Cleveland Business Connects

For immediate release (October 6, 2017) Media Contact: Judy Abelman Email: Phone: 440.725.8861...

Digital marketing’s dark side

By Heather Kramer

Programmatic digital – the buying and selling of ad impressions over automated platforms – has become increasingly popular due to its ability to increase and maximize marketing spend and efficiency. But with every panacea, there is a dark side. The automated nature of this technology has bred new life of fraud and vulnerability, creating a conundrum for publishers and marketers, alike.

Spending on digital advertising—which includes social media and mobile devices—is expected to rise nearly 17 percent to $50 billion in the United States this year. That would be about 28 percent of total U.S. ad spending. Just five years ago, digital accounted for 16 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Conversely, industry executives (depending on your source) believe 35-50 percent of all web traffic is non-human. The “bad guys” have invaded our space and devised ways to game the industry for profit by creating loopholes for click farms, click-through channels, and other advanced technologies, such as ad stacking.

Combined or individually, these forms of fraud can severely effect your online campaign integrity by skewing click-through rates, cost, and subsequent analytical variables that, at the end of the day, cost you, the advertiser, and everyone along the digital marketing food chain.

So, will the penetration of malicious technology impact the online advertising industry? Of course, online ad industry leaders and advocates have already begun to address this issue with the development of best practice guidelines, watchdog groups, and private sector monitoring programs and software. The industry is far from perfect, but in a high growth environment, you can expect glitches in the matrix as the ecosystem evolves.

How can you protect the integrity of your online campaigns and ad spend and what can do you to make sure your technology/vendors are also looking out for your best interest?

  1. Demand transparency and visibility of ad data from your vendors. Many vendors will give you a limited end of report campaign overview with metrics such as CTR (Click Through Rate), Impressions Served, CPM (Cost Per Thousand), and a few other sets of analytics. That is not enough. Working with the right RTB (Real Time Bidding) vendor will give you access to hundreds of campaign and audience metrics, along with real-time looks at your campaign performance. It is important to find a vendor who gives you access to this information, and who will also support your questions, feedback, and input so they can optimize your campaign on the fly. Digital campaigns should never be set and forget, as “fishy” data (higher than average click through rates, for example) can easily be masked.
  2. Follow credible industry publications, bloggers, and publishers for up-to-date information. Awareness is the first step. A few key organizations to follow might include: American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Publications such as AdAge, MediaPost, and ClickZ are also great resources.
  3. Shift your campaign KPI focus from CTR to ROAS. Often times when a client/marketer dictates a main KPI to be “cost per click,” they are taking the chance that vendors will enlist the use of click bots or click through channels to deliver only on this metric. This type of goal setting is dangerous, and could lead to wasted investment and lost leads/sales. If you can marry real time optimization, blacklisting of known bot sites, and anti-bot software (often integrated into vendor platforms), your Return on Ad Spend metric will be a much more valuable to you both in terms of efficiency and delivery validation.

If you are involved with digital marketing and are concerned about your campaign performance, remember — prevention, awareness, and vendor transparency are key. It is most important to get involved in the planning and live optimization of your digital campaigns, so that you can monitor for suspected bot activity and fraud. Selecting the right vendor and making yourself aware of industry trends will also aid in your digital marketing success. Lastly, if you are able to shift your campaign goals to a CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) or ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) model, you will be looking at metrics that have the most impact on you digital advertising efforts, and avoiding those that may encourage fraudulent activity.

If you would like to discuss this topic, or any other topic in the digital media industry, please feel free to reach out to me!

Heather Kramer is the director of strategy and digital media with Essex Digital Platform. She can be reached at, @essex_digital, @mi2cnts4u, and LinkedIn.



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