“Digital advertising has never been more efficient and cost effective.” Many big brand advertisers that spend hundreds of millions in digital today think this. After all, their media agencies keep sending them excel spreadsheets touting how much more ad inventory they bought through programmatic ad exchanges and how much lower the prices ended up being. Everyone high-fives everyone, and pats themselves on their backs. But are we actually looking at such a rosy picture, or are we just seeing we want to see? Rose-colored glasses, as it were. Let’s have a look-see.
Why Do Fake Sites Have SO Much Traffic?
Big brand advertisers shifted dollars from offline channels like TV, print, radio, and billboards to digital. Their “reach and frequency” mentality didn’t change. They think that reaching more people and showing them more ads in digital will have similar effects as observed in other channels. But while those channels are limited by the laws of physics, digital is not. You can only stick so many billboards by the side of the road, and you can only allocate so many pages from the magazine to ads. But in digital, you can have virtually limitless websites and limitless ad impressions. It’s all just bits and bytes floating around and spreadsheets that tell you how many ad impressions you bought.
Fake websites don’t have the limitations of real human audiences, like real mainstream sites do. Human audiences don’t expand and contract rapidly. In fact, they do so slowly and gradually. When advertisers want to buy more quantity of ads, fake websites simply manufacture as many ads as needed to absorb all that ad spend. They don’t have human audiences; bot traffic is a much more reliable and scalable way to load more pages. They can further amplify their ad inventory by sticking more ads on the page, including stacking dozens of ads on top of each other in the same ad slot. Or they can reload pages automatically or refresh ads slots so they continuously load ads. Without the physical constraints of real human audiences, fake sites can create virtually unlimited ad inventory for sale to big advertisers.
Fake sites must be really popular because they have so much traffic, right?
Why Do Fake Sites Have Better Prices?
How do these sites have such enormous quantities of ads, and also lower prices? They are so cost efficient, right? No. They have low to no cost of content. Unlike mainstream publishers that have to pay journalists and editors to create valuable content for human consumption, these sites don’t need to attract human audiences. Like we said above, they buy all bot traffic. The pages of these fake sites can be lightly disguised with plagiarized content, or they can be blank and carry only ads. The purpose of these sites is not to serve up useful content; their sole purpose is to create ad impressions to sell and make money from unsuspecting advertisers.
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These sites have no cost of content, so they can afford to sell their ad inventory at lower prices; often much lower prices. When media buyers see low prices, they are drawn to this inventory like moths drawn to a light. They flock to it and buy it up in a frenzy. Media agencies even divert budgets allocated to good mainstream publishers to lower cost sources like ad exchanges, deliberately ignoring the fact that “you get what you pay for” — that much lower cost inventory is riddled with bots. They justify it by saying “we’re OK with fraud, because it’s priced in. We’re getting much better prices so we’ll live with it.” Fraudsters love that marketers think this way; because it means more collectible fancy cars in their lairs and super-yachts in their foreseeable future.
Fake sites are so “cost-efficient” because they have such low prices, right?
Why Do Fake Sites Have Higher Viewability?
Media buyers will also occasionally say they chose to buy more from low cost programmatic sources because the viewability was better than when they bought ads from mainstream publishers. Of course, viewability was better. What snake oil salesman would sell you a non-shiny object? They will make sure to polish it up well or make the bottle look fancy, so the buyer thinks they are getting a gem and a good deal, all in one.
Fake sites have higher viewability because they trick the measurement or alter it so that 100% of their inventory appears to be viewable. It’s like making all rotten apples appear to be fresh apples so they can sell it. Real publishers’ websites have page geometries that don’t change often. If their page layout has one ad at the top of the page, one ad on the right side, and one at the bottom, the two that are “above the fold” give the site an average of 66% viewability. Occasionally a user scrolls down the page to see the ad on the bottom. Good publishers have lower viewability due to simple page layouts. Fake sites can have 100% viewability 100% of the time because they trick the measurement.
We must only buy “100% viewable” ads 100% of the time, right?