Tag Archive | "Advertising"

Advertising on Amazon? Take our survey and win a ticket to SMX!

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Benefits of Adding In-App Advertising to Your Marketing Strategy

In-application marketing has grown by leaps and bounds, thanks to the prevalence of mobile devices. With more people utilizing gadgets connected to the internet, companies are now spending more of their marketing budget on mobile web advertising.

One strategy on the forefront of mobile advertising is in-app marketing. As the name implies, in-app marketing is any campaign or message that’s specifically designed to appear within a mobile application while the consumer is using the app. Unlike emails or push notifications, which engage the consumer outside of the company’s app, in-app ads take advantage of the moment and hook customers in real-time.

Digital marketing strategies, like geo-targeting, are still important but brands and marketers believe that in-app advertising is the way forward. As a matter of fact, it has been estimated that global in-app revenue will reach $ 189 billion by 2020.

Worldwide in-app advertising and app store revenues of mobile apps and games in 2015 and 2020 

[Graphic via Statista]

Aside from the fact that in-app marketing is a money-maker, there are also other benefits to utilizing this strategy.

Benefits of Using In-App Marketing

Consumers Spend A Lot of Time on Apps

Brands should take advantage of the fact that the majority of smartphone users are spending a lot of time on apps. According to a 2017 US Mobile App Report, people are spending about 87 percent of their time online on mobile apps compared to just 13 percent on the Web. This gives companies that use in-app ads an opportunity to focus on a large market, boost their brand visibility and improve lead generation and conversion. 

Mobile Internet users in US Spend Most of their time on Mobile Apps, 2017

Higher Click-Through Rates

Another advantage in-app ads have over mobile ads is their higher click-through rates (CTRs). As it stands, CTRs for mobile web ads is at 0.23 percent while in-app ads are at 0.58 percent. In-app ads also perform 11.4 times better than conventional banner ads. This means that in-app advertisements not only raises lead generation numbers, it also helps capture and convert these leads.

More Focused Targeting

Advertisements displayed in the brand’s application are designed within the app’s context, making them look natural and more organic. Many apps also opt for interactive formats, which gives advertisers the option to choose when it will be shown. This ensures a seamless transition for users. In contrast, other types of mobile advertisements, particularly pop-ups, can be quite disruptive. They interrupt the prospective consumer and could cause them to be annoyed, thereby dissuading them from making a positive decision.

Image result for banner mobile app vs in-app

Marketing inside company apps also gives advertisers a specific view of their target market due to geo-location data and the apps’ capacity to pull in the exact demographics. This increases the chances that the audience reached is aligned closely with the company’s advertising and marketing efforts. Highly targeted marketing also means that less money is wasted on consumers who are unlikely to make a purchase via the ad.

Ads are More Memorable

Research has shown that in-app ads are more effective because they’re more memorable when seen on the application. This is due to users being more engaged in the app right from the start, particularly in the social network and gaming niches. The personal nature of mobile gadgets, which people use during their leisure time, also gives people a more positive attitude towards brands they see advertising in-app.

With in-app marketing, marketers can move away from generalized ads and instead focus on ads that are designed specifically for the brands demographic. This marketing strategy also reaches a lot of people in a very short time, thereby giving brands more reach and higher ROI.

[Featured image via Pixabay]

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The Difference Between Marketing and Advertising (and Why It Matters)

Marketing is the strategy of educating customers about a company’s choices in the marketplace, who their product or service will be a good fit for, and who it won’t. Advertising is then used to take that strategy and communicate it to an audience. Read on to learn more.
MarketingSherpa Blog

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Why Facebook Might Beat Google At The Online Advertising Game

During the few years I was running CrankyAds, an advertising management tool for bloggers, I spent quite a bit of time researching the online advertising space. One of my primary goals for this research was to find a way to deal with two issues – Banner advertising sucks, and… There…

The post Why Facebook Might Beat Google At The Online Advertising Game appeared first on Entrepreneurs-Journey.com.

Entrepreneurs-Journey.com by Yaro Starak

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500,000 Businesses Now Advertising on Instagram

Instagram says that it now has 500,000 advertisers on its platform. “Today, we’re excited to announce there are more than 500,000 advertisers growing their businesses on Instagram,” they said in their blog announcement. “In just six months, the number of advertisers has more than doubled. And that includes a variety of businesses from around the world. In fact, the top five countries seeing advertiser adoption are the US, Brazil, UK, Australia and Canada. Businesses have been an important part of the Instagram community since the beginning. Here’s why Instagram continues to be an essential place for businesses to grow.”

The Instagram community is more than 500 million strong, so it’s not surprise that consumer targeted marketing is taking off on the platform. What businesses like is their ability to become part of the consumer engagement experience, not just an advertiser butting into the conversation.

Instagram Working for Business?

Instagram noted that 50% of “Instagrammers” follow a business and their surveys indicate that 60% of Instagram users say they learned about a product or service on Instagram. They view their platform as passion marketing which businesses can tap into. They say that 75% of their users take action after being inspired by a post. Actions include clicking to a website, searching, shopping or telling a friend.

There have been 1 billion actions taken on their ads just in the last 12 months since Instagram ads were launched. Internal surveys show that 70% of ad campaigns received “significant lifts” of online conversion or mobile app installs. Since Instagram made change to their link ad format in June, they saw ad performance increase by 45%. Additionally, an Oracle Data Cloud report concluded that Instagram ads drove a median 1.8% lift in in-store sales and a 2.1% lift in household penetration, across 12 US CPG campaigns that were measured for potential sales impact.

Consumer Brands Love Instagram

The handbag brand Dagne Dover, working with its ad agency Mason Interactive, effectively used the Shop Now call to action button in a recent campaign. They targeted students, mothers, professionals and women interested in fashion and travel according to Instagram.


The campaign doubled its traffic and increased its return on ad spend 13X over a two-month period, according to Melissa Mash, CEO at Dagne Dover.

Virtually every major brand is now using Instagram to reach consumers in their niche markets. Brands such as Macy’s, Petsmart, Staples and Fossil are among the half million pushing their products on Instagram.

Instagram Ads Work For Small Business Too

Instagram is one of the few platforms that works just as well for small business advertisers as it does for the big brands. Since it is a Facebook company, it runs on the same ad backend as Facebook, with similar targeting and bidding options.

Whether a business is promoting a sale, marketing an event or seeking Instagram followers, you can advertise for as little as $ 5 a day.


One online writer experimented by promoting an article she wrote for Entrepreneur and was able to obtain 2,000 likes for only 1 cent each! With that ultra low conversion cost it’s worth experimenting.

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Social advertising? Earned/owned social? Get the latest tactics at SocialPro.

We hear from three kinds of social media marketers: social media paid advertising specialists; organic (earned/owned) social specialists; and those responsible for both. Marketing Land’s SocialPro is for you, regardless of which description best fits you. SocialPro features sessions…

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Content Marketing and Advertising Meet in a Dark Alley: Who Wins, and Why?

which one won? content marketing vs. advertising

Traditional advertising pretty much had its way with the 20th century.

Big campaigns with big budgets from big companies influenced the things we did, said, and thought. And it’s safe to say that influence continues into the 21st century.

But content marketing is starting to make some noise of its own. In fact, interest in content marketing has risen rapidly in the last five years.

What are the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of both? When should you use advertising, and when should you use content marketing?

And which method is better?

We’ll answer those questions and more in this article.

What is advertising?

Advertising is a direct form of marketing communication where companies, political parties, religious institutions, government agencies, and interest groups build awareness of their products, services, events, and ideas.

To accomplish this task, advertisers run campaigns with a limited, but focused, use of media that may include:

  • Billboards
  • Banner ads
  • Radio spots
  • Television commercials
  • Print magazine ads
  • Pay-per-click ads
  • Infomercials
  • Pop-ups
  • Skywriting
  • Product placements
  • Email

The job of advertising media is to convince people that a product, service, or idea will solve their problems or satisfy their wants.

Here are four ways you could look at advertising:

  1. A company runs a six-month advertising campaign announcing the launch of a new product through a series of television commercials, banner ads, and staged product demonstrations in select cities.
  2. A political party launches a tour of lectures, public service announcements, and emails to inform voters about where their candidate stands on the issues.
  3. A city government purchases newspaper ads and mails out flyers to announce a new recycling program.
  4. A start-up sponsors content on BuzzFeed, purchases an advertorial on Gawker, and budgets money toward a Google AdWords campaign.

However, traditional advertising has some notable disadvantages (and notable differences with content marketing).

It’s expensive

If you look at the best advertising campaigns of the 21st century you’ll notice blue-chip brands — companies and organizations with deep pockets.

For most of us, even the bare bones Apple: Get a Mac campaign is out of our reach, never mind something like the complex production behind BMW’s The Hire.

It’s built around a campaign

Instead of a long-term effort, advertising campaigns usually run for a short period of time, say three to six months depending upon campaign objectives and budgets.

Today, however, popular campaigns like Dos Equis’s The Most Interesting Man in the World can extend their life on places like YouTube or Vimeo.

The product is the focus of the ad

Because of their expensive production and short shelf life, advertising campaigns put the product front and center.

In Budweiser’s iconic Whassup commercial, where a group of friends go around asking each other “Whassup,” two of the friends mention that they are drinking a Budweiser.

In Volkswagen’s The Force, a young Darth Vader attempts to use The Force on a Passat, which is front and center.

There’s a limited window of exposure because the media is not owned

Traditional advertising is a combination of three entities: the publisher (television, radio, magazine), the company/advertiser (often companies hire an ad agency to create and manage the campaign), and the audience.

The company/advertiser buys space on the publisher’s media property for a limited time to get exposure to their audience. Once that time expires (once a month in a magazine, a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl), the advertising campaign media is removed, and the audience doesn’t see it again, which means …

The media is gone once the campaign ends

As I mentioned above, the digital age has changed this in many ways since commercials are often published on YouTube. But they still may be eventually removed from a company’s official channel.

It’s a one-sided relationship

The Marlboro Man, an idea created by ad agency Leo Burnett Worldwide for Marlboro cigarettes, is considered the third-greatest advertising campaign of the 20th century.

It was brilliant because it appealed to the rogue streak in men — that drifter bent. The campaign said, “Smoke Marlboros and everyone will think you’re cool.” What man doesn’t want to look cool?

Yet, like most advertising campaigns, it was a barrage of images and messages. There was no conversation. No relationship except “buy our product.” No space for feedback.

The disadvantage of putting the product “front and center”

Let me pause for a minute and explain why putting the product “front and center” in traditional advertising is a disadvantage. The truth is, when the product is part of the message, we understand right away that it’s a sales message.

That’s not a terrible thing — any reasonable person will understand that a company is in business to sell their products and services.

But this is where content marketing comes in because this hard-sell approach has gradually weakened traditional advertising. If we’ve learned anything about advertising and marketing in the last 20 years, it’s that customers want to be heard.

What is content marketing?

Before we go on, let’s briefly define content marketing:

Content marketing means creating and sharing valuable content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. The type of content you share is closely related to what you sell. In other words, you’re educating people so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you.

The types of content companies use include podcasts, blogs, social media, videos, white papers, infographics, SlideShares, and research reports.

Like advertising, content marketing aims to convince people that a product, service, or idea will solve their problems or satisfy their wants.

However, there are some important differences with content marketing.

You own the media and the content

The main difference between traditional advertising and content marketing is that with content marketing, the company becomes the advertiser and the publisher. Instead of selling your products or services to someone else’s audience, you build your own audience — and then determine what to sell.

That’s the story behind our company, Rainmaker Digital, which started as a blog and blossomed into six distinct product lines.

The product is not the focus of content marketing

With content marketing, you may spend roughly 90 percent of your budget on creating content that educates, inspires, and entertains — and only 10 percent on selling a product.

Ten percent may seem small, but the trust, relationships, and authority you build during the other 90 percent really does a lot of the selling for you.

With content marketing, you position yourself as someone who is an authority, can be trusted, and is likable, so when it comes time to sell something, people are already in line.

Content marketing is a long-term game

Since content marketing focuses on solving customers’ problems, keeping the audience engaged, and inspiring them to overcome challenges, the practice becomes a long-term game.

Heck, most of us don’t have the brand equity, authority, or pocketbook of a company like Apple, Dove, or Budweiser … so we can’t win with the one-off nature of traditional advertising (particularly if it flops). We can win, however, by consistently publishing quality content.

You open a two-way conversation

In many ways, content marketing was built to satisfy the consumer demand for a voice.

Blogs invited replies and questions through the comments section. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook tore down the walls that separated consumers from companies, allowing people to talk directly to businesses.

This two-way conversation promotes a better business and better product when the company listens and adjusts.

Content marketing helps you build a media asset

A great example of a company that built a business around content marketing is Buffer, the popular social media app. During their early years, they first outfitted their blog with outstanding content and then the team started driving traffic to their website through guest posting and content syndication opportunities.

Canva, the easiest-in-the-world-to-use design software, forced people to take notice of this small company with its relentless publication of epic posts like 60 Free Fonts for Minimalist Designs or The 30 Best Free Social Media Icon Sets of 2015.

There’s another important issue I need to point out very clearly here: Companies who invest in content marketing should avoid building on other media properties. This is called digital sharecropping, and it exposes you to the whims of the property owner and prohibits you from capitalizing on the value of a media asset. Let me explain.

When companies invest in content marketing by publishing content on a property they own (their own website), they build a media asset that may be worth money down the road. For example, Brian Clark has been offered seven figures for the copyblogger.com domain — just the website, not the products that actually generate revenue.

People understand the immense value that driving a ton of traffic brings to a company. Content marketing helps you build those traffic streams.

When to use advertising

Let me make this clear: Here’s what I’m not doing. I’m not recommending that you should never advertise. When you think about the benefits of both advertising and content marketing, you’ll realize that one is not better than the other. You just need to figure out which one will help you meet your specific goals.

So, when should you launch an advertising campaign?

One of the biggest challenges new businesses and freelancers face is exposing their products or services to prospects. Think of advertising as a mechanism that quickly closes that gap.

This could be as simple as running a month-long Facebook ad campaign or a Google AdWords PPC campaign.

Of course, advertising is expensive — from the planning and production of the media to the buying of ad space. But if done right, it can result in a quick flood of visitors to your site.

Another benefit of advertising, particularly online advertising, is you can get immediate results.

In the early 2000s, I was in control of a $ 250,000 Google AdWords campaign — and I loved it. Within 24 hours of writing a text ad and a landing page, I could see results, adjust, measure, and repeat.

It was a fast-paced, accurate way to learn about what worked and what didn’t.

Of course that was not my money, and you may only be able to budget $ 200 a month toward Facebook ads, but the cost may be worth the results.

When to use content marketing

Copyblogger built an audience through content marketing (two blog posts a week for a few years) before we sold anything from the site. Once we had an audience clamoring for a product, and they told us what that product should be, we built it and sold it to the audience.

Today, the website is 10 years old, and you will occasionally see a promotion — whether it’s an announcement about the Rainmaker Platform, the launch of our podcast network, Rainmaker.FM, or that we’re reopening Authority to new members.

So, when is the best time to use content marketing? All the time. Here are some specific examples.

  • Build a community. This is the goal of just about every business in the world (whether or not they realize it), and content marketing helps build relationships over time as you solve customer problems, inspire them to overcome certain challenges, and entertain them with your personal stories.
  • Get found in search engines. You increase your chances of ranking higher in search engines when you have consistent, up-to-date, quality content on your site.
  • Distinguish your company from your competitors. Content marketing allows you to carefully and methodically spell out the differences between you and your product and other businesses and their products.
  • Take on a Goliath when you have a small budget. Canva (the design software firm I mentioned earlier) didn’t have the resources to compete with a Goliath company like Adobe. How were they going to get attention? Publish mega posts with highly valuable content. It worked.
  • Cut through the clutter. Like most small companies, Crew (an agency that manages creative projects) didn’t have a chance standing out in a world awash with technology start-ups. How were they going to compete? By launching Unsplash, a website loaded with free, high-resolution images.

Now that we’ve covered the differences between content marketing and advertising, let’s test your knowledge with a little quiz.

Can you tell the difference between content marketing and advertising?

Here are the rules: Below you’ll find five real-world examples. Your job is to guess which ones are content marketing and which ones are advertising.

Then I’ll explain the answers.

1. Blendtec’s “Will It Blend?” videos

Answer: advertising.

The Blendtec YouTube channel displays many of the classic features of content marketing — consistent publishing, entertaining format — but this video is advertising because the product is the main focus of the content.

2. Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”

Answer: advertising.

Wieden+Kennedy, the advertising agency behind this campaign, originally launched two or three commercials on short rotation, but soon discovered their popularity and spun out more than 100 minute-long YouTube videos.

That’s certainly content marketing, right? Again, no, because the product was front and center, and they are no longer making similar videos. It was a limited-time campaign.

3. GE Reports


Answer: content marketing.

As Contently’s Joe Lazauskas said, GE is the new Red Bull when it comes to content marketing.

“Tomas Kellner, a former ‘Forbes’ editor, crushes his reporting, and the stories on GE Reports regularly go viral on Reddit. Brands usually go viral on Reddit for ruining the world or releasing really bad lip-syncing videos, not for their content marketing.”

4. Madden NFL 16 | Madden : The Movie

Answer: advertising.

Can you guess why? While the product isn’t really front and center, it is central to the plot, and the storyline drives this movie trailer.

It’s a one-off commercial announcing the launch of Madden NFL 16, which makes it more of an advertorial than traditional content marketing.

5. Rainmaker.FM podcast network


Answer: content marketing.

While the title of the Rainmaker.FM podcast network refers to Rainmaker Digital, our company name, none of the shows explicitly discuss our products except for a short ad bumper at the start or end of each show.

And each show — 24 and counting — consistently publishes useful, compelling content for a growing audience of people who are interesting in digital commerce, content marketing, writing, editing, podcasting, LinkedIn, self-publishing, SEO, YouTube, public relations, entrepreneurship, and more.

Your turn

So, how did you do on that short quiz?

Do you feel like you have a better understanding of the differences between advertising and content marketing? Do you feel like you know when to use one rather than the other?

Let me know in the comments if you have any outstanding questions or thoughts. I would love to hear from you.

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Does native advertising really work?

I’ll lay out my stall straight away, I don’t particularly like native advertising. However, I’m seeing this as an exercise in trying to dispel my own confirmation bias.

Search Engine Watch

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Google Kills Flash Advertising in Chrome for Good

Like many of its industry counterparts, Google is eliminating Flash-enabled ads on Chrome.

Search Engine Watch

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The Alleged $7.5 Billion Fraud in Online Advertising

Posted by SamuelScott

“This is the biggest advertising story of the decade, and it’s being buried.”

So wrote Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman, the retired CEO and chairman of Hoffman/Lewis Advertising, in June 2013 on a $ 7.5 billion scandal that has been developing under the digital radar in the advertising world for the past few years. The three main allegations, according to those who are making them:

  1. Half or more of the paid online display advertisements that ad networks, media buyers, and ad agencies have knowingly been selling to clients over the years have never appeared in front of live human beings.
  2. Agencies have been receiving kickbacks and indirect payments from ad networks under the guise of “volume discounts” for serving as the middlemen between the networks and the clients who were knowingly sold the fraudulent ad impressions.
  3. Ad networks knowingly sell bot traffic to publishers and publishers knowingly buy the bot traffic because the resulting ad impressions earn both of them money—at the expense of the clients who are paying for the impressions.

These charges have not seen much discussion within the online marketing community. But the allegations have the potential to affect everyone involved in online advertising—ad agencies, in-house departments, agency and in-house digital marketers, online publishers, media buyers, and ad networks. An entire industry—billions of dollars and thousands of jobs—is at stake.

And it all starts with a single impression.

The impression that you make


Online advertising is based on an “impression”—without the impression, then an advertisement cannot be viewed or clicked or provoke any other engagement. The Internet Advertising Bureau, which was founded in 1996 and “recommends standards and practices and fields critical research on interactive advertising,” defines “impression” in this manner:

a measurement of responses from an ad delivery system to an ad request from the user’s browser

In another words, an “impression” occurs whenever one machine (an ad network) answers a request from another machine (a browser). (For reference, you can see my definition and example of a “request” in a prior Moz essay on log analytics and technical SEO.) Just in case it’s not obvious: Human beings and human eyeballs have nothing to do with it. If your advertising data states than a display ad campaign had 500,000 impressions, then that means that the ad network served a browser 500,000 times—and nothing more. Digital marketers may tell their bosses and clients that “impression” is jargon for one person seeing an advertisement one time, but that statement is not accurate.

The impression that you don’t make


Just because a server answers a browser request for an advertisement does not mean that the person using the browser will see it. According to Reid Tatoris at MediaPost, there are three things that get in the way:

  • Broken Ads—This is a server not loading an ad or loading the wrong one by mistake. Tatoris writes that these mistakes occur roughly 15% of the time.
  • Bot Traffic—Whenever hackers write these automated computer programs to visit websites and post spam or create fake accounts, each visit is a pageview that results an an ad impression. According to a December 2013 report in The Atlantic, 60% of Internet traffic consists of bots.
  • Alleged Fraud—In Tatoris’ words, “People will hide ads behind other ads, spoof their domain to trick ad networks into serving higher-paying ads on their site, and purposefully send bots to a site to drive up impressions.” Noam Schwartz described in TechCrunch two additional methods of alleged fraud: compressing ads into a tiny one-by-one pixels that are impossible to see and using malware to send people to websites they never planned to visit and thereby generate ad impressions. AdWeek found in October 2013 that 25% of online ad impressions are allegedly fraudulent.

Tatoris crunches all the numbers:

We start with the notion that only 15% of impressions ever have the possibility to be seen by a real person. Then, factor in that 54% of ads are not viewable (and we already discussed how flawed that metric is), and you’re left with only 8% of impressions that have the opportunity to be seen by a real person. Let me clarify: That does not mean that 8% of impressions are seen. That means only 8% have the chance to be seen. That’s an unbelievable amount of waste in an industry where metrics are a major selling point.

Essentially: If you have an online display ad budget of $ 100,000, then only $ 8,000 of that ad spend has the chance to put advertisements in front of human eyeballs. (And that’s not even taking into account the poor clickthrough rates of display ads when people do see them.)

If you are paying $ 0.10 per impression, then the $ 10,000 that you will pay for 100,000 impressions will result in only 8,000 human views—meaning that the effective CPI will actually be $ 1.25.

How bot traffic affects online ads


Jack Marshall, an alleged reformed fake web traffic buyer, explains in a Digiday interview how the scheme allegedly operates. Here are just three excerpts:

How and why were you buying non-human traffic?
We were spending anywhere from $ 10,000 to $ 35,000 a day on traffic. My conversations with [these ad networks] were similar: They would let me decide how much I was willing to pay for traffic, and when I told them $ 0.002 or below, they made it clear they had little control over the quality of traffic they would send at that price. Quality didn’t really matter to us, though. As a website running an arbitrage model, all that mattered was profit, and for every $ 0.002 visit we were buying, we were making between $ 0.0025 and $ 0.004 selling display ads through networks and exchanges. The biggest determinate of which traffic partner we were spending the most money with was pageviews per visit. Since we were paying a fixed cost per visit, more pageviews equaled more ad impressions. Almost none of these companies were based in the U.S. While our contacts were in the US and had American names and accents, most of the time we found ourselves sending payment to a non-US bank.

In other words, the publisher would allegedly pay an ad network $ 0.0020 for a visit from a bot, and the resulting ad impression would garner $ 0.0025 to $ 0.0040 in revenue—that’s a gross margin of 25% to 100% for the publisher for doing nothing! It’s no wonder that so many websites around the world may be allegedly involved in this practice.

Do you think publishers know when they’re buying fake traffic?
Publishers know. They might say “we had no idea” and blame it on their traffic acquisition vendor, but that’s bullshit, and they know it. If you’re buying visits for less than a penny, there’s no way you don’t understand what’s going on. Any publisher that’s smart enough understand an arbitrage opportunity is smart enough to understand that if it was a legitimate strategy that the opportunity would eventually disappear as more buyers crowded in. What we were doing was 100 percent intentional. Some articles revolving around bot traffic paint publishers as rubes who were duped into buying bad traffic by shady bot owners. Rather, I believe publishers are willing to do anything to make their economics work.

Do networks, exchanges and other ad tech companies do anything to stop this from happening?
We worked with a major supply-side platform partner that was just wink wink, nudge nudge about it. They asked us to explain why almost all of our traffic came from one operating system and the majority had all the same user-agent string. There was nothing I could really say to answer that question. It was their way of letting us know that they understood what was going on. It wasn’t just our account rep, either. It was people at the highest levels in the company. Part of me wished they’d said “You are in violation of our TOS and you have to stop running our tags.” I would have been happy with that. But they didn’t; they were willing to take the money.

If these stories are true, then ad networks do not care that the impressions are from bot traffic and publishers do not care that are getting bot traffic because they are both making money. Who gets hurt? The companies advertising their products and services.

The worst part of it all

(Flickr user Don Hankins)

It’s not only that online display ads are alleged to be amazingly useless and that many publishers and ad networks are allegedly involved in sleazy deals. A March 2015 investigative report in Ad Age found the following:

Kickback payments tied to U.S. media-agency deals are real and on the rise, according to Ad Age interviews with more than a dozen current and former media-agency executives, marketers’ auditors, media sellers and ad-tech vendors who said they’d either participated in such arrangements or had seen evidence of them. The murky practice—sometimes disguised as (undisclosed) “rebates” or bills for bogus services—is being motivated by shrinking agency fees and fueled by an increasingly convoluted and global digital marketplace. “It’s really ugly and crooked,” said one ad-tech executive who described receiving such requests.

Some arrangements go like this: A large media shop, poised to spend $ 1 million with that ad-tech executive’s firm to buy digital ads last year, asked for $ 200,000 to be routed back to the agency’s corporate sibling in Europe. The $ 200,000 would pay for a presentation or presentations by the sibling’s consultants. But these types of presentations aren’t worth a fraction of the price tag, according to numerous executives dealing with the same issue, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing business.

Essentially, here is what is allegedly happening:

  • Clients give money to agencies to purchase online display advertising
  • The agencies give the money to the ad networks
  • The ad networks give a portion of the money back to the agencies
  • The clients’ display ads are only 8% viewable
  • The 92% non-viewable impressions still earn money for publishers and ad networks

I think we can see who the loser is—everyone is making money except for the clients.

During the same month as the Ad Age report, former Mediacom CEO Jon Mandel reportedly told the Association of National Advertisers Media Leadership Conference that widespread “media agency rebates and kickbacks” were the reason that he left the agency business.

Heads in the digital sand

(Flickr user Peter)

I have yet to hear about this issue being addressed in any talk, panel, or session at a digital marketing, martech, or adtech conference. Prior to today, I have seen only one article each in two major publications in the online marketing industry. (Mozzers, please correct me if I am mistaken and have missed something major on this topic.)

Why is no one talking about this?

No marketing agency wants clients to know that 92% of its display advertising spend is wasted. No advertising manager wants the CMO to know that only 8% of the company’s ads are reaching people at 100% cost. No CMO wants the CEO to know that 92% of the entire ad budget is being flushed down the digital toilet.

I myself would probably have not been permitted to write this article when I held various agency positions in the past because I managed clients’ online advertising and some PR and digital marketing clients of the agencies were advertising networks themselves.

(Today, I am the director of marcom for Logz.io, a log analytics startup, and I have the luxury of being accountable only for the results of my in-house work—and I do not plan to use online advertising anytime soon. Still, I was a journalist in my first career years ago, and I wanted to write this report because I think everyone in my beloved industry should know about this explosive issue.)

Hoffman, the retired ad agency CEO who I quoted at the beginning, puts it better than I can:

How does an agency answer a client who asks, “You mean more than half the money you were supposed to be custodian of was embezzled from me and you knew nothing about it?” How does an ad network answer, “You mean all those clicks and eyeballs you promised me never existed, and you knew nothing about it?” How does a CMO answer his management when they ask, “You mean these people screwed us out of hundreds of thousands (millions?) of dollars in banner ads and you had no idea what you were buying?”

Everyone is in jeopardy and everyone is in “protect” mode. Everyone wants to maintain deniability. Nobody wants to know too much. If display advertising were to suffer the disgrace it deserves, imagine the fallout. Imagine the damage to Facebook, which at last report gets over 80% of its revenue from display. Imagine the damage to online publishers whose bogus, inflated numbers probably constitute their margin of profit.

If the comScore findings are correct and projectable, it means that of the 14 billion dollars spent on display advertising last year in America, 7.5 billion was worthless and constituted some degree of fraud or misrepresentation.

But clients, CMOs, and CEOs are going to read one of these articles one day and start asking uncomfortable questions. I would suggest that Mozzers—as well as all digital marketers and advertisers—start thinking about responses now.

Responses to the scandal

(Flickr user Chris Potter)

Google, to its credit, has disclosed that 56% of its digital ad impressions are never actually seen—of course, the report was also released with the announcement of a new ad-viewability product.

Ginny Marvin summarizes at Marketing Land:

Google’s viewability measurement tool, Active View, is integrated into both the Google Display Network and DoubleClick. Advertisers can monitor viewability rates and buy ads on a viewable impression basis rather than by served impressions.

Google also announced an update to DoubleClick Verification last week, which includes viewability monitoring, ad blocking, a content ratings system and spam filtering capabilities.

The goals of the Media Rating Council (MRC), an industry organization founded in the United States in the 1960s following congressional hearings into the media industry, are:

  • To secure for the media industry and related users audience measurement services that are valid, reliable and effective
  • To evolve and determine minimum disclosure and ethical criteria for media audience measurement services
  • To provide and administer an audit system designed to inform users as to whether such audience measurements are conducted in conformance with the criteria and procedures developed

The MRC has certified “viewable impressions” as a legitimate metric (as opposed to “served impressions”). The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), mentioned earlier, issued guidelines in December that online advertising networks should aim for at least 70% viewability.

Facebook, for its part, announced in February 2015:

We are working with the MRC and a consortium of advertisers and agencies to develop more robust standards for viewable impressions. Our goal is to work with the MRC, our partners, and industry leaders around the world to help apply further standards for feed-based websites like Facebook, mobile media and new ad formats.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies, Association of National Advertisers, and IAB announced last year that they would create a new organization, the Trustworthy Accountability Group, to fight problems in the online advertising market and do the following:

  • Eliminate fraudulent traffic
  • Combat malware
  • Fight Internet piracy
  • Promote greater transparency

TAG now consists of representatives from Mondelez International, JCPenney, Omnicom, Motorola, Google, Facebook, AOL, and Brightroll.

Canada’s latest anti-spam legislation aims to fight Internet malware and bots—but a big stumbling block is that most of the problem comes from outside the country.

Will these corporate and organizational responses be enough? For the following reasons and more, it’s impossible to know:

  • Industry guidelines depend on voluntary compliance. Industry recommendations do not have the force of law—any business that thinks it can still make a lot of money by ignoring the guidelines will likely continue to do so.
  • Possible penalties for past behavior. Regardless of what reforms may occur in the future, should those who knowingly engaged in such alleged fraud and deception in the past be held criminally or civilly liable? (I’m not a lawyer, so I cannot comment on that.)
  • IAB’s 70% viewability goal. Should advertisers accept this metric as simply the nature of the medium? One estimate of the total display ad market amounted to $ 14 billion. If the 70% viewability goal can even be reached, should and will advertisers accept that $ 4.2 billion of their collective ad spend will still be lost before their advertisements are even viewed by human beings?

I have no answer—only time, I suppose, will tell.

But others are coming up with their own answers—those large corporations that are spending billions of dollars a year on online display advertising. As Lara O’Reilly wrote in May 2015 at Business Insider, $ 25 billion in ad spend is now under review in what Adweek is calling “Mediapalooza 2015.” O’Reilly gives one possible reason:

Media reviews let brands reassess their ad spending, often by offering those contracts out in a competitive bidding process. The companies include General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Volkswagen, Visa, Sony, Coca-Cola, Citi, 21st Century Fox … the list goes on. Some of these — P&G, Sony, and 21st Century Fox — spend more than $ 1 billion on advertising each year…

It could be that marketers are finally getting fed up with the apparent lack of transparency about where their budgets are actually being spent and why.

What marketers can do

(Image of an Indian online-marketing team I used with rights in a prior Moz essay

on the future of marketing departments)

Regardless of what the future will hold, here are my recommendations on how digital advertisers can respond:

  • Stop doing cost-per-impression (CPI or CPM) campaigns. Traditional digital advertising strategy recommends that people use CPM campaigns for brand awareness, cost-per-click (CPC) campaigns for traffic, and cost-per-action (CPA) campaigns for sales and conversions. In light of this scandal, I see no good reason to do CPM at all anymore.
  • Revise advertising KPIs and metrics in human terms. Earlier in this article, I calculated the following change to a hypothetical CPI value: “If you are paying $ 0.10 per impression, then the $ 10,000 that you will pay for 100,000 impressions will result in only 8,000 human views—meaning that the effective CPI rate will actually be $ 1.25.” In addition, half of all clicks in CPC campaigns might also be bots. As a result, a $ 2 CPC result may actually be $ 4 when reaching human beings is taken into account. Ad campaign analysts may want to take alleged bot and fraudulent activity into account when calculating ROI and whether display advertising is worthwhile.
  • Demand full disclosure. Clients should ask agencies and media buyers if they are getting paid directly or indirectly by ad networks. Agencies and media buyers should ad networks how they are combating bot activity and any fraudulent behavior. Ad networks should not turn a digital blind-eye to publishers who intentionally use bots to make profits off of advertisers. If anyone gives vague answers or otherwise disparages such questions, then that is a red flag. Advertisers should demand and receive full, verifiable information in light of what has allegedly been occurring.
  • Block certain countries from campaigns. According to a report in Ad Week, China, Venezuela, Ukraine, and Singapore have “suspicious traffic” rates of between 86% and 92%. (The rate in the United States is 43%.)
  • Use ad-fraud detection platforms. Companies such as Forensiq, SimilarWeb, Spider.io (which was bought by Google), Telemetry, and White Ops compare visit patterns with industry benchmark behavior as well as check for malicious software proxy unmasking, verify devices, and detect any manipulation.
  • Run manual campaigns as much as possible. The only way to reduce wasted impressions significantly is to research and implement digital ad campaigns manually rather than use programmatic ad buying. Digital advertisers should research potential websites on which they want to run advertisements to see if they are legitimate—potentially even running ads on only the largest, well-known sites but doing so continuously. This way, it might be best to focus your ad campaigns on quality viewers rather than trying to maximize the quantity of viewers by also including lesser-known sites.

Beyond the current responses of the ad industry and my present recommendations for marketers, I do not know what will happen. My goal here is simply to explain to digital marketers what has allegedly been occurring. What the future will hold—well, that’s up to we marketers and advertisers.

Additional resources

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