To Combat Ad Fraud, Take Control of Your Campaign Data

I’m sure by now most of us have seen some version of the alarming headline from a recent report by the World Federation of Advertisers: Without Changes, Ad Fraud May Reach $150 Billion Annually. While the scale of the problem the WFA report describes is new and eye-popping, ad fraud has been around for some time. It behooves every marketer and analyst to educate themselves about how the problem impacts them, particularly as it relates to programmatic ad buys. We should also acknowledge that ad fraud is one of those business problems that falls in the “intractable” category: it’s not going anywhere, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better, and it may eventually cause companies to rethink the way they structure their business.

Already some major advertisers are scaling back their ad buys, but most companies can’t afford to curtail their marketing. While we wait for the big advertising platforms to make improvements and implement new safeguards, it’s worth thinking about the ways analysts and marketing teams can take some control into their own hands. I’m talking about establishing the kinds of processes that will allow teams to understand where their incoming referral traffic is coming from, and look beyond the click to link campaign data with onsite buying behavior, so that anomalies can be spotted and addressed. Here are a few suggestions.

Seek Data Uniformity

Teams can start by ensuring that campaign naming conventions are uniform, regardless of the platform generating results. This is harder than it seems. At large companies, it’s difficult to manage all of the campaign tracking codes across the organization. A single report, such as “social campaigns,” might include input from multiple channel managers and publishers. The larger and more dispersed your team is, the more room there is for human error at the margins. Your team might span several time zones, delaying a quick answer to a simple question. You may be working with an agency team, or training might be incomplete. These all contribute to the likelihood that your naming conventions will go awry.

Without strict protocols, a mistake occurs and BOOM: thousands of auto-generated tracking code variations replicate it, compounding the problem. Forming a coherent data picture after the fact is nearly impossible.

Organizations looking to control their data will empower teams with a unified system that they can access globally, and that gives individuals autonomy to follow tracking code parameters the organization has set up. Users on all teams can then create codes with full confidence that they’ll be tracked correctly. If the process is consistent, your team may see in real time that a creative asset is linked to buying behaviour in some channels and not in others. Whether or not it’s a result of ad fraud, with the quality data you now have you can respond accordingly.

Launch that Campaign — but Test it First

It’s also prudent to consider a tool that allows you to verify that your tracking links are set up and that landing page data is flowing properly, pre-launch. There are a number of products on the market (Observepoint, Hubscan, QA2L) that crawl an organization’s site, testing for broken links and missing tracking data, sending an alert when data tags need to be fixed. A system like Claravine can do the same thing with campaign links before your campaign ever launches. The time to know whether the pages you’re directing traffic to are generating usable data is when there’s still time to do something about it. It will be easier to detect data that’s consistent with click fraud if your landing pages are firing and sending results to your analytics tools.

Make sure Your System can Talk to Itself

Finally, we often hear marketers say that they want a single source of data truth, and a commonly cited tool is DCM. It’s important to remember that for one system to “know” everything, all your organization’s other systems need to send it data it can understand, in its own language. For example, if you’re an Adobe Analytics client, you’ll only really get full value from SiteCatalyst’s granular tracking capabilities if you’ve set up your system to communicate with DCM so they can jointly interpret codes. A platform like Claravine can help DCM talk to Adobe or another data source you routinely use.

The more accurately your team can map its campaign data to pinpoint the source of site traffic, the more insight you’ll have into the relationship between clicks and subsequent buying behaviour. This will leave your team less vulnerable to ad fraud because anomalies will be caught and redressed more quickly. And if it turns out that ad fraud ceases to be a problem for your team, you’ll still have data insights that can be used in other productive ways.

About Joe Riddle & Claravine

Joe Riddle is an investor at Claravine, a SaaS platform that helps digital marketers analyze and run campaigns more efficiently by unifying the data from multiple campaigns across disparate systems into one single integrated view. Claravine automatically generates and stores campaign codes, and ensures that all new marketing releases are prepared consistently, even when marketers are spread across the globe and engaged across different marketing channels. More than 30 brands rely on Claravine for precise campaign analytics to make better-informed decisions. For more, visit www.claravine.com.

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