Online ad fraud and other DTC metrics

QUICK READ: Metrics can either be a pain in the ass or they can open your eyes to new opportunities. The process by which patients finally fulfill a new Rx is complicated in our environment. Numbers can be, and are, manipulated to show that DTC is effective but these are the real metrics every DTC manager should know.

1ne: TV impressions vs. awareness of your product with your target audience. In the product life-cycle, there is s direct correlation between impressions and awareness but that correlation disappears very quickly over time. Ask your market research people to report awareness weekly within your target audience.

2wo: Number of website visitors vs. bounce rate. A high number of visitors may look good at first but if your bounce rate is high you’re fooling yourself. You should also be looking at the number of pages viewed as well as time on site.

3hree: Social media buzz. You need to know what people are saying about your product on social media and quantify buzz. This can help identify topics that may need to be addressed with new content.

4our: Paid search. This is consistently the one budget item that DTC marketers waste money on. Challenge your agency to ensure that BOTS are weeded out (programmatic ads) and tie search to time on site and pages viewed.

5ive: Time between awareness and action. How many DTC people really know this metric and what to do to shorten the time? Current customers are usually willing to share their thoughts with you and your market research people should have a good idea as well.

6ix: Sales in blackout market vs. non-blackout market. If you’re really want to find out how effective your DTC marketing is do a test where one market gets no DTC and another one does. You might be surprised at the difference.

A word about digital ad fraud..

 According to Forbes..CPM and CPC represent approximately 90% of all digital ad spending. That’s where the fraudsters focus their attention to get the most money so that’s where you need to really investigate metrics.

When fraudsters set up fake websites to make money selling ad impressions, they buy bot traffic. As long as the bots do their job, millions of impressions are created and sold on a CPM basis. 

It’s a simple matter for fraudsters to auto-reload webpages, auto-refresh ad slots, do ad stacking (5 – 100 ads stacked on top of each other in the same ad slot), pixel stuffing (stuffing ads in invisible 0x0 or 1×1 pixel wide ad slots), or ad injection (injecting more or different ads) — all to get more ad impressions and earn more money.

Domain spoofing (fake sites pretending to be mainstream ones), residential proxies (disguising data center traffic to appear to be residential/real households), and malicious code that tricks fraud detection are common techniques used to get higher prices.

Simple arbitrage like in-banner video (sticking high-value video ads in low-cost display ad slots) helps fraudsters earn much higher video ad CPMs while paying much lower display ad CPMs. And retargeting fraud is probably the juiciest of this bunch – bots visit medical journal sites to make themselves appear to be physicians, to trick pharma clients into paying much higher prices to retarget them.

Most of the bots that perform the techniques above are also smart enough to cover their tracks in the process, so they don’t get caught and shut down. They want that money spigot called digital advertising to keep flowing. So they alter parameters in the URLs to make the traffic appear to be coming from legitimate, mainstream websites. They use click injection or SDK spoofing to trick analytics, attribution platforms, and fraud detection. But the simplest and most effective way bots can cover their tracks is just to block the fraud detection tags from loading, so they can’t be measured (very similar to humans blocking ads).

Ad fraud is also more rampant when using programmatic advertising which is one reason I am against programmatic.

Every DTC brand should have at least two people working on metrics. They shouldn’t be mere reporters of numbers they should be people who can make recommendations supported by the data. You need to react fast to save money and possibly your brand.