Where the Wild
Augustine Fou, PhD.
acfou [at] mktsci.com
212. 203 .7239
June 2016 / Page 1marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Ad fraud and ad blocking lower the effectiveness of
digital media and messes up measurement.
• Ad Fraud – quick review
‐ fraud bot activity (fake traffic, fake clicks) wastes ad
dollars and messes up measurement
• Ad Blocking – new, original data (AdMonsters study)
‐ bots don’t use ad blocking; ad blocking must be measured
together with bots and viewability
• Actions – looking ahead
June 2016 / Page 3marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Fraud continues upward as digital ad spend goes up
Digital ad fraud
Digital ad spend
Source: IAB 2015 FY Report
High / Low Estimates
June 2016 / Page 4marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Ad fraud is a “double-whammy” for advertisers
Messed Up AnalyticsWasted Ad Dollars
Ad shown to bots
Fake traffic, impressions,
clicks are all recorded by
June 2016 / Page 5marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Ad fraud is a “QUAD-whammy” for good publishers
2. “Bottom line”
1. “Top line” ad
4. Reputations ruined by
bad guys covering tracks
3. Ad blockers further
reduce ad revenue
June 2016 / Page 6marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Fraud siphons 1/2 of dollars out of ad ecosystem
“ad spend” in digital
is $60B in FY2015
are left with only
1/2 of the dollars
siphon 1/2 of ad spend
OUT of the ecosystem
Ad dollars are being siphoned OUT of the ecosystem
into the pockets of the bad guys
use ad blocking and
need to protect privacy
June 2016 / Page 7marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Bad guys follow the money – CPM, CPC fraud
91% digital spend
• rich media
(86% in FY2014)
Source: IAB 2015 FY Report
(83% in FY2013)
June 2016 / Page 8marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
It is SO extremely profitable, bad guys won’t stop doing it
“the profit margin is 99% … [especially
with pay-for-use cloud services ]…”
Source: Digital Citizens Alliance Study, Feb 2014
“highly lucrative, and profitable… with
margins from 80% to as high as 94%…”
June 2016 / Page 9marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Two main types of fraud and how each is generated
(includes mobile display, video ads)
1. Put up fake websites and load
tons of ads on the pages
(includes mobile search ads)
2. Use bots to repeatedly load
pages to generate fake ad
impressions (hide the true
origins to avoid detection)
1. Put up fake websites and
participate in search networks
2. Use bots to type keywords to
cause search ads to load and
then to click on the ad to
generate the CPC revenue
June 2016 / Page 10marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Bots are the cause of all automated ad fraud
Bots are made from malware
compromised PCs or headless
browsers (no screen) in datacenters.
June 2016 / Page 11marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Any device with chip/connectivity can be used as a
used as 400
June 2016 / Page 12marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
What I heard (at Publishers Forum)
“Ad fraud doesn’t affect us”
“I wasn’t really aware of bots and fraud”
“Our SSP has an anti-fraud vendor”
“we checked, we have very low bots”
June 2016 / Page 14marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Websites – spectrum from bad to good
Ad Fraud Sites
Click Fraud Sites
longtail mid-tail mainstream
“cash-out sites” “sites w/ questionable practices”
June 2016 / Page 15marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Bots – from easy-to-detect to advanced bots
in the wild
bad guys’ bots
Dstillery, Oct 9, 2014_
“findings from two independent third parties,
Integral Ad Science and White Ops”
Rocket Fuel, Sep 22, 2014
“Forensiq results confirmed that ... only 3.72% of
impressions categorized as high risk.”
2 - 3%
comScore, Sep 26, 2014
“most campaigns have far less; more in the
2% to 3% range.”
“not on any list”
disguised as normal browsers –
Internet Explorer; constantly
adapting to avoid detection
June 2016 / Page 16marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Premium publishers have lots of humans
June 2016 / Page 17marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Programmatic impressions look much different
June 2016 / Page 18marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Humans (blue) on ad networks vs good publishers
June 2016 / Page 19marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
End of month traffic and impressions fulfillment
volume bars (green)
red vs blue trendlines
June 2016 / Page 20marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Real traffic surges, human visits due to news
Traffic surgesvolume bars (green)
red v blue trendlines
June 2016 / Page 21marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Fraud Activities Mess Up Measurement
June 2016 / Page 22marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Bad guys easily hide fraud by passing fake parameters
Click thru URL
passes fake source
buy eye cream online
(expensive CPC keyword)
1. Fake site that
carries search ads
Olay.com ad in
2. search ad
served, fake click
fake source declared
3. Click through to
June 2016 / Page 23marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Bad guys fake KPIs, trick measurement systems
Bad guys have higher CTR Bad guys have higher viewability
Bad guys stack
ads above the
fold to fake
Good guys have to
array ads on the
page – e.g. lower
June 2016 / Page 24marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Bad guys’ bots can fake most quantity metrics
click on links
load webpages tune bounce rate
June 2016 / Page 25marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Recognizing human vs bot traffic patterns
Bot traffic is “programmed” so the amount of traffic is the same
(red line, flat across)
Human visit websites during waking hours, using search
June 2016 / Page 26marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Google analytics view of traffic from fraud source
Despite cutting off the traffic from the fraud site, there was no change to
the number of pledges and downloads, during the same period of time.
goal event – no change
“ … because bots don’t make donations!”
June 2016 / Page 27marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
AppNexus example – cleaned up 92% of impressions
Increased CPM prices
volume by 92%
< 20 cents
“good for them; good for advertisers who buy from them”
June 2016 / Page 28marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Bad guys’ bots earn more money, more efficiently
Higher bots in retargetingBots collect cookies to look attractive
Source: DataXu/DoubleVerify Webinar, April 2015 Source: White Ops / ANA 2014 Bot Baseline
June 2016 / Page 29marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Fraud operations are massively scalable
Cash out sites are massively scalableAuto create fraud sites with algos
131 ads on page
13,100 ads /page
Stacked redirects (e.g. dozens)
technique to hide
real referrer and
replace with faked
Thousands of requests per page
June 2016 / Page 31marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Humans block ads; fraud bots don’t
High human samples High bot samples
June 2016 / Page 32marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Humans use ad block; ads served to non-blocking bots
Total Internet Users –
285 millionNon-Human Traffic
Total Human Users
– 120 million
Adblock Users (humans)
– 50 million
Source: eMarketer 2016 estimate
Source: Distil Networks 2015
170 million 50 million
Source: PageFair / Adobe 2015
“subtracting adblocking humans,
your programmatic ads are
served to a population that is
June 2016 / Page 33marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Blocking, bots, viewability must be measured together
“fraud sites with
lots of bots also
have very high
“sites with lots of
bots have abnormally
low adblocking” (bots
don’t block ads)
“sites that cheat have abnormally
high viewability and low ad blocking”
June 2016 / Page 34marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Change perspective to focus on positive/reliable
June 2016 / Page 35marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
AdMonsters Publishers Study
June 2016 / Page 36marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Desperately seeking high “LVH” ad inventory
June 2016 / Page 37marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Publishers participating in study - examples
June 2016 / Page 38marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
More great publishers who participated in study
• 5+2 pattern visible; lower traffic overnight too
• humans (blue) much higher than bots (red)
June 2016 / Page 39marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Publisher site with great content and humans
|A| ad loaded 64%
|B| visible 86%
|C| human 89%
June 2016 / Page 40marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
By contrast, impressions served on ad networks
|A| ad loaded 23%
|B| visible 19%
|C| human 39%
June 2016 / Page 41marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Examples of widely varying LVH measurements
|A| ad loaded 81%
|B| visible 92%
|C| human 91%
|A| ad loaded 58%
|B| visible 66%
|C| human 71%
Publisher (High LVH)
Publisher (Low LVH)
|A| ad loaded 55%
|B| visible 60%
|C| human 44%
|A| ad loaded 35%
|B| visible 48%
|C| human 38%
Ad Network (High)
Ad Network (Low)
June 2016 / Page 42marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Current industry level view – can be more accurate
Source: Terence Kawaja @tkawaja – Digital Media Summit, May 2016
June 2016 / Page 43marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Programmatic traffic – bots, ad blocking, viewability
Non-Human Traffic (NHT) HUMAN VISITORS
(mouse, scroll, click)
• invisible ads
• domain spoofing
• site bundling
• ad injection
• pixel stuffing
• cookie cloning
• sourced traffic
• click bait
• ad carousel
“cash-out sites” “sites w/ questionable practices” “good guys”
June 2016 / Page 44marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Premium publishers – LVH (loaded, visible, human)
(NHT) HUMAN VISITORS
June 2016 / Page 45marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
AdMonsters Publishers Study – Class of May 2016
AdMonsters Publishers Study
• 30 days, directly measured
• 30 publishers/sites
• 1 billion pageviews
• ocean of blue
June 2016 / Page 46marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Take Action Now
June 2016 / Page 47marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Challenge all assumptions
• mobile ad blocking is lower – perhaps, but it is also possible that
it is due to more incomplete measurement in mobile
• desktop ad blocking is low – but this may be due to more bots
visiting (bots don’t use ad block)
• programmatic ads have higher CTR – this may be due to bots
creating fake clicks to trick you into sending them more money
• fraud is in the lowest cost inventory – no, in fact there is much
more fraud in the highest CPM ads like video ads
• ads are not served if ad block is on – some ad blockers now call
the ad to be served, then suppress it from displaying
• viewability vendor takes care of it – viewability is supposed to
mean no IVT and no ad blocking; it doesn’t actually, ask about it.
June 2016 / Page 48marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Top Advertiser Concerns
June 2016 / Page 49marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
About the Author
June 2016 / Page 50marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Dr. Augustine Fou – Recognized Expert on Ad Fraud
SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS / PANELS
4A’s Webinar on Ad Fraud
AdCouncil Webinar on Ad Fraud
TelX Marketplace Live
ARF Audience Measurement / ReThink
IAB Webinar on Ad Fraud / Botnets
AdMonsters Publishers Forum / OPS
June 2016 / Page 51marketing.scienceconsulting group, inc.
Harvard Business Review – October 2015
Hunting the Bots
Fou, a prodigy who earned a Ph.D. from MIT at 23,
belongs to the generation that witnessed the rise of
digital marketers, having crafted his trade at American
Express, one of the most successful American
consumer brands, and at Omnicom, one of the largest
global advertising agencies. Eventually stepping away
from corporate life, Fou started his own practice,
focusing on digital marketing fraud investigation.
Fou’s experiment proved that fake traffic is
unproductive traffic. The fake visitors inflated the
traffic statistics but contributed nothing to
conversions, which stayed steady even after the traffic
plummeted (bottom chart). Fake traffic is generated by
“bad-guy bots.” A bot is computer code that runs