Over the past few weeks, you may have read complaints from big-brand advertisers (looking at you Procter & Gamble) about digital ad fraud and bots eating up digital dollars.
As a result, you may be asking yourself: what can I do to prevent this from happening to my institution’s digital advertising campaigns?
Here are a few points to consider and questions you should ask any digital agency you may be working with.
What sort of brand safety strategies are you implementing for your display and social campaigns?
Numerous programmatic platforms offer enough brand safety settings to ensure you are visible on sites in line with your brand and not attracting ad fraud or bot traffic. You can utilize category exclusions (i.e., blocking a collection of sites like hate sites, mature sites, etc.). You also have the ability to limit your ads to display on sites that only allow four or five ads on them (sites with more than that on each page are more likely to attract ad fraud and are driving clicks through click bait).
How are you managing your blacklists?
This is one of the most important pieces to ensure your ads are not appearing on specific sites. The blacklist is a list you create of unwanted sites that loaded into your campaign to block your ads from appearing on those sites. This list should be maintained on a very regular, if not daily, basis. With any programmatic platform, you can monitor the publishers you are appearing on. And if you find ones that are garnering a lot of suspected bot activity or a great deal of clicks that aren’t converting, or any content that you don’t want to show up on, you can immediately add it to your blacklist for your current and future campaigns.
As David Rodnitzky said in the Wall Street Journal, “The advantage is you have access to a million publishers and a billion articles. The disadvantage is you have access to a million publishers and a billion articles.” Yes, this is both a pro and a con, but maintaining a strong blacklist is a great first defense against this issue. It will help insure you limit the amount of bot traffic and catch it early before wasting 35 billion impressions as Procter & Gamble did.
Facebook has even recently started to roll out more opportunities for advertisers to block certain categories and add blacklists for their historically secretive audience network. Google is updating their site exclusion options as well in response to criticism about ad fraud and to give you more control of your advertising dollars. These are important changes to keep an eye on and ensure your agency implements as they are being rolled out.
What type of targeting are you using?
Even with millions of publishers available for your ads to show on (after you exclude those on your blacklist and with category exclusions), you should not be serving your ads on all of these because your target audience is only spending time on certain ones. It is important to make sure the agency you work with knows who your audience is and has access to your data on them.
Programmatic platforms offer endless third-party data for you to target specific audiences, whether it's people interested in an MBA degree, parents of high school students, or nurses without a master’s degree. Social media also offers this specific targeting, so you can ensure you are hitting the right audience in the right geographies and in the right demographics. This will help limit the bot traffic since you are running ads to a more narrow audience.
Finally, if the questions above are answered correctly: how are you monitoring the campaign to make sure it’s successful?
P&G spent millions of dollars on digital advertising, presumably without asking the question, “What are we getting for our ad spend?” It took them 35 billion impressions to realize that the bulk of their traffic were bots, which begs the question: how closely were they (or their agency) monitoring the campaigns? Especially with e-commerce, it’s very easy to track their KPIs. If people are buying the items in their shopping carts, then you know what you’re doing is working.
Even though it’s not as easy to measure that direct transaction in higher education, there are still ways we can tell what’s working and what’s not. You should always be tracking conversions with your digital campaigns, whether it’s someone filling out a Request for Information form, signing up for an open house or information session, or tracking them right through application. While the effect of digital will not always result in these direct conversions (a lot is helping your overall brand), you can still monitor bot traffic through these. If you are seeing a publisher bringing in a high amount of conversions, but you are not seeing those conversions on your end or they are coming through as fraud, you can easily add that publisher to your blacklist. This is something you can catch within a few days, as long as you have the right agency and staff working with you to closely monitor your campaigns.
Digital ad fraud is an unfortunate occurrence that advertisers have to contend with, but with advertisers like P&G’s big announcement, large advertising companies such as Google (including YouTube) and Facebook are listening and responding by continuing to introduce more sophisticated and transparent ways to combat these issues. But it’s also important to take an active role in this, because while bots are out there and impossible to avoid 100% of the time, if you are buying digital in a smart, effective way and asking the right questions, then you should have little to worry about.