All online publications, regardless of their size and niche, will be visited by some sort of invalid traffic over time. While not all bots are malicious, illegitimate traffic sources can damage a website’s reputation and lead to suspension from Google, Amazon, and other partners. Invalid traffic is a danger to any publisher attempting to make ad revenue by selling space on their websites. This article digs into the many sorts of invalid ad traffic, what causes it, and how publishers may avoid invalid traffic to receive maximum ROI on advertisers’ expenses and protect themselves from fraud.
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- 1 What is Invalid Traffic?
- 2 3 Major Causes of Unintentional Invalid Traffic
- 3 How to Find and Eliminate Invalid Traffic (IVT) On Your Website?
- 4 FAQs
What is Invalid Traffic?
Invalid traffic is the artificial inflation of clicks and impressions on a website that does not come from a genuine user with a real interest in the content. Invalid traffic occurs both accidently and with dishonest purpose. According to Google, it can “include inadvertent clicks caused by obtrusive ad implementations, fraudulent clicking by competitive advertisers, advertising botnets and more.”
From an advertiser’s perspective, the clicks don’t lead to meaningful money, rendering them practically worthless. With studies showing a loss of $1.27B to publishers a year due to ad fraud and invalid traffic, publishers need to know how to identify and mitigate fraudulent traffic.
Typically, invalid traffic includes:
- Impressions and clicks generated by publishers themselves on their own websites and adverts
- The usage of automated methods by publishers to increase impressions
- Bot traffic used to spam websites in order to steal user data
The Media Rating Council, alongside IAB, identify two categories of invalid traffic, general invalid traffic (GIVT) and sophisticated invalid traffic (SIVT) (SIVT).
General Invalid Traffic-GIVT
General invalid traffic runs in the background and checks webpages for information. It does not replicate human behavior and is not delivered with the goal of deception, making it the most acceptable and least risky form of incorrect communication. Some examples of generic invalid traffic include:
- Bots, spiders, and other crawlers that originate from known data centers and search engines
- Data and brand safety bots
- Traffic from unknown browsers
- Analytics crawlers
- Invalid Ad Placements
- Examples of poor ad implementations
Although GIVT is non-human traffic, it generally serves a purpose in the digital ecosystem, whether to assess or improve based on the data it extracts. Perhaps most importantly, to remember that GIVT doesn’t artificially inflate ad clicks or impressions.
Sophisticated Invalid Traffic- SIVT
Sophisticated Invalid Traffic (SIVT) is traffic manufactured with malevolent intent. Of the two categories of invalid traffic, sophisticated invalid traffic is significantly more technically involved and hence tougher to spot. This type of incorrect traffic is difficult to identify because malicious actors employ botnets to simulate human behavior. SIVT generally involves extensive analytics and concerted human intervention to detect the fake ad traffic and finally prohibit it from falsely boosting clicks. Sophisticated invalid traffic also includes traffic that does not fulfill the criteria for ad quality, ad serving, and ad completeness.
- Bot traffic that interacts with web sites and digital adverts without exposing themselves as non-human
- Illegal substitute traffic
- Cookie Stuffing
- Bots meant to alter data and statistics
- Hacked user devices
- False location data
3 Major Causes of Unintentional Invalid Traffic
Publishers that have been warned by Google that their website is being attacked by invalid traffic fall into one of two categories:
- The source of the invalid traffic is a mystery.
- The publisher is purposefully doing something to create the impressions generated.
For individuals that fall into the first category, they are most likely fully in the dark as to the source of this traffic. Here are three common causes of inadvertent invalid traffic for publishers.
Expired and Redirected Domains
A frequent SEO tactic is buying an expiring domain. Publishers then either redirect their website to the expired domain or develop a new one to meet the domain’s business specialty. The benefits of this technique include:
- Taking over a domain that still has solid authority
- The site may still have good backlinks
- The domain name is in a similar business to the publisher’s
- The domain has a .edu or .org address, providing the publisher a greater level of authority
When publishers purchase an expired domain, the assumption is that, after the redirect is set up, they will receive the benefits of existing backlinks, domain authority, and rankings. The problem here, however, is that while publishers may gain transferred impressions on the new site, they don’t know where this traffic is coming from and why. When transferring traffic from expired domains to new sites, publishers may be sending themselves:
- Unwanted bots and crawlers
- Visitors looking for the old website- leading to a high bounce rate
- Warnings from Google about illegitimate traffic
Solving this issue can be very complex, perhaps overshadowing the potential benefits of redirecting the site in the first place. To start with, site owners should identify which expired domains are referring to the new site. Publishers can do this by checking the server log files.
Moreover, if there is Google Analytics available for the redirecting URLS, publishers should check what redirects are being hit and where that traffic is coming from. They may also be able to set up domain-forwarding that filters out bots through the CDN or host. This will allow them to keep the backlinks in place while protecting against bots.
Bots are becoming an increasing part of all web traffic. Certain bots are helpful, such as search engine bots (GoogleBot), monitoring bots, and SEO crawlers. But bad bots are also on the rise, from scrapers who steal content to click bots used to generate impressions and click on display adverts. In fact, research by Imperva indicated that in 2019, malicious bots accounted for a stunning 24.1 percent of all web traffic.
The most notable surge in bad bots has been in those that hack credentials and those that stuff credentials. The huge volume of DDoS attacks imposes a tremendous strain on networks and, in some circumstances, takes them down altogether. One of the most easy precautions site owners can take to avoid having their CMS hacked is to alter the default login URL.
While purchasing traffic is still popular with website owners trying to increase clicks, it is ultimately a dead-end route. Purchased traffic mainly comes from click farms, where specifically developed software or human traffic is assigned to inflate clicks and impressions. And while this may appear thrilling in the short term, at the end of the day, this is never helpful for a brand or their revenue.
Instead, publishers should strive to enhance human traffic through search engine optimization and by providing better content and an exemplary user experience. This will ensure advertisers get value for their money when it comes to leads and conversions, and they will be happy to pay the extra that comes with such a site’s reputation.
How to Find and Eliminate Invalid Traffic (IVT) On Your Website?
While illegitimate traffic can be highly destructive to both advertisers and authors alike, Google is regrettably quite ambiguous when it comes to how to deal with these traffic sources.
Having said that, they are still quite stringent with their program standards, with Google AdSense claiming that if they see excessive quantities of invalid traffic on an account, they may suspend or disable the account to safeguard advertisers and users. Additionally, if they cannot verify the quality of a publisher’s traffic, they may limit or disable a publisher’s ad-serving rights. Not only does invalid traffic increase the risk of having your AdSense account suspended, but it also increases the expense of advertising. Furthermore, excessive levels of non-converting visitors might devalue a publisher’s inventory.
To begin to identify and eradicate bogus traffic, publishers should start by filtering out bots. This can be done with the help of Google Analytics. Here’s how:
- Login to your Google Analytics account
- Click on the Admin button
- Navigate to the View tab and click on View Settings
- Scroll down the page and pick the Bot Filtering option if it’s unchecked.
- Finally, ensure to Save your settings
It is crucial to remember that while Google Analytics is highly efficient in filtering different types of invalid traffic, it is not flawless and does not guarantee 100 percent eradication of invalid traffic. Therefore, it is vital for publishers also to adopt best practice.
- Never click on your own Ads
- Follow standards and policies for ad serving and placement
- Have traffic certified by a third-party
With advertisers growing increasingly concerned about ad fraud, publishers should ensure that they are on top of the threat posed by fraudulent traffic. For optimum ad revenue for everyone involved, publishers should continually be monitoring their traffic sources and employing the following ways to filter IVT:
How can a website detect and block illegitimate traffic?
Detecting and Preventing Invalid Traffic via Google Analytics The following are the characteristics that help in recognizing Google Analytics:
- Reduced Session Duration
- Increased Number of Pageviews
- Increased Number of Pages Per Session
- Visibly Increased or Decreased Bounce Rate
- Reduced Page Load Speed
How does AdSense detect invalid clicks?
Every click on an ad is evaluated by Google. Google has advanced systems to identify valid clicks and impressions. If an invalid click is found, Google removes it from reporting and payouts. There are numerous methods that Adsense uses to detect incorrect clicks:
Visitors with several click adverts
It is acceptable to receive one or two clicks from different folks but when you are getting 10+ ad hits by a single person then Google starts taking into consideration and watches your account.
Many site visitors from a sole IP address
If a single IP address is being used to click on a certain ad, Google Algorithm quickly recognizes such activity.
Many visits from the same referrer
Google AdSense keeps a proper check of organic visits coming via Bing, Yahoo, Google, or any other. If there are many visits from the same referrer, Google perceives it as spam.
Visits & clicks from your IP address
If the site traffic and clicks originate from your very own IP address, Adsense do not consider it and classify them as fraudulent clicks.