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Vampire bots: digital ad fraud and online traffic statistics

Robots, by Anja Osenberg via Pixabay.com

Robots have a mixed record in the the human psyche. They can affectionate and cute (e.g. Wall-e) or evil bastards (e.g. Matrix Sentinels). They can also be small, mindless but quite capable pieces of vampire-like software; only instead of blood they suck out money. How much money, would you ask? $7.2 billion per year, according to the recently published Bot Baseline report for 2015, a joint effort by Association of National Advertisers and WhiteOps. The study that informed this report was conducted last year to determine the amount of fraud levels in the domain of online ad buys of 49 brands in a period covering August through September.
The upshot is that we’ve made no progress whatsoever towards winning the war against "vampire bots".

Bad bots fake traffic data

Like microbes, bad bots are constantly evolving to circumvent various policies and measures meant to curtail their influence. Gone are the days where one could identify them expeditiously by checking for superhuman click per second speeds, or online activity that has no sleep downtime. Nowadays bots are mimicking the online behavior of humans increasingly well. This allows them to give the impression that a real person is visiting a

Bot operators mimic human traffic patterns, via Bot Baseline Report 2015

website. Illustrative for this is Figure 10 from Bot Baseline Report showing bot operators intentionally ramping up activity during the day and decrease activity at night (see image on the right).

The problem is that we rely a lot on traffic data to make all kinds of important decisions. Advertisers tend to buy ad space where traffic is generous; unfortunately, in all too many cases the traffic is spurious and is faked by bots. Website owners decide to change their websites based on traffic changes only to discover that traffic increases are of a non-human origin. Third-parties responsible with website maintenance, SEO or content marketing create and run campaigns that turn out to mean very little when it comes to flesh-and-blood customers.

However, there are some good news as well. According to Imperva Incapsula annual Bot Traffic Report cited from here the situation seems to have improved somewhat in the last couple of years. Purely in terms of online traffic proportion, human activity is slowly gaining on the bots, with about 51% of the overall online traffic being generated by us. The rest is split unevenly between good bots (19%) and bad bots (28%).

Bots operators mimic humans to syphon a lot of money

Digital ad fraud in numbers, according to Bot Baseline Report 2015

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said when examining the amount of siphoned money. WhiteOps paints a rather bleak picture: some advertisers that participated in the 2015 study were "scammed" even worse than in 2014: while last year bot traffic ranged from 2% to 22%, this year between 3% to 37% of ad impressions were created by bots.

One of the most affected categories of ads are video ads - in spite of being the fastest growing type of ads, it has the dubious distinction of performing far worse than display ads bought within the programmatic marketing paradigm.

Fraud follows the money and the automation:
      programmatic video concentrates the worst fraud

One of the most affected categories of ads are video ads - in spite of being the fastest growing type of ads, it has the dubious distinction of performing far worse than display ads bought within the programmatic marketing paradigm.

As stated above, not only advertisers are affected. Virtually everyone present in the online world takes a hit. Companies going to the trouble of analysing their traffic reports on a monthly basis regularly see peaks of traffics that prove at a second glance to be generated by bots.

The higher the proportion of traffic being subverted by bots, the riskier your decisions will be.

At ke Solutions we see the bot problem creeping in even on small to medium company websites. No further than last summer we saw an upsurge in fake traffic activity on the websites of most of our customers and had to explain in our monthly SEO reports the idea of fake traffic and bots and why they shouldn’t celebrate; after which, came the tough job of getting rid of the "infestation", which is harder than sounds but not impossible.

Did you decide to increase substantially your spending on a campaign that is showing a lot of promise? Better ensure traffic is human-driven!



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