Display Media Bots? (5 Ways to Double Down on Search)

Several recent studies have focused on the rampant levels of display advertising impression fraud and click fraud within our ecosystem. Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the IAB stated: “About 36 percent of all Web traffic is considered fake, the product of computers hijacked by viruses and programmed to visit sites…”

Other reports have put estimates even higher, for example, SolveMedia’s estimate of suspicious traffic is 46 percent for desktop traffic. Regardless of whether you believe the conservative or aggressive reports that nearly half of desktop traffic is bogus, it makes pay-per-click (PPC) search clicks look like a great investment.

Sure, the PPC platforms also struggle with bots, but click bots are a bit easier to filter, and the larger search players have huge teams dedicated to filtering (and not charging for) suspicious traffic. I’m not yet convinced that the social media PPC platforms have invested enough in bot click filtering, nor bothered to take the time, energy, and risk to open up their click measurement process and get IAB/MRC certified for clicks, but that’s another story.

The good news is that the larger U.S. search players – Google, Bing, and Yahoo (which recently re-entered the PPC market with mobile clicks delivered via Yahoo! Gemini) – have all gone through an audit process to certify that they are taking industry standard steps to monitor for bogus clicks and filter them out of the billing statements marketers receive. Are their systems perfect? No, but the vast majority of marketers buying PPC search clicks are putting a lot of weight on last click when valuing the click stream from a particular search engine, and if the clicks aren’t converting, the bid usually goes down.

If you find yourself losing faith in the CPM display markets, perhaps now is a great time to look for opportunities to spend more in PPC search. The following are some great ways to deploy budgets that are currently allocated to display and may be victim to the bot impression and click traffic:

  1. Early buy-cycle generic keywords that don’t show up in a last-click conversion report. If you are willing to invest in display advertising to build awareness and invest in moving your brand into the consideration set with display advertising, then clearly you have a strong rationale to continue to invest in search advertising. After all, click bot traffic aside (which should be mostly free), the visitors to your site are highly interested in what you have to offer and would not have clicked on your ad link otherwise. Use your site and the great content you’ve created to engage and persuade in ways that even a rich media banner can’t. Perhaps you should even invest in video content for your landing pages. Nothing is as powerful in educating and persuading as video.
  2. CPC Content Networks (now called display among some networks). In Google, a combination of smart pricing and bot filtering reduces the risk of you paying for bot traffic. Google has access to both browser data (Chrome) and analytics data (Google Analytics and conversion pixels) that make it easier to identify sources of bot traffic. Paying by the click and buying filtered display/contextual clicks from a vendor that has gone through IAB/MRC audits is, after search, your least risky ad buy.
  3. Consider video advertising. Once you’ve developed video content for your landing pages, you may want to consider testing video from a vendor that only makes you pay for a video ad impression when that impression was running for a sufficient period of time that the consumer has been exposed to your message. There is some risk of bot traffic with video ad networks, but the nature of the ad format reduces risk. In addition, YouTube/Google and the larger players in video advertising are actively tackling the bot problem as it relates to video.
  4. Ramp up your Google Ad Extensions and Ad Formats. Are you using all the relevant ad extensions? Make sure you test them all. Are product listing ads (PLAs) right for you?
  5. Mobile Search: Mobile clicks exhibit different conversion profiles than desktop clicks. That doesn’t mean they are worthless. Clearly, those searching on their mobile devices with commercial search intent are not simply filling idle hours with searches. They are interested in your products or services. Take some budget and allocate it to mobile search.

If and when you lose faith in other ad channels, it’s good to know you can always move budgets back into PPC search, your safe haven during turbulent times.

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