video ad fraud - bots

Tackling video ad fraud

Video ad fraud appears in many forms, making it difficult to identify and tackle. We're raising awareness to make the industry a fraud-free place.

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Digital advertising has had its fair share of issues over the years, some have been overcome, some remain bugbears and others are critically problematic in our industry today. Video ad fraud is, without a doubt, the latter. In 2015 we saw the rise of bots and in 2016 the advertising industry is set to attribute losses of approximately $7.2 billion globally to the nasty things.

What is ad fraud?

Video ad fraud covers a range of deceitful techniques administered by fraudsters with the object of making money. One of the reasons video ad fraud is the plague of programmatic advertising is that it can appear in so many forms, therefore, making it difficult for the industry to identify and deal with it. Here are some of the types of desktop fraud we come across at Coull:

Automated traffic

Automatic traffic finds botnet activity flagged on the user level through real-time traffic pattern analysis.


The IP address is a known proxy.


The user’s device and browser were manipulated to resemble a different device or browser. This technique is commonly used to produce a real-life distribution of traffic and simulate traffic from multiple visitors.

Ad injection

The ad was locked by ad injection software, often bundled with other software like games and toolbars. This practice artificially inflates the number of ads on a page and can lead to a negative user experience.

Cloaked domains

There’s an imbalance between the domain where the ad appeared and the referring domain. This practice enables undesirable properties such as pirate and adult sites to sell inventory under a high-CPM category such as cars or travel.

Domain spoofing

The publisher reports an inaccurate domain to the exchange. The ad never appeared on the publisher-reported domain. This practice allows publishers to misrepresent low-quality inventory as coming from high-quality sources. In some cases, ghost sites can use this technique.

Video ad fraud bots aren't as cute as Wall-e

What are bots?

Unfortunately, I’m not talking about WALL-E. The bots I’m referring to represent non-human traffic, the most common form of ad fraud today. Fraud exists to make money illegally and as digital advertising grows, fraudsters are able to take advantage of the system. Bots can come from software that runs automated tasks over the internet to simulate human activity. It’s been estimated by Videology that 8%-23% of online video ad inventory is consumed by bot impressions. This is a significant problem for video advertisers to contend with.


At Coull, we utilise industry-leading cybersecurity services to filter and detect inappropriate content coming through the system. Our Compliance team use strategies to identify and rate any invalid traffic. This enables us to have a multi-level process targeting ad fraud and eliminating it from our platform. Manual detection is a key part in removing certain types of domain fraud, including the aforementioned ghost sites, that haunt the web.

Who you gonna call?…

So what are ‘ghost’ sites? Well, they’re spooks! Ghost sites may look like ordinary websites at first glance, however, if you dig a little deeper you will uncover their dark secrets. These sinister pages exist to bypass tech filters and, because they look clean and safe, tech vendors let them off the hook.

We’re doing everything we can to identify ghost sites and ensure the culprits don’t get past our compliance. But there are things you can do too, and they don’t involve bringing in an exorcist. Follow the simple tips below and you’ll be able to spot a ghost site a mile away.

How to spot a ghost (site)

WordPress templates

Ghost sites typically look very similar as their templates often originate from WordPress. The templates will all have the same layout with different skins for each.

No contact or web hosting information

Ghost sites will, more often than not, have links to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. However, if you click on the links they’ll lead to nothing or old accounts. Something else to look out for is cheap website solutions such as ‘Garden Pages’ and a hidden presence on the internet with services like DomainsByProxy. Do you want to contact the owner? No chance. They won’t have any contact information or the information will be false.

Strange growth patterns

Ghost sites don’t pay for their traffic growth and will buy from Click Farms.

Hardcoded banner ads

Banner ads on a ghost site will have a URL destination which will lead straight back to the same ghost site. The banner ads are mostly static images making them seem like genuine ads, however, they’re most probably fake.

Will there be a future without video ad fraud?

Ad fraud detection is a very tricky business. Every day is like the wild west with fraudsters stealing impressions left, right and centre. There’s no superhero to lock them up and put an end to their tyranny. But we’re working hard to change that.

Our compliance team is leading the way and guarding our marketplace against fraudulent activity. Coull has a zero-tolerance policy and we take all forms of video ad fraud very seriously. We’re raising awareness and working with leading fraud detection vendors to make the industry a fraud-free place for our partners. We can weed the industry garden of video ad fraud, we’re just asking for your help to replant it.

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Posted by simonholliday