What You Need to Know About Invalid Traffic

Reading time: 5 minutes

Getting hit with invalid traffic from time to time, regardless of a publisher[5]’s size or category, is inevitable. Invalid traffic can easily damage a website’s reputation and even lead to suspensions with major players like Google, Amazon, and other partners in the ad tech[6] industry.

Essentially, if you’re a publisher trying to generate ad revenue by selling website space, you need to understand that invalid traffic is your worst enemy (next to ad fraud[7], of course).  

In this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about invalid ad traffic, including the various types, its causes, and what you can do to prevent it.

Keep reading to learn more.

What is Invalid Traffic?

Invalid traffic (IVT) is characterized as the influx of clicks and impressions on a website that does not come from a real user with a real interest in the website’s content. 

Invalid traffic can happen accidentally or with actual fraudulent intent, and according to Google, it often includes accidental clicks that are caused by advertising bots, fraudulent clicking by competing advertisers, intrusive ad implementations, and more. 

What’s worse is that publishers stand to lose upwards of $2.7 billion each year due to ad fraud and invalid traffic. And, invalid traffic doesn’t just negatively impact publishers. For advertisers, the “clicks” don’t generate any revenue, rendering them worthless. 

Therefore, if you’re in the publishing game, you need to understand how to identify invalid so you can learn how to prevent it. Invalid traffic typically includes the following:

  • Clicks and impressions that are generated by the publishers or competing advertisers 
  • The adoption of automated tools used by publishers to purposely increase impressions
  • Bot traffic that’s implemented to spam and scam websites to steal user data[8]

Additionally, the Interactive Advertising Bureau[1] (IAB) and the Media Rating Council have classified two types of invalid traffic:

General Invalid Traffic

General invalid traffic (GIVT) is the type of traffic designed to run in the background of a website to scan for information. GIVT doesn’t mimic human behavior, nor is it intended to be fraudulent. 

This makes it the least risky type of invalid traffic, and it can come in the following forms:

  • Bots, spiders, and other types of website crawlers that originate from search engines and well-known data centers
  • Data and brand “safety” bots
  • Traffic from unknown browsers
  • Analytics crawlers
  • Invalid Ad Placements

While GIVT is meant to collect data for website owners to analyze so they can improve their content and more, it still makes a significant impact in terms of IVT. It’s also important to note that GIVT doesn’t artificially inflate any ad clicks or impressions, which is what makes it the less risky type of IVT.

Sophisticated Invalid Traffic 

Sophisticated invalid traffic (SIVT) is the type of traffic that’s designed with malicious intent. Not only does this make it riskier, but it also makes it more involved on a technical level and therefore more challenging to identify.

One of the main reasons it’s so difficult to detect SIVT is that cybercriminals use botnets to mimic human behavior for this type of traffic. This means that it takes more advanced analytics and diligent human intervention to pinpoint the fraudulent ad traffic and prevent it from inflating clicks and impressions artificially.  

SIVT mostly refers to traffic that doesn’t usually meet the standards for true ad quality[3], ad serving, or ad completeness. This would include the following:

  • Not traffic that doesn’t declare itself as non-human before interacting with web pages and the digital ads on those web pages
  • Illegal substitute traffic
  • Cookie stuffing
  • Malware
  • Malicious bots designed specifically for manipulating data and statistics
  • User devices that have been hacked
  • False location data

What Causes Invalid Traffic?

Unless you’re intentionally causing invalid traffic on your own, you’re likely in the dark about why it’s happening. 

The most common causes of (unintentional) IVT include the following:

Expired or Redirected Domains

It’s very common in SEO[2] practices for publishers to buy expired domains. It allows them to either redirect their website to the expired domain or build an entirely new one within the previous domain’s industry. 

However, the issue lies within the impressions that get transferred to the new site. They have no idea where this traffic is coming from or why, and run the risk of accidentally sending themselves unwanted bots and crawlers and unhappy visitors looking for the old site which leads to a high bounce rate[4].  

Getting Hacked

As mentioned earlier, not all bots are your friend. From scrapers that steal content to click bots that generate impressions, malicious bots are on the rise

The worst of the malicious bots are the ones that hack credentials and the ones that stuff credentials. These typically attack your domain and commit domain spoofing crimes that ruin your reputation. 

Purchasing Traffic

For some reason, purchasing traffic is still popular among website owners that wish to increase their clicks and impressions. This is something that’s always warned against, however, new publishers somehow can’t resist.

Just for the record, it always backfires. 

How Can Publishers Prevent Invalid Activity?

There’s plenty you can do to prevent invalid activity of any kind. Here are a few insider tips to get you started:

  • Get familiar with Google Analytics and how it works so you can get a better understanding of your ad traffic and site visitors
  • Do not click on your own ads. Sure it’ll happen accidentally from time to time as you check out your website to see what you can do to improve it—just don’t do it on purpose
  • Start blocking bot activity
  • Stay away from low-quality ad partners
  • Stay up-to-date with Google’s ad placement policies 

Keeping up with bots and invalid traffic can take a lot of time, effort, and diligence on your part. However, it’s necessary to keep your website up and running and to grow your revenue from ad impressions.

Need help growing and monetizing your website? That’s what Freestar does! Reach out to us today to learn more about how we can help and don’t forget to check out our blog for the latest in ad tech news.

1. Interactive Advertising Bureau. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) empowers the media and marketing industries to thrive in the digital economy. Its membership is comprised of more than 650 leading media companies, brands, and the technology firms responsible for selling, delivering and optimizing digital ad marketing campaigns. The trade group fields critical research on interactive advertising, while also educating brands, agencies, and the wider business community on the importance of digital marketing. In affiliation with the IAB Tech Lab, IAB develops technical standards and solutions. IAB is committed to professional development and elevating the knowledge, skills, expertise, and diversity of the workforce across the industry. Through the work of its public policy office in Washington, D.C., the trade association advocates for its members and promotes the value of the interactive advertising industry to legislators and policymakers. Founded in 1996, IAB is headquartered in New York City.
2. Search Engine Optimization [SEO] ( SEO ) SEO, also known as Search Engine Optimization, is the process is optimizing a website to rank higher in a search engine. SEO is merely one of the many methods publishers use to send traffic to their sites.
3. ad quality. A term that refers to the settings that allow sellers to determine which creatives will be allowed to serve on their inventory.
4. bounce rate. Percentage of users that visit a page and then leave the site in a short time frame without visiting any other pages at that site.
5. publisher. Web publishing is the process of publishing original content on the Internet. The process includes building and uploading websites, updating the associated webpages, and posting content to these webpages online. Web publishing is also known as online publishing.

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