These days it seems like online ads are more of a hindrance than a help to marketers. Poll after poll reveals that Millennials and Gen Z don’t trust traditional advertising methods, the use of Adblock software is on the rise, and now cyber criminals are costing marketers billions of dollars from ‘non-human’ traffic to digital ads.

“Ad blocking is costing the industry $781 million a year – yet makes up only a sliver of the total $8.2 billion lost to major problem areas including bot traffic and content piracy,” writes Tim Baysinger of Adweek.

Over the past few years a number of studies have been conducted on ‘non-human’ traffic and the problems this issue poses for marketers. Most recently, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) commissioned a report on the impact of bots and malware on advertising in the online ecosystem. Forensiq and AppLift also released a report this month stating that non-human traffic is not only pervasive on desktop advertisements, but is also gaining traction in the mobile sphere.

During the study Matt Vella, the chief technology officer at Forensiq, and his team analyzed over 60 million mobile programmatic ad impressions on AppLIft’s DSP during a 30 day period. Each impression was given a score to determine whether it was real or fraudulent. Their report revealed that 34% of the mobile advertising (including banners, interstitial, and video ads) were at risk of fraud. According to Adweek, 12% of those ads were considered to be “high risk,” meaning Vella and his team were relatively certain that they were fake impressions while the remaining 22% were considered suspicious traffic.

This data reveals that advertisements aren’t always being viewed by human eyes and analytics are being skewed by software, costing advertisers billions of dollars in the process.

What Is A Bot?

Today many digital ad viewers aren’t human. The culprits are often bots, software applications that run automated tasks over the Internet. Bots typically perform simple and repetitive tasks at a much higher rate than humans can. They’ve been used to buy up good seats at concerts, farm resources in online roleplaying games, put items in shopping carts, click on links, increase YouTube views, skew traffic counts, and now, to generate false impressions on advertisements.

by Jen Taylor

Bots are everywhere and they pose real challenges for marketers. Below we’ve outlined a few ways that bots can skew your analytics and eat up your advertising budget.

5 Ways Bots and Cyber Criminals Can Sabotage Your Advertising Strategy

1. ‘Impressions’ don’t always mean your ad was seen by human eyeballs. According to Moz, “Ad networks knowingly sell bot traffic to publishers and publishers knowingly buy the bot traffic because the resulting ad impressions earn both of them money.” This is, of course, at the expense of the clients paying for the impressions.

2. Fraudsters can “hijack” apps. According to AdWeek, cyber criminals can take control of apps downloaded by consumers, even if they’re not open on the mobile device. This means that ads are constantly loaded, forcing advertisers to pay while also eating up consumers’ data.

3. Bots can click faster than humans. Click fraud occurs when malignant software creates click-fraud botnets. More simply put, bots generate a huge number of clicks on a single ad, costing advertisers millions of dollars a month.

4. App installation is where the big money is for cyber criminals. “On the web,” explains Shani Rosenfelder of AppsFlyer, “Cost Per Click (CPC) and Cost Per Mille (CPM) rule — so that’s where fraudsters focus.” However, in the mobile world, “specifically in the app ecosystem, Cost Per Install (CPI) is the unofficial king.” The average CPI payout per install is between $1 and $10, attracting fraudsters to the mobile sphere.

5. Ads can easily be hidden. Sometimes ads are hidden behind other ads, or are compressed into tiny one-by-one pixels that are impossible to see. Hiding these ads on pages helps generate impressions without being seen by a human eye.

The Future of Ads Is…Less Ads

Fraudsters are pervasive, and will adapt to whatever new platform or technology we develop to that can support or host advertisements. Vella ponders what will happen as ads become integrated into wearable technology and the Internet of Things connects our home, TVs, and security devices to the web. It is likely that cyber criminals will continue to adapt and find new ways to deploy bots and generate fraud.

In this increasingly connected digital ecosystem, non-interruption strategies seem to be the best solution to circumvent click fraud and avoid wasting valuable marketing dollars on meaningless impressions. Even if an advertisement isn’t blocked by Adblock software or ignored by consumers, it remains vulnerable to the persistent cyber criminals and bot traffic. The best way to build your audience and grow your business is to focus on creating content optimized for conversation, rather than broadcast. Engaging the audience with valuable content sidesteps the issue of bot traffic, but more importantly, builds stronger relationships with your potential customers.