Ad Verification: What It Is and How It Works

Reading time: 6 minutes

Advertising has long been the lifeblood of many websites, and it works best for advertisers and publishers when it’s targeted toward the right audience. Unfortunately, in recent years, through malicious programmatic advertising practices, ad exchange fraudsters have found ways to defraud advertisers of their ad campaign money through ad fraud.

In 2021, it was estimated that ad fraud had cost advertisers and publishers $65 billion globally, with the US being the largest ad fraud market. This has created a need for solutions to counter ad fraud and increase profitability for both advertisers and publishers. That’s where ad verification comes in — ad verification allows advertisers to ensure that their ads are displayed correctly and don’t appear on fraudulent websites, so they can reach as many potential customers as possible without wasting invested time and money. 

Learn more about this important practice of ad verification from this guide on what it entails, how it works, and the benefits it offers publishers and advertisers alike.

What Is Ad Verification?

With the exponential rise in digital advertising, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of scams. Ad verification is an automated process that uses technology to verify the authenticity of ads. Advertisers can use this service to make sure that their ads are actually appearing where they want them to be and are reaching the right audiences. As a result, advertisers get more bang for their buck, publishers can keep scammers out of their sites, and consumers don’t get tricked by misleading ads.

Ad verification works by performing a series of checks to determine if an ad is real. This can be done with both human review and computer automation with the help of an ad verification vendor. In either case, once ad verifiers have confirmed that an ad is legitimate, they will create a proof record or verify tag for that impression.

How Does Ad Verification Work?

An ad verification vendor is an impartial, third-party company that checks ads on behalf of advertisers to ensure they are showing up correctly. This ensures that the advertiser’s ads are not being shown in places where they may be unsuitable, such as on an adult site or in an unsafe geographical location. The process involves monitoring how the ads are displayed and what type of sites they appear on. 

To verify the ads, the ad verification vendor integrates verification tags or beacons inside the ad markup, which contains the creative, impression-tracking pixel and the ad-verification code. These beacons analyze content and metrics as it appears on web pages to ensure it meets the required parameters. 

The first step to ad verification involves checking whether a publisher’s web traffic is valid or it comes from a human. Click bots and web crawlers, which are primarily used for ad fraud, are the largest source of non-human or invalid traffic. After collecting data on the validity of the traffic, the next step involves measuring the size and placement of the ad to ensure it matches the advertiser’s expectations. 

The next step involves checking whether the ad was viewable according to MRC minimum industry standards and guidelines. For example, display ads are classified as viewable if 50% of the pixels are rendered on the screen for at least a second, while video ads require two continuous seconds of play. The ad verification code then proceeds to check whether the ad was placed on a safe platform and then verifies the audience to determine what ad traffic reached the target audience.

Once the beacons have collected the needed data, the ad verification vendor sends these findings to the advertiser for analysis, where they access the report from the demand-side platform (DSP). The data collected is then used by the advertisers to verify their ads. The analysis helps in blacklisting publishers with low viewability or high ad fraud early in their ad campaigns. 

The Benefits of Ad Verification

The primary benefit of ad verification is that it prevents fraud. The process allows advertisers to know where their ads are being shown and provide publishers with the means to be paid for the ads they serve through transparent performance metrics. 

Advertisers can also use ad verification data to get a better understanding of how their campaign is performing. This helps them allocate resources more effectively in order to maximize ROI by paying only for verified viewable cost per impression (CPM) and cost per click (CPC). 

Additionally, ad verification plays an important role in protecting a brand’s reputation by avoiding ad placement next to inappropriate content, such as hate speech or violence. In general, the less fraudulent activity there is on a publisher’s site or app, the higher quality inventory becomes available for advertisers.

Publishers also stand to gain from ad verification by capitalizing on authenticity by avoiding inappropriate, malicious, or badly targeted ads.

Fake Traffic Detection

In this constantly growing digital world, publishers stand to interact with hundreds of advertisers through ad exchanges which only makes ad verification more of a requirement than a necessity. Detecting fake traffic has its share of challenges since no method guarantees 100% success, but the costs saved from ad verification make any method worth the try.

Below are some of the methods used to detect fraudulent bot traffic; 

  1. Bot traps: These are 1×1 images or links set up in the publisher’s site containing the same or similar color as the site’s background. Since they are invisible to the human eye, a bot will easily fall for this trap.
  2. JavaScript redirects: This method succeeds in stopping bots from clicking the actual ad. It works by setting the Redirect URL to the landing page where all information about that specific advertiser is shown, but bots fail since most don’t understand JavaScript.
  3. Timed redirects: Bots are inhumanly fast in their click rate. To trap bots with this method, timed redirects work on a system containing a trap link within a 200 milliseconds pause. Since this timeframe is too small for any human reaction, bots are likely to fall for it, therefore, debunking the validity of certain traffic.

What Areas Do Ad Verification Tags Detect?

The ad verification tag detects areas that could be problematic for advertisers, including malware, fraud in ad impressions, inappropriate content, and more. The tags work by identifying discrepancies between the number of ads served (served) and the number of ads seen (viewed) to ensure that advertisers are getting what they paid for. 

Ad verification systems can also identify various types of fraudulent traffic and ad impressions which include invisible ads, bot traffic, impression laundering, hijacking clicks, hijacking ads, fake installs, and so much more. All these types of fraud drain an advertiser’s pockets with minimal return on investment and are harmful to publishers since they have the potential to ruin trust and partnerships.

Other factors commonly checked by ad verification tags include the site content, ad placement, viewability, geotargeting, competitive separation, frequency cap, and contextual brand safety. Checking all these factors ensures that an ad meets the advertiser’s requirements set in their campaign settings, the ads generate valid impressions, the advertiser’s brand image is protected, and both the advertiser and publisher get value for their investments.

The Main Ad-Verification Vendors

Several different companies offer ad-verification services. The most common include Adometry by Google, DoubleVerify, Integral Ad Science, Moat, CHEQ, HUMAN(formally White Ops), Pixalate, Fraudlogix, and Comscore. With all these vendors promising quality service delivery, the decision to choose one company over another is not an easy one; it will depend on your needs and resources, as well as the size of your campaign, to determine which company best fits your project.

If you need help making this decision, you can reach out to us for professional consulting. Big brands and advertisers such as GroupM, Horizon Media, and Dell Technologies trust DoubleVerify to provide accurate ad verification results for their campaigns across screens, while Netflix is working with Integral Ad Science for its upcoming ad-supported platform; why should you be left out? 

It’s important to note that ad verification helps protect both publishers and advertisers from false impressions or fraudulent ads. Without ad verification, there is no way to know what percentage of clicks were real or how many people actually saw your video or banner.

Final Thoughts

Digital advertising is a billion-dollar industry, with experts estimating that advertisers are likely to spend about 876 billion dollars by 2026. These ever-attractive figures are what contribute to the rising cases of ad fraud, but with ad verification, we’re well set on a path to counter this and more digital advertising challenges. 

Currently, ad verification is an ongoing and continually improving process that is necessary for the advertising industry. For publishers, it’s important to ensure you’re not buying traffic from bad sources and on the flip side, ad management solutions are not working with fraudulent publishers. Publishers, ad management solutions and advertisers alike need to work together to ensure fraudulent traffic is not occurring.

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