What advertisers need to know about sourced traffic

A number of advertisers, concerned with the lack of transparency in digital advertising, are now tending to play safe and deal direct with trusted, ‘premium publishers.’

These advertisers are competing for the highest quality ad inventory on the most reputable digital properties, willing to pay a premium to try to keep their brands safe as well as attempting to avoid ad fraud.

The unseen/unknown hitch

What exactly is 'sourced traffic'? It occurs when digital media publishers/vendors/sellers acquire audiences (visitors) via third parties. A publisher actually pays a third party to send users to its site by advertising on other publishers sites. This happens when a seller has to increase visitors to its site in order to meet the audience delivery requirements of a campaign.

Sourced traffic can be termed an 'audience extension' initiative, whereby a publisher approaches programmatic exchanges to purchase 'looky likey' audiences which have similar characteristics to its own in order to help fulfil its own audience targets.

So what is the problem with sourced traffic?

With sourced traffic the advertiser probably gets an inferior audience added to the publisher’s audience, and the advertiser doesn’t get its ads to be served in that publisher’s editorial environment. The sourced traffic audience is a step or more removed from a publisher’s organic audience.

And there’s probably a higher level of ad fraud present in that sourced traffic. According to last year’s ‘Fraud in Digital Advertising’ report from our US sister body ANA, three times as many bots (non-human traffic) appeared in sourced traffic from a third party compared to unsourced traffic.

Unfortunately even premium publishers aren’t immune to having high levels of fraud in their sourced traffic.

Should UK publishers take their lead from the Wall Street Journal?

Last year in the US it was reported in Why Cyber Security Experts Are Taking Aim At Sourced Traffic that premium publishers such as Dow Jones and Wall Street Journal (WSJ) don’t accept sourced traffic, according to the exec director of ad ops at those digital networks.

While this is a viable option for the WSJ, other publishers and ad networks have to rely on sourced traffic to reach the volumes stipulated by advertisers and their agencies.

Is this something that can be replicated in the UK? Is it possible for the UK publishers to take their lead from the WSJ?

Of course, if advertisers don’t want their agencies to use sourced traffic then they can stipulate this in their contract. And there are third party verification tools available to agencies to determine whether sourced traffic, which may be fraudulent, is being used by publishers.

Here are eight top tips for ISBA members to reduce the dangers associated with sourced traffic.

1. Ask your media agency to demand transparency around traffic sourcing from publishers. Ask for confirmation, via reports and analytics, as to whether your agency is employing publishers who use sourced traffic. Your agency can gauge the quality of inventory it is buying on your behalf by measuring bots and viewability. Using viewability technology to measure how many have been in view verifies legitimate clicks.

2. Your media agency can also ask the publishers they work with to screen their inventory and reveal the percentage of their sourced traffic. Confirm that in the US the WSJ and the Dow Jones don’t accept sourced traffic.

3. Ask your agency if they are using third party verification tools to determine whether sourced traffic, which may be fraudulent, is being used by publishers. Use the tools available such as third party verification tools.

4. Discuss with your agency setting realistic, achievable campaign goals for audience delivery, to avoid publishers considering sourcing traffic.

5. Consider asking your agency to avoid the long tail of publishers, whose reduced audiences probably increase the possibility of being associated with sourced traffic.

6. Examine the contract you hold with your media agency and their partners. You might need to add clauses into Requests for Proposal (RFPs) and insertion orders asking publishers to identify all third-party sources of traffic. If you don’t want your agency to use sourced traffic, include this in your contract.

7. Establish formal, written guidelines on sourced traffic which can be shared with agencies, including practical examples of good/bad publisher practices, forbidding it under certain circumstances.

8. If you don’t hold the expertise internally, consider bringing in external help.

David Ellison is marketing services manager at ISBA

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