On a broader level, invalid traffic encompasses access such as search engine bots or crawlers, invalid proxy traffic, accidental clicks, and more, but there are also cases where illegal media operators may use this or other deceptive software to inflict fraudulent traffic in order to siphon advertising costs.
In this article, we will be discussing the different kinds of invalid traffic and introduce how to detect and eliminate them. If you're an online advertiser, this is important information that we recommend you to use to help better safeguard your ad budget.
What is invalid traffic (IVT)?
So what is invalid traffic exactly? Invalid traffic or also called ‘IVT’ refers to clicks or ad impressions that may artificially increase the costs associated with an ad or an ad operator's revenue. IVT is sometimes confused with advertising fraud, but the main difference that sets it apart is the fact that not all IVT is particularly malicious.
IVTs are specified into two categories: the General Invalid Traffic or GIVT and Sophisticated Invalid Traffic or SIVT. Next, let’s take a look at what kind of traffic is classified in which category.
General invalid traffic (GIVT)
The most common invalid traffic is called General Invalid Traffic (GIVT). A typical example of this kind of invalid traffic would be advertising traffic generated by search engines and antivirus software crawlers. ‘Crawlers’ are programs that automatically collect and save information published on the internet such as texts, images, and videos. Measurement bots and analytics crawlers are also considered invalid traffic.
Though these may be classified as IVTs, these crawlers serve a secondary purpose thus they are not considered highly malicious. Because of this, the priority to counter GIVT is often quite low.
Sophisticated Invalid Traffic (SIVT)
On the other hand, there are malicious forms of invalid traffic called Sophisticated Invalid Traffic ( SIVT). This traffic refers to illegal media operators intentionally increasing the rewards paid out by advertisers or stealing from legitimate media. Unlike GIVT, SIVT causes direct damage to advertisers thus the need to take immediate measures.
There exists a variety of methods that SIVTs use in order to manipulate advertising costs to inflict ‘ad fraud’. Let’s take a look at the most common methods SIVT uses.
SIVT and Ad Fraud
Regardless of whether your ad is actually being displayed or not, Hidden Ads is a method in which SIVTs make it appear as if an ad is being displayed on the system in order to steal your advertising costs.
There are a number of methods being used to do this such as minimizing the display area of the ad to 1 x 1 pixel or displaying ads in a transparent state.
Auto-refresh is a form of ad fraud that happens when an ad has been automatically refreshed a number of times in order to inflate the number of impressions generated on the ad. There is also another method where fraudsters reload the ad by manipulating user behavior such as scrolling.
Cookie stuffing or also cookie dropping is another popular type of ad fraud. With cookie stuffing, multiple third-party cookies are stuffed onto a user’s browser which makes it seem as if the user has visited the site where the ad is placed. These fraud vendors then steal advertising costs paid to legitimate sites.
How to Detect and Prevent Invalid Traffic
There are a number of ways to find out whether the traffic coming to your site is considered invalid. Next, we’ll be going over how to detect and eliminate invalid traffic.
Check IP Addresses and Exclusion Settings
First, use an external tool such as a marketing automation tool to check the traffic of an IP address. Traffic from users generally should have a phone line or internet provider line displayed on the IP address. Any other data centers or rental IP addresses that are listed have a high chance of being an IVT, so we highly recommend listing out the addresses of any invalid traffic you find and excluding them from your ad campaigns to mitigate any fraud damage.
One good thing to know is that these kinds of IVT are automatically excluded from searches via Google’s system on Google Ads, meaning you wouldn’t be charged for them. For any IVT that hasn't been detected, you can send a request to Google and be issued a return on your ad spend based on their assessment.
Monitor User Movements With Analysis Tags
It may also be effective to attach an analysis tag to an ad to monitor users’ movements in real-time. This allows you to detect any sort of suspicious activity happening on the system such as an abnormal amount of access coming from one terminal or frequent page updates in a short span of time.
If you can deduce that something is ad fraud, blacklist it and stop posting the ad.
Check Ad Performance Data
In some cases, you can find an IVT by simply checking on an ad's performance data. Sites with unusually low or high CTR (click-through rate) are easy to identify and it’s important to take notice of these anomalies since these sites may contain ‘hidden ads’ or ‘auto refresh’ as we introduced earlier in this article.
Depending on the severity of the issue, we recommend blacklisting these sites to temporarily stop the affected ads.
Integrating Ad Verification Tools
If you run a certain number of ad campaigns, we recommend implementing an ad verification tool to efficiently take measures against any potential IVTs. Just as the name implies, ad verification tools are designed specifically to verify your ads.
An ad verification tool or also often called an ad fraud prevention tool essentially helps you verify if your ads are being displayed in the right places and whether or not users are seeing the ad. Because of how impractical checking each ad manually is, many companies have started to use ad verification in their marketing practices in recent years.
At Spider Labs, we provide our own ad verification tool called Spider AF. Spider AF tracks ad clicks and collects data to detect traffic that is likely to be ad fraud. It also uses statistical data to determine which clicks are legitimate and which are fraudulently generated, so you won't be blocking legitimate traffic by mistake. Sign up for Spider AF's free trial and start analyzing your ad performance!
In this article, we talked about the different kinds of invalid traffic (IVT) and how to detect and eliminate them.
Not all IVTs are considered fraudulent or malicious traffic, but being able to identify where the invalid traffic sources come from and knowing how to get rid of them would not only help you run better ad campaigns but will also help reduce the risk of your ad spend being wasted by ad fraud.
The methods introduced above on how to identify and eliminate invalid traffic do not require much technical expertise, so take a look at which one will work best for you and start checking your ad campaigns for invalid traffic.