Ad Tag Fraud Hits Publishers Hard—Protect Your Ad Campaigns


Most of the time, multipurpose things are good. A small device that fits in your hand and can cut paper, shine a light, replace a lost screw, and open a bottle? Awesome.

But what if we told you that one of the key components for effective digital advertising can also make you susceptible to ad fraud? Such is the case with ad tags, which enable all the links in the ad tech chain to communicate.

Considered building blocks for digital ads, an ad tag is a snippet of code on a publisher’s website that fetches and displays a digital ad from an ad server. When a visitor that matches an advertiser’s targeted audience profile lands on the publisher’s webpage, the ad tag directs the request to an ad server, which then returns a relevant ad to that visitor. All of this happens almost instantly.

Unfortunately, fraudsters can manipulate ad tags to commit ad fraud, draining advertisers’ budgets and threatening publishers’ ad revenue and reputation.

How do fraudsters use ad tags to commit fraud? What is the impact on advertisers and publishers? What are some of the signs of ad fraud via ad tag manipulation? And how can you protect your ad tags, budget, reputation, and more?

How Do Fraudsters Use Ad Tags To Commit Fraud?

Ad tags are the workhorses of digital campaigns, helping ensure that ads are seen by the right audience, in the right place, at the right time, all while providing publishers with the information their advertisers rely on, such as ad engagement. They can do all of this based on the information in the code, such as ad size, format, and keywords; the code also includes user criteria, such as browsing habits, demographics, and the device used.

Unfortunately, the code that runs the ad tags can be manipulated by fraudsters. When this happens, a few things can happen, which include:

  • Ads may end up being “displayed” where they can’t be seen, likely in the form of ad stacking.
  • Ads could be shown next to inappropriate content or misinformation.
  • Bots or human fraud farms might generate fake clicks.
  • Sites may start displaying unwanted ads that have not been paid for or replacing ads paid for by legitimate advertisers via a tactic known as ad injection.

The tactics may vary, but the result is the same. Advertisers end up with few or no new leads or sales, depleted ad budgets, and skewed analytics that distort the information on which future campaigns are based. Publishers are serving ads that aren’t reaching their advertisers’ target audience and providing misleading data. Fraudsters may be selling publisher inventory that doesn’t exist; this means advertisers are paying for ads that never run anywhere, and publishers are missing out on that revenue. When these issues are not recognized and promptly addressed, advertisers lose faith in the publisher, whose reputation is damaged; as trust declines, so does ad revenue.

How Do I Know If My Ad Tags Have Been Compromised?

Advertisers and publishers should keep a constant eye on traffic patterns. Anomalies such as sudden or unusual surges in traffic or many visitors from a non-targeted geographic location can be the first sign of ad fraud.

Compromised ad tags often share the same characteristics as other types of ad fraud, including a lot of traffic or clicks that lead to few or no conversions, short session durations, and/or high bounce rates. For publishers, a large number of chargeback requests from advertisers indicate an ad fraud problem.

How Can Protecting Ad Tags Protect Budgets, Reputations, and Revenue?

Ad tags are critical to digital advertising. They work behind the scenes to collect data that advertisers can use to personalize campaigns and improve future performance. They let publishers know which ads should be placed and where so they can maximize ad revenue. Both demand and supply side platforms (DSPs and SSPs) count on ad tags to manage ad inventories and placement.

Because ad tags are so important to all the major digital advertising players, protecting them from fraud is paramount. To effectively shield ad tags from fraud, you should:

  • Work with partners you can trust, including DSPs and SSPs with strong security features.
  • Limit access to ad tags to only your trusted partners.
  • Keep your ad tags secure by incorporating up-to-date features and only using URLs with HTTPS protocols.

Taking these measures helps safeguard the integrity of advertisers’ campaigns and their budgets. Both advertisers and publishers can protect their reputations; advertisers can have peace of mind that their ads are running where intended, and publishers can be trusted to properly display ads to the right audience. These steps help maximize everyone’s revenue by generating sales for advertisers and ad revenue for publishers.

It’s certainly in the best interest of advertisers, DSPs, and SSPs to do their part to protect their ad tags but perhaps the link with the most to lose is that of the publishers who rely on ad revenue. For these publishers, taking all the recommended steps to protect ad tags may not be enough.

Do Publishers Need A Stronger Layer of Protection?

It’s imperative for publishers to fight invalid traffic and protect ad tags. Not doing so can come with a steep price. When your advertisers lose money with the ads running on your site, they’ll lose trust and move their ads elsewhere and when that happens, you lose ad revenue.

To ensure your advertisers’ campaigns are successful, publishers need to consider strengthening their sites’ defense with a proven ad fraud detection solution—one that not only identifies and stops all forms of invalid traffic but also protects your ad tags.

Anura’s Ad Tag ProtectTM protects publishers, which in turn protects advertisers. Anura can accurately detect and block fake traffic in real time, preventing fake clicks and impressions while ensuring real visitors aren’t blocked. Leveraging our sophisticated algorithms and human expertise also helps prevent chargebacks, another major threat to publisher revenue.

Our solution integrates seamlessly with Google Tag Manager, reliably working behind the scenes to give you and your advertiser peace of mind. Our clients also enjoy dedicated support from an experienced team that is available and eager to partner with you to protect your AdSense account.

When ad tags play such a crucial role in digital advertising, protecting them is critical. Schedule a 15-day, fully functional, and risk-free trial to discover how Anura shields ad tags from fraudsters and ultimately protects advertisers, publishers, and the entire digital advertising infrastructure.

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