What is Invalid Traffic?
Invalid traffic has been skewing analytics data and costing advertisers money since digital advertising first took off in the 90s. Invalid traffic comprises any clicks or impressions that don’t represent deliberate, human intent to view the content. They can be accidental or fraudulent. As such, some Invalid Traffic (IVT) is inevitable, innocent, and negligible. Other types of IVT are malicious and severely problematic.
Why is invalid traffic a problem?
Inflated metrics and inaccurate reporting cost marketers billions of dollars on a global scale. The advertising sector is constantly working to combat the causes and effects of IVT. However, there is still widespread confusion about what IVT is and how best to manage it.
Good bots like Google’s spiders will leave impressions when they scope your pages for indexing. We want to be indexed, categorized, and delivered to the right audience, though we would prefer not to pay for spiders to load our ads. The same goes for accidental clicks and other legitimate bots.
Fraudulent IVT is a type of ad fraud that scammers use to create false demand for your ads. They could be competitors who want to deplete your advertising budget or servers who make money directly off your PPC or PPM ads.
Ad fraud often funds nefarious worldwide operations, like child exploitation, human trafficking, and arms trading. It’s a low-risk, high-profit scheme that criminal organizations can use to make substantial amounts of money relatively quickly.
How to view invalid traffic
Google Ads provides an invalid click report in its campaign reports. The example below shows 15%-20% invalid clicks on some rather large campaigns. Google does reimburse the advertiser for these fake clicks, but this type of levels can be common for many different types of advertisers.
To access the “invalid clicks” report in Google Ads, select a campaign and then select “columns” in the navigation area. From there, add the appropriate columns related to invalid clicks.
Example of invalid clicks in Google Ads reporting
Types of invalid traffic
There are two mutually exclusive categories of IVT defined by the Media Rating Council’s framework for Invalid Traffic Detection and Filtration:
General invalid traffic (GIVT) is invalid traffic distinguishable through conventional filtration, using lists and standardized parameter checks. GIVT includes known data center traffic, crawlers, and activity-based filtration.
Sophisticated invalid traffic (SIVT) is invalid traffic that is, by definition, more difficult to detect. It requires advanced analytics, coordination, and human intervention to analyze and identify. SIVT includes advanced bots that exhibit human behaviors like mouse movements and extended time per page, hijacked devices and user sessions, and invalid proxy traffic.
IVT's impact on advertisers
Total losses caused by ad fraud are difficult to pinpoint, which is why advertisers rarely see any of that money back, even when fraudsters are caught and charged. TrafficGuard estimates the current global losses at $34 billion and predicts it will rise to $87 billion by 2022. During TrafficGuard’s research, advertisers lost a total of $39 million per day. The WFA predicts that ad fraud will become the biggest market ($50 billion) for organized crime by 2025.
How to block invalid traffic
One simple way to block general invalid traffic (GIV) is to trick bots to fill out a field, similar to a hidden captcha.
A real, human user completes the online form fields they see visible on a website or landing page, such as their name and email address. However, a “honeypot” creates an additional invisible field. Bots complete this field because they are only can see the raw HTML on the page. Marketers can then easily see which leads completed the ‘hidden’ field and immediately attribute those sources to a robot and block them from future ad campaigns.
See this example of a “honeypot:”
Sophisticated invalid traffic (SIVT) is more difficult to detect. Due to its sophisticated nature, it’s far too advanced for most advertisers and agencies to combat on their own. Using software that’s just as sophisticated as the fraudulent software is the only way to effectively reduce ad fraud and protect your ad spend from significant losses.
Fraud Blocker employs advanced, proprietary algorithms to detect malicious practices and reduce non-human ad traffic. This US-based fraud prevention service improves the quality of your leads, increases your ROAS, and saves you payroll hours by automatically blocking invalid traffic sources.