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  • Gil Allouche

7 Insider Tips for Safe Programmatic Ad Buying

What the heck is Programmatic Buying anyway, and why should you care? Programmatic buying is the process of automatically buying ad inventory through a self-service software platform. And you should care because when done right, programmatic ad buying is a great way to accelerate your online marketing. Programmatic buying is based on machine learning algorithms that optimize your campaigns for you.  If you have a small team and do not have a full time resource dedicated to digital advertising, machine learning algorithm could be your new best friend.


Fraud in Programmatic Buying


Fraud has been running rampant in the digital advertising space since the beginning of the digital advertising era. However most recently, Incapsula reports that as much as 56% of all web traffic is now bot traffic. Research shows that more expensive ad formats such as video get hijacked by bots more frequently in order to generate higher revenues for the fraudsters. Video comes in at first place with a whopping 23% of fraudulent impressions. It’s no wonder the industry has reached record revenues of 12.4B in Q3 of 2014.  Bot traffic is robot generated traffic, in which a human never sees or clicks on any ads. The clicks are generated by bots.


Refer to the safety rules below to avoid fraud in programmatic buying.


1. Use a reputable programmatic platform


Do your due diligence. If you go with a smaller company, research the company thoroughly. Ask questions such as how long it has been around and where the headquarters are located. Generally performance marketing companies located in Florida are a red flag. Also, find out about how exactly the programmatic platform works and how the company monitors for fraud. What sort of preventative measures they have, as well as how they go about reimbursing for fraudulent clicks. If something doesn’t sit right with you, ask more questions until you’re satisfied with the answers.  If you are still not sure, then move on to a different platform. Companies such as Adobe and RocketFuel are always safe, reputable choices.


2. Set up your own tracking system


Don’t rely solely on the tracking mechanism of the programmatic platform. Make sure you either build your own tracking mechanism and append a tracking parameter to all the URLs of your ads or outsource a 3rd party platform such as DoubleClick. This way you can compare your data with the programmatic platform’s data in order to keep checks and balances. It will also help you identify any technical issues that may arise. Remember, a conversion rate discrepancy within 10% is perfectly normal, but only if your internal data is showing higher numbers. If the discrepancy is much higher, or your programmatic platform is showing larger numbers, something’s off and it’s time to investigate.


3. Mark clicks using unique identifiers


All reputable programmatic ad platforms should be able to pass back a set of identifiable data for every click. This data will help prove to you that a valid click actually occurred. For example, you should at a minimum receive a unique identifier for every click, a time-stamp and an IP address. The combination of these three parameters will help identify any discrepancy between the platform’s data and yours. For example, if you are seeing a large amount of clicks coming from the same IP, seconds apart, that is a sign of bot originated clicks. These fields should be dynamic and pass through specified parameters in the tracking link to be stored in your database.

Make sure your terms and conditions have language which clearly states that you will not be paying for fraudulent traffic.


4. Insist on hand-picking your site list


You might not be 100% successful in negotiating this because many programmatic platforms cannot let you choose which sites you can run on. However, what they can do, is let you exclude specific sites from their list. This is a good way to vet unwanted traffic. Speak to your sales person about this option before you sign the contract to negotiate as much control over the sites as you can get. If you see sites you don’t know, it’s best to exclude them.  Stick with reputable sites to minimize fraudulent activity.


5. Get Site-Specific Reporting


In order to understand where your ads are successful and where you might be getting fraudulent clicks, ensure you receive site specific reporting. Since programmatic companies serve ads real-time when inventory is available, they cannot guarantee impressions on sites ahead of time. However, site level reporting should be relatively easy to do after the ad has been served. Your report should include the following information on a website level basis: Impressions, clicks, CTR, conversions, CPM, CPC (and any other applicable metrics). Preferably, you will have access to a portal with your own login information that offers real-time data.


6. Set schedules for your ads


Timing is everything. That is definitely true in the case of programmatic buying. According to A Videology analysis of bot habits bot traffic is the highest during night time. Since bots don’t sleep like humans, they operate 24 hours per day. Therefore, it is recommended to turn off ad traffic between the hours of 11 PM and 5 AM. The good news is, most companies don’t see many conversions or leads during those times anyway. If you absolutely have to have the ads run 24/7, you should set up a Google Analytics account and monitor traffic from your programmatic sources by comparing to traffic from other sources or previous month. Google Analytics will give you a detailed breakdown of traffic sources as well as provide the ability to compare traffic attributes from various time frames. Look for discrepancies and spikes in traffic that aren’t typical based on your historical data.


7. Keep to one degree of separation

When you purchase ad inventory, it often operates on a re-seller model. Meaning the company you purchase from, has 100 publishers who each have 100 publishers. This is where the majority of the risk is situated. With each degree of separation your programmatic partner loses more and more control. Links can easily be manipulated and fake ones can be inserted. That is why it is important to buy from partners who buy direct from the source.