A Different Kind of Online Boom and BustWe have talked here a lot about real metrics versus numbers that seem like metrics but are actually fairly meaningless when tracking the effectiveness of a marketing campaign. Examples of these kinds of metrics include number of followers on Twitter, number of fans on Facebook, email “opens,” and online ad impressions. We have noted before that companies can easily purchase Twitter followers and Facebook fans, making the competition for higher numbers seem all the more ridiculous. As it happens, purchases can also be made to inflate the number of impressions an online ad seems to be getting.
Adweek published an article last week titled, “The Amount of Questionable Online Traffic Will Blow Your Mind.” The article is a follow-up to an earlier article (published in March in Adweek) that was titled, “Meet the Most Suspect Publishers on the Web.”
The bottom line is this. Companies are buying ad space on websites. Whether the space is purchased directly or via an agency, the expectation is that in a competitive environment, the cost per click will decrease while the number of clicks will increase exponentially. Naturally, publishers are looking for ways to make that happen, and as is so often the case when lowering costs is an objective, some rather unsavory methods have surfaced over the last few years. Among some of these black hat practices are:
• The development of ghost sites developed primarily to drive up the number of ad impressions
• Invisible ads that can be clicked on accidentally as a person thinks they are clicking on a blank part of a website
• Purchased impressions, usually from bots. Adweek notes that while bot-generated traffic used to be easy to identify because of noticeable patterns, now the technology has become more sophisticated and more difficult to spot
The particularly frightening aspect of this new shady world of online advertising is that advertisers are not always aware of where their ads are running. Take the example Adweek underlines in the “Blow your mind” article. Lindsay Buescher, a senior analyst at a media-buying firm called Carat, had placed space with Break.com on behalf of her firm’s client, Red Bull. An agency can check a website to make sure ads are running properly, but what Buescher discovered is that Red Bull ads were also running on three sites her firm had blocked. This happened because “Break.com loads invisibly through a variety of complex methods. In one instance, a company called Ptp22 redirects Break traffic through a variety of middlemen before it is loaded invisibly via iframe. (The list of go-betweens includes Marketwithmogul and TooShocking.)”
Buescher was alerted to this problem after she read the first article from AdWeek back in March, which mentioned the “invisible link building” techniques of FreeStreams. Buescher discovered that Red Bull was also advertising there because of a link with other sellers of ad space inventory.
The AdWeek articles suggest that there is little advertisers can ultimately do about these problematic issues. For a company like Red Bull, monitoring online ad campaigns can mean monitoring thousands of sites, and not just making sure your ad is running correctly but also analyzing how that website is getting its traffic. There is, however, one important step that companies and agencies can take to help alleviate these problems. To wit, stop chasing after impressions. Impressions are a vanity “metric” that really do not indicate anything meaningful, as evident by the fact that impressions can be purchased or generated by bots instead of humans. Instead, make sure your online ads are driving traffic to customized landing pages so that you can track click-throughs on your side of the business transaction. Do not simply take for granted that lead and impressions reports you are receiving from publications are fool-proof. Check as much as you can as often as you can.
Are you monitoring from where websites with whom you advertise are getting traffic? What has been your experience with online advertising? We’d love to hear from you.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ivers/3945687672/ via Creative Commons
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