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Kelly Kleinman

Kelly Kleinman Digital Content Director

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Digital Ad Fraud is Endless and Google is An Issue: Is your Dealership Getting Ripped Off?



Good vs evil is a never ending battle.  The issue with digital advertising is in distinguishing who is on which side of the battle. We all know Google admitted a few years ago that 54% of their display ads were likely never seen by human eyes due to bogus site placement and viewability issues. They basically sold bogus inventory and knew it for years. It was a variety of industry watchdogs that viewed Google through their crosshairs and pressured Google into taking far more robust actions to stem the rampant fraud that they had been benefiting from for years.

So for all of those dealers and manufacturers who spent billions of dollars on “programmatic display” and other such folly, and had difficulty attributing real results to it, now you know why.  No one saw your ads. Ya, those ads showed up on legit pages when media was purchased direct on reputable websites, but if you went through the exchanges or ad networks - you got tarred and feathered.  

For those of us who do ppc campaigns, you can bet your bottom dollar that your Google Analytics and your ppc numbers NEVER, EVER match up, but the clicks have been paid for. Are you getting a full refund for the discrepancy?  You better be but most are not. 

Google isn’t 100% to Blame but Maybe 80%

Digital ad fraud is an arms race whereby the bad guys are always one step ahead. Google, having to show that it really cares, actually built a tool for better transparency that will allow a marketer to determine the legitimacy of their ad buy. The issue is then handed off to the marketer to decide how they approach a client who they are buying an unpredictable amount of bogus inventory for. How does that marketer go to ABC Auto Group and confess to them that he or she has been scally-wagged, but it’s a game everyone plays all the time so it’s OK to knowingly be ripped off? It might be easier for a big marketing group, but how does a boutique marketer handle that?  By asking Google to credit the account?

It’s a really dodgy business, far too complicated, and sophisticated to be given the leeway they have been for all of these years. Problem is, government is always several steps behind the tech-sector and that’s been the issue...a license to print money, and no one to really call them out or properly oversight them until relatively recently. Oddly enough, in this instance it wasn’t the “fake news” either.

The Wall Street Journal Calls Foul

According to the WSJ article on the Google fraud refund issue, “Google had been refunding only its fees because the digital ad chain is complex, with multiple intermediaries taking cuts of any spending. One dollar spent on an ad on The New York Times, for example, gets divided up between sell-side platforms, buy-side platforms, various ad tech companies and, finally, the publisher itself.”

Google is now giving bigger refunds to marketers who lose money to ad fraud on its platform.  This occurred because the WSJ published an article spotlighting the issue last year and it took time for Google to come clean and develop a tool so marketers can have more transparency regarding their media buys.

The “good” news came a few weeks after The Wall Street Journal reported that Google was issuing refunds to advertisers whose ads reached bots instead of humans, but only for its fees of 7 percent to 10 percent, not the whole cost of wasted ad spending which has been estimated as high as 50% and low as 10%.  A few years ago we tested a dealership group out of Colorado and found that 90% of their traffic was code.

Per the WSJ; “The new policy only applies to inventory acquired through Google supply partners AppNexus, Index Exchange, OpenX, Teads, Telaria and DoubleClick Ad Exchange, though Google estimates they, along with others, comprise 90% of the available inventory on DoubleClick Bid Manager. The refund system is currently being employed.

Customers of DoubleClick Bid Manager, the portal where marketers buy digital ads via Google, automatically receive full refunds for all detectable ad fraud. Still, the issue is in full transparency, how the heck does a marketer know they’ve been the victims of fraud...really?  Can they trust Google to “keep up” with the other “bad guys,” let alone not supply them with rigged software (conspiracy time)?

Here’s How Bad it Is

Google removed 100 fishy ads per second in 2017! Per Scott Spencer, Google’s director of sustainable ads; “We took down more than 3.2 billion ads that violated our advertising policies” that was nearly double` from 1.7 billion in 2016.

The company blocked 79 million ads in its network for attempting to send people to malware hell-sites, and removed 400,000 of these nasty sites in the past year. Google also pulled 66 million “trick-to-click” ads,and 48 million ads targeted to get folks to download unwanted software by dangling a carrot which is usually the actual download they were looking for.  That’s bad enough, but it’s literally one scam after another that the already dodgy Google has to mount a reactive fix to.

Google removed 320,000 publishers from its ad network for violating the company’s publisher policies. It also blacklisted nearly 90,000 websites and 700,000 mobile apps.

As an aside, Facebook removed nearly 500,000,000 fake accounts on it’s platform just to further demonstrate how wild the Internet still is. In 2017, Google removed 2,000,000 pages for policy violations each month after expanding its policy against dangerous and derogatory content in April to cover additional forms of discrimination and intolerance. Aren’t you happy Google, the overlord of the dirtiest digital platform on the planet, decides what bad content is?

Visibility issues complicate the entire issue even further when we take into consideration that 26% of web users have ad blockers on their PCs and 15% or more have ad blockers on their smartphones. The estimated loss of ad revenue to ad blockers is 10-12 billion bucks per year.  

RhythmOne released some research last year that focused on blocking and fraud prevention trends across the programmatic marketplace throughout Q4 2017. The company said it processed 2.8 trillion bid requests on average between October and December.

The report reflects trends of blocking by the platform’s filters of both suspicious and under performing inventory.

Here are the main factoids per ANA:

  • 56 percent of ad inventory on desktop was blocked compared to 38 percent on mobile for the quarter.

  • On average, programmatic video inventory was blocked at slightly higher rates than that of banner ad inventory; 49 to 45 %.

  • On mobile, inventory was blocked significantly more often on mobile web (56 percent) than on in-app mobile inventory (27 percent). The company says fraud on mobile apps is inherently complicated —making detection more varied and more challenging.

The concerns around programmatic video buying are largely focused on fraud and viewability because the worst measurable fraud is in view-through metrics and who or what is actually be viewed.  In many instances, code is created to simulate an actual view...isn’t that nice?

Solution Offered

So, with all that said, what the heck can we do about it?  For one, find a way to correctly measure cause and effect in your digital marketing universe.  If you can’t make the analysis yourself, then bring in a 3rd party to forensically analyze your digital advertising via Google Analytics and see what the heck is really going on. Of course, you have to trust Google Analytics to be accurate which is not always the case but is all we really have.  You may save your company thousands or millions of dollars...and then you’d look like a hero - because that’s exactly what you’d be.

Meanwhile, it’s summer, go catch a wave, some rays, a ballgame, put the top down, and let someone else worry about it for now.  


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