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Digital Media

Click Fraud Vs. Viewability: The Difference and Why They Matter

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The digital media industry is buzzing with discussions of ‘viewability’ and ‘click fraud,’ but it’s remarkable how few media buyers truly know what these terms really mean, why they are important, and how these factors truly impact marketing spend and return on investment. Lets begin with the basic definitions:

Viewability: The definition of a viewable impression, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau (iab), varies based upon the type of ad unit.

Ad units are considered viewable if:
ŸŸ – Video Ads – 50% of the pixels are in view (on screen) for a minimum of two seconds
Desktop Display Ads – 50% of their pixels are in view for a minimum of one second
Large Format Ads – 30% of pixels in view for one second

Click Fraud: Digital Advertising Fraud is defined as the deliberate (illegal) practice of attempting to fraudulently profit from served ad impressions or reported clicks that are not initiated by a human user.

As you can see, click fraud and viewability are clearly related; a common form of ad fraud called ad stacking is based upon the generation and sale of non-viewable impressions. However, the two are fundamentally different elements, each with its own specific measures and strategic impacts.

Considering Ad Viewability

Much of the discussion today around Desktop Ad Viewability is centered around the relatively low average viewability rates of the different programmatic media channels. Currently, programmaticdesktop display viewability hovers anywhere between 40% and 60%. The iab has set the standard viewability guidelines for Desktop Display (all, not just programmatic) at 70%. So you can see, the programmatic space still has some room for improvement.

Many of you are likely asking, “Why only 70% when my television and radio advertising is 100%”? A large part of this discrepancy is due to limitations of the measurement technologies and not necessarily the quality of the ad units or placements. The Media Rating Council (MRC) has said that “100% viewability is currently unreasonable because current technology can’t consistently measure all online impressions. Different ad units, browsers, ad placements, vendors, and measurement methodologies currently yield wildly different viewability statistics.”

So, with 70% as the target and 50% as the average, why would you even consider programmatic media? Or how should we address these issues in the future?

There are currently two schools of thought on pricing and determining value from programmatic campaigns, knowing that 50% of your purchased inventory is potentially non-viewable, or at least immeasureable:

  1. Pricing for Viewability – Viewable Cost-per-Thousand (vCPM)
  2. Optimizing for Engagement

Pricing for Viewability

This concept is based upon the theory that viewable impressions are the only valuable impressions and thus pricing should be based on that percentage of impressions that meet the iab’s measured viewability standards.

A simple and fairly typical CPM versus vCPM comparison looks like this:

CPM vCPM
$40,000 Budget $40,000 Budget
$4.00 CPM $8.00 vCPM (assuming 50% viewable inventory)
10,000,000 Impressions 5,000,000 Viewable Impressions

As can be seen above, pricing for viewability guarantees only measureable/viewable impressions, achieving the advertisers stated purpose, but it does not actually increase ‘eyeballs’ seeing the ad units or drive greater value from the campaign because the vCPM price is typically increased in direct proportion to the non-viewable inventory ratio. This perspective misses the potential benefit of non-measureable but viewable impressions and thereby underachieves by comparison.

Optimizing for Engagement

The flip side of pricing out the non-trackable, potentially non-viewable inventory is the proactive realization that non-viewable inventory is already factored into the rate card price of most programmatic media vendors. Knowing this, savvy digital marketers focus their campaigns on optimizing placements for campaign performance metrics that require user engagement (and thus viewable ad units). The thinking in this paradigm is that a campaign, optimized for user engagement, will auto-adjust to reduce the amount of wasted, non-viewable impressions based upon the programmatic decisioning logic that drives the optimization algorithm, essentially gaming the system to achieve better results.

Considering Ad Fraud

Ad fraud is an intentional and illegal activity that is unfortunately rampant in the programmatic media space and as such it has received significant editorial attention over the last few years. We have dedicated our own resources to helping our clients understand the various types of ad fraud that are most common as well as what the Interfuse platform and team of fraud fighters are doing to combat this trend.

For the purposes of this article we will focus less on the types of ad fraud, as it has been adequately covered elsewhere, and more on how fraudulent activity impacts digital media performance.

Non-Human Actions

Perhaps the most pervasive and damaging result of the fraudulent activities in the industry is the effect they are having on traditional benchmark metrics like the Click-Through-Rate (CTR). Lauded for its simplicity and effectiveness, the CTR has been the primary metric of success for display campaigns almost since their inception. However; today’s sophisticated fraudsters can now create “bots” that not only artificially ‘view’ ads but click on them as well, increasing the CTR but denying the advertiser a valid human interaction. This practice is doubly troubling in the programmatic space as this bot-generated click is seen as a success by the basic optimization algorithm and the defrauding site is then rewarded with increased weighting in future ad serving opportunities further compounding the problem.

Fighting this effort requires constant vigilance and proactive human oversight of the algorithmic optimization engine in order to identify and “black-list” or remove suspicious sites (sites delivering unreasonably high CTRs). Unfortunately, many of the programmatic vendors in the space are grossly negligent in this area and instead are passing the artificially inflated CTRs on to client advertisers as valid metrics. This practice is essentially poisoning the well for future, more scrupulous vendors whose carefully curated algorithm consistently delivers a more accurate, but lower, human Click-Through-Rate (hCTR).

The Best and Worst of the 2015 Marketing Predictions

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Now that we are finally through the hustle of the new year and well into Q1 budget season, we thought we’d take a moment to review the ever present new year predictions.  Every self-proclaimed ‘futurist’ has a point of view and the Interfuse team has reviewed many of the top sites and selected the following best/worst of list for your review.

Best of 2015 Marketing Trend Predictions  

1. The need for quality content will drive innovation and industry disruption in 2015. Predictions related to “content marketing” or “inbound marketing” abound in this forecasting season, but one stood out from the crowd due to its far-reaching potential impact on the industry.  With perhaps the best name on our list, Rich Guest, President of North American Operations for Tribal Worldwide, was interviewed for the Clickz 2015 Trends list, and made the most far-reaching prediction on the importance of quality content in 2015.

“…the combination of exponentially increasing needs for digital content and flat budgets will result in an agency inventing a new model to fund content production. Because of the proliferation of social media platforms, brands have to produce more content and ad formats on a daily basis. And although there’s a crossover between your fan community on Facebook, your fan community on Twitter, and your fan community on Pinterest, you don’t necessarily want to push out the same piece of content across these three platforms on the same day. So you need to produce almost the same amount of content now to be really relevant in the digital world. Unfortunately our clients’ advertising budgets are not increasing exponentially. Instead, most clients’ budgets are flat year over year. So the question becomes how to produce relevant content with the same amount of money? The traditional content production model where agencies and production companies get paid upfront fees regardless of how a piece of content performs, is an increasingly unsustainable model. So I believe that lots of agencies will be looking at how to produce content differently and how to help clients produce content more efficiently with the same amount of money. In the future, they may test more performance-based models with their clients, such as cost-per-share, or cost-per-like.”

2. SEO will rely heavily on social signals. It’s long been said that social engagement and effective content strategies have an impact on search engine results page ranks, but these statements have largely been hard to quantify. This year, Taylor Nelson of LoginRadius made this somewhat obvious prediction a bit more firmly in her top 10 list for 2015 posted to Business2Community and it appears to already be coming to fruition with the Wall Street Journal reporting recently that Google and Twitter have again agreed to terms for the Twitter stream to appear in Google search results.  Score one for social SEO predictions.

3. Programmatic growth will continue to push for a solution to “Bot Traffic.” It’s been reported that a full 55 percent of all digital media is currently being bought programmatically, and as this trend continues and marketing dollars increasingly shift towards the digital realm, the programmatic pie will only further grow. Stephen Murray, SVP at Here Media, predicts for MarketingLand that this will result in a “battle cry” to end bot traffic and a push for clean traffic and “real users.” This is beginning to happen. Programmatic channels are increasingly focused on identifying and black-listing problem sites and publishers. The industry has already emphasized this effort and protective technology advancements must be made faster than the few bad apples can innovate ways to cheat the systems.

Worst of 2015 Marketing Trend Predictions  

1. AR and Wearables are making an impact in 2015. No list of futurist predictions would be complete without a few that jump a bit ahead of schedule. There is no doubt there’s a rapid advancement in technology happening and that the Augmented Reality and Wearables trends will eventually have an effect on the tools and tactics of effective digital marketing,. However, Mark Shaefer’s prediction for the TopRank Blog that “wearable technology should be gathering enough steam that we will begin to see some early marketing applications” is likely still more science fiction than science fact. Not to be out done, InboundNow.com doubled-down on the prediction and added Apple’s iBeacon and the Internet of Things trends to the mix. This technology is exciting and certainly holds significant potential, but let’s hold this one over for next year’s list, shall we?

2. “2015 is the year of mobile” and digital marketers are “going mobile all the way.” There were no shortage of mobile predictions for 2015, and while they all agree that mobile usage will continue to advance and mobile sites will become more important both for the user experience and for mobile search acceptance, these predictions are too little too late. The bottom line, in our assessment, is that if 2015 is the year of mobile for you, you’ve already lost the battle. 2014 was the year of mobile. Savvy marketers have moved beyond mobile as a platform, strategy or tactic. Mobile is simply a reality within the device/content ecosystem. It is, or should be, the first thought for all advertising and content efforts.  If it isn’t, you will be playing catch-up to those who have already made the switch.

3. Organic Social engagement will die in 2015. Surprisingly, many of this year’s predictions avoided thisclick-bait, doomsday prediction, but that is likely because they have been shouting it from the rooftops since Facebook changed its algorithm in early 2014. Everyone knows the dynamics of organic reach have changed and Facebook is penalizing overt sales pitch posts in favor of real content.  This doesn’t mean that the sky is falling, although a few marketing futurists still seem intent on selling this lie. The fact is, quality content is still shared, goes viral and drives business impact. Sadly, social content generated by marketers often is a sloppily masked hard sell. Organic social engagement is not dead. It will not die in 2015. If marketers effectively craft unique and engageing messages, organic reach will live a long and fruitful life.

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