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What is Invalid Traffic (IVT)?

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What is invalid traffic?

Invalid traffic refers to any clicks or impressions on digital ads that may not result from genuine user interest or intentional human activity. This type of traffic can include both intentionally fraudulent activity and unintentionally generated interactions, neither of which result from real users who have genuine interest in the advertised content.

According to Cheq Essential’s Research, invalid traffic (IVT) made up 40% of all web traffic.

Invalid traffic includes, but is not limited to:

  • Publishers generating clicks or impressions by clicking on their own live advertisements.
  • Multiple ad clicks or impressions produced repeatedly by one or several users.
  • Publishers promoting clicks on their advertisements, which can include any instructions that encourage users to click on ads or ad setups that might lead to a high rate of unintentional clicks.
  • The use of automated tools for clicking, traffic bots, or other misleading software designed to manipulate ad interactions

According to MRC (Media Rating Council), invalid traffic are seperate into general invalid traffic (GIVT) and sophisticated invalid traffic (SIVT)

General Invalid Traffic (GIVT)

The Media Rating Council (MRC) definition of GIVT is invalid traffic that can be
identified through routine means of filtration, executed by using lists or other
standardised checks. GIVT operates silently, monitoring websites for data. It doesn’t imitate human actions and isn’t deployed with fraudulent intentions, making it the most benign and least hazardous type of invalid traffic.

Some types of general invalid traffic include:

  • IAB bots/spiders
  • Unknown browsers
  • Known fraud sites
  • Known data-centre traffic
  • Activity-based filtration

Filtering out GIVT is crucial for ensuring the integrity of ad performance metrics. It helps advertisers and publishers gain a clearer understanding of human-driven traffic and genuine user engagement, leading to more accurate ad performance evaluations and more effective ad spend. Although GIVT is not typically fraudulent, its presence can still distort an advertiser’s understanding of campaign performance and lead to misguided strategic decisions.

Sophisticated Invalid Traffic (SIVT)

SIVT refers to more advanced or complex forms of invalid traffic that typically involve intentional deception or fraud. Unlike General Invalid Traffic (GIVT), which can be filtered out through more basic, automated methods, SIVT requires more advanced analytics, significant human intervention, and multi-layered detection techniques to identify and mitigate. While GIVT includes neutral and fraudulent activity, SIVT represents activity that is intentionally fraudulent.

Types of SIVT

SIVT includes, but is not limited to, the following types:

  • Bots and Cyborg Traffic: Traffic generated by advanced bots that mimic human behavior to evade simpler detection methods, or “cyborgs” (human-assisted bots).
  • Adware and Malware: Traffic generated through unwanted or malicious software installed on users’ devices that either misleads them into viewing or interacting with ads or generates hidden interactions without the user’s knowledge.
  • Cookie Stuffing: The practice of dropping multiple third-party cookies on a user’s browser without their knowledge to falsely attribute credit for user actions such as sales or clicks.
  • Pixel Stuffing and Ad Stacking: Placing an entire ad or multiple ads in a single pixel or stacking ads on top of one another in a single ad slot where only the top ad is visible, but all ads report impressions.
  • Proxy Traffic: Traffic that passes through proxies to disguise its origin, often used to simulate geographic locations fraudulently.
  • Click Farms and Click Injection: The use of large groups of people or automated scripts to generate fraudulent clicks or the injection of clicks coinciding with legitimate user interactions to steal attribution.

How invalid traffic damage publishers site?

  • Slow performance: Sending large volumes of bot traffic is a common method used by attackers to initiate a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. In certain DDoS scenarios, the targeted website receives an overwhelming amount of traffic, which overloads the origin server. As a result, the website may become slow or completely inaccessible to legitimate users.
  • Reduced Ad Revenue: Invalid traffic often leads to reduced revenue for publishers. When ad networks detect high levels of invalid traffic, they may adjust the payout to reflect the true value of legitimate traffic only. In severe cases, ad networks might withhold payment altogether if they suspect that a significant portion of the traffic is fraudulent. This can severely impact publishers relying on ad revenue to sustain their operations.
  • Penalties and Account Suspension: Ad networks, such as Google AdSense and PubPower, have strict policies against invalid traffic. If a publisher’s site is found to be generating a high volume of invalid traffic, whether intentionally or unintentionally, they may face penalties such as reduced earnings, account suspension, or even a permanent ban from the network. This not only affects current revenue streams but also limits future opportunities to monetize with those networks.
  • Impact on SEO: Search engines aim to provide the best user experience, and sites involved in fraudulent activities or those that generate significant invalid traffic might be penalized with lower rankings. Poor user engagement metrics, often a byproduct of high levels of invalid traffic, can signal to search engines that the site is of low quality, further affecting organic search performance and visibility.

How invalid traffic affect advertisers?

Addressing SIVT is crucial because it directly impacts the financial bottom line of digital advertising campaigns. SIVT can drain advertising budgets and skew campaign data, leading to ineffective spending and poor decision-making.

According to Cheq, in 2022, almost $36 billion of ad spend out of the $600 billion in total spent on advertising was wasted on fake traffic.

cheq research on invalid traffic

What should publisher and advertiser to filter GIVT and avoid SIVT?

What Advertisers Should Do:

  1. Implement Advanced Traffic Filtering Technologies:
  • Use sophisticated ad verification services with machine learning to detect traffic anomalies.
  • Employ IP and device fingerprinting to block known fraudulent sources.

2. Integrate Real-Time Monitoring and Analytics:

  • Monitor traffic and key performance indicators in real-time to quickly identify and mitigate potential fraud.
  • Utilize anomaly detection tools to alert sudden changes in traffic or conversion patterns.

3. Apply Rigorous Validation Checks:

  • Implement CAPTCHA systems for interactions that might be susceptible to bot activity.
  • Use stricter validation for ad clicks and impressions to ensure they are genuine.

4. Enhance Transparency with Partners:

  • Establish strong relationships only with reputable publishers and ad networks.
  • Demand detailed reporting and the right to audit traffic from partners.

5. Utilize Geolocation and Behavioral Analysis:

  • Leverage geolocation to verify the consistency of user data.
  • Analyze behavioral patterns to distinguish between human and non-human traffic.

6. Stay Informed and Adapt:

  • Keep abreast of the latest ad fraud tactics and continually update security measures.
  • Regularly train and educate your team on emerging trends in ad fraud.

What Publishers Should Do:

  1. Implement Advanced Traffic Filtering Technologies:
  • Use traffic analysis tools to screen out bots and other forms of invalid traffic. For example, Google Analytics does provide an option to “exclude all hits from known bots and spiders” (spiders are search engine bots that crawl webpages). If the source of the bot traffic can be identified, users can also provide a specific list of IPs to be ignored by Google Analytics.
  • Using Cloudflare Bot Management to stop bad bots along with CAPTCHAs. You can manage good and bad bots in real-time with speed and accuracy by harnessing the data from the millions of Internet properties on Cloudflare.
  • Maintain an updated blacklist of IPs and devices associated with fraudulent activities.

2. Optimize Ad Placement:

  • Design web pages and ad placements to minimize accidental clicks and ensure high visibility for ads.
  • Avoid placing ads in low-visibility areas or in ways that could be prone to accidental interactions.

3. Engage Legal and Industry Resources:

  • Stay updated on and comply with industry standards and practices, such as those from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).
  • Participate in industry efforts to fight ad fraud, like contributing to or utilizing shared blacklists.

4. Monitor and Audit Traffic Regularly:

  • Conduct regular audits of traffic to identify and address potential sources of invalid traffic.
  • Offer transparency in traffic data and cooperate with advertisers’ efforts to verify traffic quality.

5. Educate and Implement Best Practices:

  • Educate staff and partners about the importance of traffic quality and the consequences of invalid traffic.
  • Implement best practices for maintaining site security to prevent malware and ad injections.

In summary

Invalid traffic is a pervasive issue in the digital advertising ecosystem, threatening the financial viability and operational integrity of online advertising endeavors. By understanding its impacts and implementing a robust mitigation strategy, publishers can protect their interests and ensure the sustainability of their digital advertising revenue. It’s not just about protecting revenue; it’s about maintaining a trustworthy environment for advertisers and a quality experience for users.

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