Thought Leadership

Keeping It Clean: 5 Ways to Protect Your Inventory

May 14, 2018
By John Clyman, VP, Engineering - Marketplace Quality & Security

Most would agree that house cleaning isn’t fun, especially for those with a hectic work/life schedule. But a little vacuuming and scrubbing once in awhile is important to maintain the cleanliness of your house, despite how busy life gets.

The same goes for ad inventory. To a busy publisher trying to increase revenue, regular upkeep of inventory quality can seem like a banal task. But as ad fraud and invalid traffic continue to siphon billions of dollars annually from brands and legitimate publishers, it’s absolutely critical.

In both cases a little systematic attention to seemingly mundane matters of hygiene can go a long way toward keeping things clean and attracting visitors—whether it’s your site or your home. So in the spirit of spring cleaning, here are five things you as a publisher can do to protect your inventory quality and monetization.

1.  Be vigilant about traffic and installs

With Adobe recently reporting that about 28% of web traffic could be non-human, the safest approach to inventory quality is not to acquire traffic at all. However, not everyone can rely completely on organic traffic to attract the audiences they expect. For publishers who do have to buy traffic, it’s important to be cautious.

Real users are expensive. Prices that look too good to be true usually are. If a traffic source claims to have visitors guaranteed not to trigger your vendor’s anti-fraud detection, they’ve more than likely developed countermeasures against that vendor. Anti-fraud vendors invest tremendous resources in detecting abuse, but in the ad-fraud arms race, bad actors work hard to evade detection—and some can pull it off for a while.

Even if you don’t acquire traffic, someone else in your organization or an affiliate with a financial incentive could be buying traffic without your knowledge. For instance, if your site pays contributors based on pageviews, contributing authors may drive traffic to their content to increase their payouts.

2.  Analyze your analytics

Refer regularly to your site or app analytics and look closely at traffic patterns. Some bot traffic can stand out like sore thumb. For instance, it may have unrealistically long (or short) user sessions, come from unexpected geographies, or lack the time-of-day variations typical of real users. If you see these kinds of anomalies, drill in until you can isolate the source.

3.  Protect yourself from spoofing with ads.txt

The last thing you want is for somebody else to profit from your own content and reputation. But with domain spoofing and unauthorized resale, this can happen easily. A bad seller sends traffic that looks like it’s coming from your site but really isn’t, and unknowing buyers pay them instead of you.

The good news is that implementing ads.txt on your site is a simple way to protect against this abuse. Ads.txt lets publishers declare which parties are authorized to sell their inventory and helps make the ecosystem safer and more transparent for everyone involved. For more information on ads.txt, see our previous blog post dedicated entirely to the topic.

You’ll be in good company—more than 80 percent of web inventory, by spend, on the Rubicon Project exchange has already implemented ads.txt. We’re also working with the IAB and many others to define how ads.txt will work on mobile app ad inventory.

4.  Be careful with page layout and ad placements

You already know not to overburden your pages or apps with absurd volumes of ads, or ads that interfere with user experience. But even well-intentioned, polite ad placements can inadvertently create invalid traffic problems.

We’ve seen cases where sites reflowed as ad placements were inserted into text, causing the page to jump around and leading to unintended user clicks on mobile devices. Get enough of those unintended clicks and it can look like attempted fraud.

Make sure you’re not unintentionally encouraging this behavior by checking your site or app’s behavior, especially on mobile devices.

5.  Engage with an anti-fraud vendor

Finally, if you’re serious about protecting your site against fraud, engage directly with an anti-fraud vendor to help measure and block invalid traffic. Even the cleanest sites have a certain amount of bot traffic.

There are bots that index sites for search engines, which are generally polite and announce themselves so that ad platforms don’t bother serving ads to them. But there are other bots that disguise themselves. Some might scrape your site for competitive information (especially common on e-commerce sites). Others might collect cookies to make them attractive to retargeters—this type of bot fraud has nothing to do with your site, but you suffer as an innocent bystander.

By getting access to your own measurement sensors and data, you’ll get better insight into where this abuse might be originating from and you may be able to keep it at a nominal level.

Establish your regular cleaning regimen and make it a habit

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to keeping your inventory clean. And since many characteristics of your inventory are unique, you can’t just outsource your efforts to a convenient local cleaning service, as you might with your house. But with the right attention and tools, you can take meaningful steps to reduce your exposure.

For more information on protecting yourself from ad fraud, please contact us at contact@rubiconproject.com.


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