A worldwide technology vendor ran an advertising campaign to generate new U.S.-based customers for its flagship product line. The campaign was placed by a leading digital ad agency, located in the San Francisco area, which specializes in purchasing advertising media for technology companies. The goal was to achieve a combination of branding and lead generation.
To cover all bases, the campaign’s ads originated with another well-known third-party ad server (in addition to Accuserve, which was used on the publisher side for specific targeting and optimization). The other third-party server was in charge of monitoring impressions and clicks.
So, with an intricate (and costly) setup like that, what could go wrong?
A few days into the campaign, Accuserve’s data team noticed that something "wasn’t quite right" with the clicks being reported by the other third-party server on some of the ad placements. When analyzed with Accuserve’s advanced bot and fraud detection system, it became apparent that a suspicious pattern of clicks existed, prompting our data team to investigate further. Our team notified the publisher, who in turn contacted the ad agency, and also opened a tech-support ticket with the responsible third-party server.
The initial response from the other third-party server was to deny that there was any problem at all. The clicks, they claimed, were valid because they subscribe to "the" industry-approved list of known bots, and they (theoretically) excluded all bots on that list. So, they contended that the clicks must be valid.
However, when pressed to release the actual records with the raw data, something alarming became clear.
The Accuserve data team ran an extensive array of fraud and bot detection data tests, which revealed the identity of the previously unstopped bots.
Ultimately, we found that, in addition to certain specific bots, there were also numerous clicks generated by what appeared to be a professionally-run botnet, indicating outright fraud.
The Accuserve team then presented its findings together with proof that approximately 90% of the clicks being reported by the other third-party server were nothing more than bot activity.
When presented with the evidence, the other third-party server finally (and quite reluctantly) agreed to change its system in the future, but still refused to revise its reporting. In essence, the third-party server knew that they had reported fraudulent clicks to the advertiser, but concealed that fact.
The extent of click fraud is mind-boggling, as is the number of well-known companies who do not adequately protect their advertisers’ interests. In all fairness, much of the bot activity takes place due to lack of technical ability to stop it. After all, for many advertising companies – especially those who offer programmatic advertising – their top priority is generating revenue and claiming high response rates, which makes them look good in the eyes of the unsuspecting advertiser.
Our priority, however, is perfecting our system of bot and click fraud detection, which benefits advertisers, ad agencies, and publishers. Our success is not only delivering highly effective campaigns with pin-point accuracy, but in detecting and stopping bots and fraud, because that is what we are hired to do.
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