How to combat ad fraud spikes during the holiday season

By Alynn Beyder, Senior Product Marketing Manager – IAS @integralads


The holiday shopping season was once a time of packed stores and crowded gallerias. These days, people are much more likely to stay home and do their shopping from the comfort of their couches. In particular, IAS found that this year, nearly all holiday shopping will be online, specifically on ecommerce and retail sites. So, while audiences watch nostalgic holiday movies, they’ll also be on their phones researching gifts to purchase for their loved ones.

Unfortunately, consumers aren’t the only ones online — fraudsters also have their sights set on holiday traffic. Invalid traffic (IVT), which includes malicious fraud as well as general non-human activity, has the potential to steal valuable impressions. Since it looks like Cyber Monday will become Cyber Season, publishers should optimize their inventory to both support marketers and thwart fraudsters.

Unwrapping holiday ad fraud

Shopping online offers a convenience that brick and mortar stores lack: information. In their search for the perfect gift, IAS found that consumers turn to search engines, review sites, and online advertisements. Consumers look to advertisements for guidance, and are most interested in ads they see on well-known and respected sites. IAS research shows that retail sites are especially prone to fraud, witnessing spikes around popular shopping dates like Cyber Monday.

At the same time, holiday season campaigns tend to be short and sweet, only meant to appear in consumers’ feeds for a few months. Longer campaigns give advertisers more time to review and optimize campaign performance. However, during this time, advertisers rely on premium inventory to achieve the ambitious KPIs associated with holiday campaigns. This puts additional pressure on digital publishers to optimize their inventory to minimize risk and maximize performance.

Putting fraudsters on the naughty list

A recent survey of U.S. consumers found that 51% of respondents plan to start their holiday shopping earlier this year. To mitigate fraudulent activity, publishers should also prepare early by optimizing their inventory. Bots can be given instructions to visit premium sites, pick up desirable cookies, and then visit fraudulent sites to monetize. In order to protect the value of their inventory, here are some key reminders for publishers looking to prepare for the holiday season.

Make a list and check it twice 

✓ Figure out where site traffic originates

  • The first step in identifying fraud is recognizing where traffic originates. For example, traffic that is sourced from a supplier has a higher possibility of attracting fraudulent bot traffic. Suitable ad environments are powerful, and transparency helps to build a strong relationship between publisher and advertiser.

✓ Confirm how visitors are attracted

  • If traffic is sourced, there is a higher possibility of fraudulent bot activity. If most traffic comes from data centers, rather than residential or corporate networks, publishers should confirm that there are no software tools being run in those data centers that hit their website. Running tools that drive traffic may result in invalid traffic per industry group standards.

✓ Not all invalid traffic is malicious

  • Some cybersecurity, testing, and analytics solutions employ methods that can trigger fraud detection models from ad verification vendors. For example, some bots are designed to crawl the internet and gather information or generate simulations. Publishers should work with their ad verification vendors to further analyze their inventory and consider adding known data center IPs to an exclusion list.

Happy holidays

In order to protect the value of their inventory, the publisher needs to analyze traffic patterns and optimize their content appropriately.

In conclusion, the web is rife with invalid traffic. Some traffic — consumers, crawlers, etc — is such a helpful gift to marketers that it should with a bow. However, there’s a great deal of malicious invalid traffic, the lumps of coal in the industry’s stockings. Such activity on publisher pages can threaten the trusted relationship you’ve built with your advertising partners and cost you real dollars.

The holiday shopping season is right around the corner, and safe inventory is the best gift to give to your partners. If you’ve detected invalid traffic on your site, then it’s likely that your advertiser partners have too. No need to ring the alarm just yet though. Being proactive and well-informed can go a long way toward ensuring that you and your advertisers present a unified front against fraud.

How to combat ad fraud spikes during the holiday season