishers only offer standard display sizes, which optimizes inventory for exchanges at the expense of user experience. But standard units also come with more chance for fraud. Opting for custom ads lets publishers weed out bottom-of-the-barrel advertisers and fraudulent bidders by creating original units that require specific creative.
Publishers can also charge more for these units because they have more control over optimization, usually leading to higher engagement rates. For example, The New York Times’ simple Flex Frame ads earn double the clicks of banner units, while NBC News’s custom ads tackle growing advertiser demand for viewability guarantees. High-quality advertisers are generally happy to pay more for high-quality placements that are effective in marketing to a target audience.
Required talent and resources depend on the complexity of the unit and how the publisher wants to sell it. Setting up and trafficking custom creative is easy through DoubleClick for Publishers, and selling these units is as straight-forward as display ads, especially with self-serve programmatic direct (I discuss this more in the next section). A good example of an ad unit using this setup is the in-feed image native post on Stocktwits.
3. Build Relationships with Programmatic Direct
The recent brand safety panic has led to a renaissance for programmatic direct. This approach combines the legitimacy of direct buys with the efficiency of programmatic deals, letting publishers set their own rates instead of having markets decide impression cost.
Magazine publishers are in stronger positions than most to leverage programmatic direct because of their engaged communities around clear “verticals.” Along with more contextual advertisers, this approach helps publishers build and grow relationships with higher-paying marketers instead of keeping those interactions in exchanges.
Of course, direct has its downsides -- it requires internal resources and takes work to get new sales channels up and running. Fortunately, there are programmatic direct solutions available to fit most scopes and requirements including serviced solutions with added perks like self-checkout for advertisers and better support for custom ads.
In these cases, publishers would only have to authenticate vendors with DoubleClick so the provider can set up inventory and implement the platform on the publisher’s behalf. That means little resources required from the publisher, and no in-house developer talent required at all.
Doing Nothing Is the Worst Solution
Programmatic fraud is a serious issue taking revenue away from publishers every year. To clean up the marketplace, there are three solutions publishers can turn to today including ads.txt, custom units, and programmatic direct.
Deciding which one is best depends on the publisher, but all will ensure that revenue from every impression ends up in the right pocket.