"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Lauren Moores, vice president of analytics at EveryScreen Media, a Media6Degrees company.
Celebrities know they’ve hit the big time when the paparazzi camp out on their lawns and the tabloids make up crazy rumors about them. Likewise, lottery winners attract shady characters hocking investment scams and spurious lawsuits.
The sad truth is that success comes with negative side effects, usually in the form of charlatans out to make an easy buck. The same seems to be true in digital advertising.
In every successful channel, a handful of nefarious characters emerge to game the system for financial gain. Spammers gave email marketing a bad name, click fraud has disrupted search and botnets have polluted the display ecosystem. Now fraud has found its way into mobile advertising, and that can only mean one thing: Mobile really has arrived as a viable, successful marketing channel.
With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, mobile has grown into one of the heavy hitters of digital marketing. The rapid growth has made it somewhat easy for fraudsters to take advantage of the channel because measurement processes are still in development. Complicating matters, marketers intent on legitimizing their investment in the new medium are eager to believe the often-outrageous metrics presented to them.
At the outset, the occasional crazy click-through rate can be explained by the "fat finger" effect — the result of large fingers on small touch screens —accounting for up to 50% of static banner ad clicks, according to a recent report from GoldSpot Media. Those accidental clicks don't translate into real engagement or revenue, but go into the click report all the same.
But as the channel has grown, fraud has become more of an issue. An estimated 18% of clicks are actually fraudulent, either on the server side or as a result of more sophisticated botnets, according to an August 2012 report from Trademob.
Stop Fraudsters In Their Tracks
With mobile becoming an ever more important advertising medium, what can we do as an industry to neutralize the fraudsters early on?
For starters, don't believe the hype. As much as you want to believe your campaign is seeing a 25% CTR, those spectacular results are most likely fraud. While static ads tend to see more accidental clicks than rich media, rich media also is very unlikely to deliver an honest 25% CTR. And while mobile does tend to produce higher CTR than the less-than-1% desktop norm, you're probably getting swindled if you are seeing a CTR greater than 10%.
Take your mobile metrics with a grain of salt. Compare them with the metrics for your other campaigns to see if mobile seems to be suspiciously outperforming other channels. Implement a process to regularly monitor that suspicious activity. Look for warning indicators, such as the same few obscure sites or apps showing up for many users, or campaign results that fall outside of campaign parameters. If you see consistent CTRs in the double digits, check with your agency, DSP or SSP to find out what is real and what isn't.
You can also work with your mobile advertising partners to implement checks and balances on the front end to reduce the likelihood of fraud. For instance, many display advertisers apply fraud-prevention methods with mobile that are similar to the ones used on desktop. And to further ensure campaigns aren't running on fraudulent inventory at the buy stage, the exchanges and programmatic platforms have begun integrating both algorithmic and manual review processes. For advertisers buying on self-serve platforms, it is important to review inventory and be careful whom you are allowing to serve impressions.
Overcome The Fraudsters
The bottom line is that fraudsters wouldn't try to game a channel that didn't have real value. We're an increasingly mobile society, and the channel continues to grow in importance. In the coming years, mobile media will be particularly important to audience targeting and brand engagement.
So, be aware of the risks but don't let the fraudsters scare you away from mobile. Don't base your goals and expectations on double-digit CTRs, and definitely don't use that ideal as a signpost for a good provider.
If they're promising you those kinds of results, they're probably playing you. It's best to work with providers who understand and can deliver results across media, not just in mobile. A good partner and a healthy dose of skepticism can help make mobile success a reality.