Estimates reveal that programmatic rules digital advertising despite the risks of fraudulent traffic. By 2017, 2 of 3 digital ads will fall under the programmatic umbrella, which makes this next statistic ridiculous. Forecasts say $7.2 billion will be wasted on bot traffic and other forms of ad fraud.
Ad fraud is certainly not a victimless crime. In fact, brands and marketing agencies are footing most of that wasteful bill. It’s a blight on the entire digital marketing industry. It’s the slow, painful death of advertising budgets. So how do we protect ourselves?
Keep an Eye Out for Fraudulent Traffic
Sadly, we have to leave room in the budget for bot traffic. There’s no way to completely avoid it. That said, you can view traffic reports to spot the worst offenders. What should you watch out for?
- Strange domain names
- Authorless sites with no presence on social media
- Unexplained jumps in CTR
Fighting Back with Technology
Use services that track and estimate fraudulent traffic. Work with ad networks that use verification measures. This is your opportunity to make sure ad buyers are on the level. Check out the reputation of your partners. Build a whitelist of trusted sites, as well as blacklist sites that send you bad traffic.
Use the Right Metrics
Yes, some KPIs are easier to fake than others. Spending that is based on clicks, rather than on conversions, results in more bot traffic. We all need to have a “the buck stops here” attitude when it comes to this growing menace. No other industry in the world would turn a blind eye to $7 billion in waste per year. Many industries don’t even know what $7 billion looks like.
Marketers need to focus on buying tactics that defend precious ad dollars. Awareness needs to be raised, not to shame scammers who will always do what they do, but to bring everyone else in the industry together to fight the problem. The more scam artists that are identified and blacklisted, the better protected brands and agencies will be.
In-house marketing teams are becoming more knowledgeable and competent related to digital marketing. Does that mean that the age of digital marketing agencies is over? Not hardly. In fact, digital marketing agencies that keep current on modern practices have a great deal of relevancy. Here are a few reasons why these digital marketing agencies will continue to be important.
Providing Fresh Ideas and Perspective
Sometimes you need someone from the outside to look at why a campaign isn’t working—without the bias of being a part of a brand. Plus, your in-house staff may be so backed up creating content that they don’t have time to experiment with every new marketing tool in the industry, so you could be missing out on some good stuff. An agency might be in a position to make some helpful recommendations.
Adding Experience and Skills
An agency likely will bring some assets to the table that you just don’t have on your team. It can be tough to staff a marketing department with people who have all of the different skills and experience that you need. It can also be especially beneficial if you are targeting international markets to have marketers who are either a part of or experienced with the culture you are marketing to.
Lightening the Load
Marketing departments are under tremendous pressure to create tons of the highest-quality content while also testing and checking the metrics to tweak campaigns on the fly. Sometimes it can feel like an uphill battle where you can never get your head above water. Things start to slip through the cracks, which could end up costing jobs. A marketing agency can pick up the slack, help keep your team on schedule, and at the very least, provide quality content. Sometimes partnering is the only way to get the work done.
Digital Marketing Agencies Aren’t Going Anywhere
No matter how companies may try to bring marketing in-house, there is always going to be room for a modern agency that keeps up with the times. It’s not a question of whether you need an agency—it’s a matter of finding the one that can fill in the gaps for your brand.
Advertising is all about telling stories, even though we rely more and more on analytics for marketing purposes. So here’s the question: can you be both advertiser and storyteller? Is it possible to take on the role of content creation as an advertiser in the modern business world?
The demand for content is higher than ever before. We need content for web pages, blogs, social media, native advertising, and a host of other campaigns. On the consumer side, the public is becoming less forgiving of subpar content. This means that demand is high not just for any content, but especially for content of the highest quality.
Hence the rise of the digital marketing agency. Someone needs to help marketing directors, even ones who work for major companies, keep up with the workload of all of this content creation. Plus, such agencies can also manage many of the marketing campaigns from start to finish.
So the answer to the above questions about creating content and being an advertiser is yes and no. You can often both create and market, but not for every single campaign. Thus much of the content creation, and even some of the campaign management, ends up getting outsourced.
Quality Content Creation Shortages Are the Issue
The problem is that good content is hard to find. Some companies feel they simply can’t keep up in-house. Small- to medium-sized businesses might not have anyone who can run a successful marketing campaign. So third parties now help large companies keep on schedule, and also get smaller business in the game.
Native Advertising — FTC Creates a Fly in the Ointment
When it comes to native advertising—ads designed to fit seamlessly into surrounding content—the need to keep a close eye on content creation and marketing tactics is even more important. The FTC is cracking down on ads that look more and more like other content that is not sponsored, such as that found commonly in social media. The more the ad seems to simply look like more content, the more the FTC wants it to be clearly identified. Thus, it becomes important for content creators and advertisers to collaborate to create content that meets the brand’s needs without conflicting with governing agencies.
The advent of eCommerce is blurring the lines between selling your own product online versus selling through a third-party retailer. The upside is that it is easier than ever to sell directly to your customers. The downside is that it is also easy to step on the toes of retailers you have a business relationship with.
How can you compete with other brands online without also competing with your own business partners?
Attack Competitors Directly
The brand that you are competing against is probably not spending as much on Google ad traffic as your retailers are. With that in mind, making Google your sole online ad placement is a bad idea because you compete with yourself more than with other brands. It is important to find better places to spend ad dollars where you will be able to compete directly with other brands.
Redirecting Search Traffic to Retailers
One way to get around this dilemma is to target your search and social ads to drive traffic to your product on a retailer’s site rather than your own eCommerce site. Now you can still compete with other brands for ad spots without hurting the retailers that drive the majority of your product sales. Plus, many retailers track that traffic, making you a more valuable partner—versus being a competing online site.
Focus on Retailer Advertising
Another great way to team up with retailers is to spend your ad dollars in the retail world. Placing an ad directly on a retailer’s site puts you in competition only with other brands, and not with the retailer. Plus, you get another advantage of going where the consumers are. After all, research shows that about 2 out of 3 shoppers go straight to a retail site like Amazon or Walmart to start a product search, rather than a site like Google.
When you take the attention off driving traffic to your site, and place it on driving traffic toward your product, you cease to compete with the retailers who help mass-sell your product. Now you are placing the focus of your marketing back where it should be—beating out competing brands for a sale.
Client relationships are the lifeblood of a marketing agency. Let’s talk about three things agencies do that tank relationships before they even have a chance to get started.
Assuming What the Client Knows/Wants
We’ve all been guilty of this one, but it’s a quick way to get into trouble. First of all, you can’t assume the client knows what you do and don’t do. You have to be transparent. If you say “Blog Management,” clearly explain to the client what that entails. Don’t assume everyone knows your definition. Second, you can’t always know the client’s expectation. You may be thinking they want written content when “content” in the client’s mind means digital videos. The best client relationships exist when both sides define everything, speak plainly, and ask a lot of questions.
Telling Lies (or Leaving Out the Truth) Destroys Client Relationships
Obviously, you can’t go around being dishonest with clients, but dishonesty is more than just bold-faced lying. Leaving out little details that mislead a client into thinking they are getting more than they actually are, or hiding various expenses and fees, will leave the client with the same bad taste. For example, don’t say that the website development will cost $X and leave out that the client will have to pay an additional hourly rate to have content written. Don’t offer “website managing” unless it actually includes everything. Say what is included—and what can be had for an extra fee.
Not Talking About Objectives
What is the client’s endgame? Are they looking for site traffic, social media followers, improved email click-through rate (CTR), or a greater conversion rate? If you don’t have an honest conversation about goals, you can produce a lot of great work—and still have an unhappy customer.
Before your next client walks through the door, be sure to know what you need to ask, and also think about the things the client will look back on 6 months from now and say, “Well, I wish I knew that when we got started.” Then you can build long-term client relationships that increase the lifetime value of each customer.
About 1 in 20 Internet users (5%) is utilizing software to block ads online. The blocking of ads is already hitting publishers for over $20 billion per year, and that number is expected to double to more than $40 billion. How are publishers trying to reclaim those ad dollars?
What Stands in the Way
First, it is important to know what stands in the way of getting ads to users. The fact that ad blocking is spreading at an alarming rate (up nearly 70% last year) is a big factor. Plus, ad blocking has gone mobile, and Android and iOS users now both have ad blocking options for mobile devices.
To make matters worse for publishers, the media is promoting ad-blocking software. It has appeared in news reports from popular TV stations, and even a celebrity shock-jock has gotten on the bandwagon. In part, this is due to maladvertising. Malware has permeated the Internet, and ads are one place that the sneaky malicious software is lurking. Ad blocking can prevent infection with this software, leading to an increase in ad blocking.
And ad blocking is not the only thing that hurts the digital ad industry. Ad visibility and fraudulent traffic may cost the industry over $8 billion per year.
The Options for Publishers
What are publishers doing to combat the losses?
- Wait – This seems to be the popular response, but mostly because publishers are stumped as to how to approach the problem. Ad blocking will eventually have to be addressed if publishers want to stay in business.
- Team Up – Some publishers have gotten in bed with ad-blocking companies to discreetly get some ads through the block while others have worked out different forms of compensation based on the number of a publisher’s ads that have been blocked.
- Pay Up – Google and Microsoft are two corporate giants that have never been afraid to become the “bad guy.” In this case, they have paid one major ad-block company to whitelist their ads. However, this calls into question issues of net neutrality, and you can expect the dialogue to grow heated.
- Better UX – By creating a better ad experience for users, some publishers hope to discourage ad block usage.
- Transparency – Publishers are trying to educate ad-block software users to help them see the downside of ad block. After all, no one wants to lose their free content over blocking a few ads.
- Going on the Offensive – Some publishers are fighting back to try and override ad-blocking software.
- Turing to Uncle Sam – Other publishers are looking for legal ways to stop the use of ad-block software.
Denial of Service – Perhaps one of the most controversial approaches is blocking content access for those who have ad-block software installed. Some sites require payment from users with ad-blocking enabled.
The FTC has targeted native ads with their latest regulations. What does this mean for your business?
As more companies fight the ongoing challenge of ad-blocking software, native ads offer the promise of greater visibility. But with greater visibility comes greater responsibility.
Here’s the short version: The user should be able to recognize your content as an ad before clicking.
“Wait,” you say, “isn’t that the whole point of native advertising? To create ads that fit right in with the user experience?”
Why It’s Not Quite That Simple for the FTC
The FTC is really trying to guard against what it terms “deceptive ads.” However, even in that blanket term is a great variety of options for the marketer because ads are not compared to a single set of guidelines, but are taken in context. That’s why things get muddled when we talk about placing sponsored ads in a native environment. What would normally be an obvious ad, now suddenly becomes part of a news feed.
But is it an attempt to be deceptive or just good marketing not to pull consumers out of their little digital world?
It comes down to the details. Will the ad have to be a different size to stand out? Does it have to be labeled as sponsored content? Is placement of the ad the issue (this would be the biggest concern)?
In some ways, the issue is how much credit are we willing to give to consumers. At the same time, the FTC’s answer seems to be “not much.” That’s why our PPC ads on Google appear first or off to the side with that little yellow box that says “Ad.”
In the meantime, it means some trial and error for advertisers because, in the end, we’re the ones the FTC will hold primarily accountable. Unfortunately, the FTC guidelines also point out that everyone who even has a share in creating the ads will be considered culpable to some degree.
This leaves us with an even bigger question. Is it better to keep getting our ads blocked or to take our chances with the mysterious new FTC guidelines? As with so many things in the marketing world, it seems that only time will tell.
Past successes and failures, current marketing trends, and influential forecasts all go into developing an analytical model for the future of your brand’s marketing strategy. Looking ahead is always the smart move in business and particularly in the competitive digital marketing world. But what happens when you look at the market from every angle, create the perfect strategy, implement it… and then find that you were wrong? Let’s take a moment to discuss how to survive those inevitable misses by reducing loss.
Weighing Risk Versus Reward
The weatherman can’t always be right and neither can predictive marketing. That being said, the weatherman doesn’t get fired when there’s an unexpected afternoon shower. So the question here is: When it comes to market predictions, how wrong is too wrong?
Without risk, you’re never going to produce that Slam Dunk campaign that every marketer and brand strive for. Fear of being wrong will hold you back from success. But, you have to critically consider what your company can stand to lose. If you put all of your social spending into one account, and that social media format doesn’t last, that’s a big oops. If you try something less risky, like introducing a new hashtag, and no one jumps onboard, you wipe the egg off your face and create a new approach.
Reducing Room for Error
A good way to ensure that high-risk tactics succeed is to test them in a low-risk environment. Are you worried that offering a discount on lifetime memberships will result in a lifelong loss of revenue from those customers? Sometimes it happens.
For example, someone may pay for a $150 lifetime membership who would have been willing to pay $10/month for the next couple of years. That cuts $90 off the value of that customer. How can you test this theory? How about trying discounted one and two-year memberships before adding a lifetime membership to the options. What happens? Do you get new customers who wouldn’t pay a monthly fee, or do you simply lose monthly customers to cheaper annual plans?
When it comes to predictive marketing, most mistakes are due less to human error than to the changing nature of business, technology, and the like. The marketer’s goal is to track marketing trends as closely as possible to produce the best campaigns.
What does the future hold for content marketing? There are some exciting things that I hope to see unfold in 2016. All of these trends have already begun, but 2016 is the year we should see massive growth in the following aspects of content marketing.
- Content Curation – Obviously, this is nothing new. What is new is who is curating the content. The answer? Brands. The fact is that many brands have been able to convince their customers to create content for them. Whether using contests or simply asking for pictures and videos, brands are becoming curators of consumer created content. Really, there is no cheaper way to market content than to have someone else produce it for free. Brands just need to come up with the campaigns, slogans, contests, and hashtags that get everyone onboard.
- The Video Marketing Explosion – It’s actually a wonder to me that this hasn’t already happened. Content marketing has been going in this direction for a while now. 2016, however, seems like it will be the year of the video. 30 to 60-second clips are poised to dominate the marketing world.
- Better Mobile Content – Responsive is one thing; mobile content for specific devices is something else. Both directions affect where marketing is heading in 2016. Responsive design was a great way to break into mobile marketing without a ton of additional expense. However, mobile users want a custom experience; so personalized content is crucial. For example, apple loyalists most often get the short end of the stick when content simply won’t load on the flash-free That’s only one example of why mobile sales are lagging for Apple despite mobile use being greater than desktop use
- Native Advertising – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are at the top of the native advertising world as far as social is concerned. Sponsored content engages users without taking them out of their chosen element. Even news sites like CNN have gotten onboard with native advertising.
Add to these the ongoing trend to humanize corporations, and you have a good idea of what 2016 has to offer in the content marketing world.
A lot of finger pointing occurs when it comes to online advertising. It’s always someone else’s fault that ads are blocked, impressions are outside of the viewing range, or fraudulent traffic eats up ad dollars. In an industry that faces scandal after scandal, let’s look at an ongoing issue — how media buyers can build confidence in online advertising.
The burden should not rest completely on vendors to make transparency a priority. The worst thing a media buyer can do is to perpetuate the problem by not asking for the right information. For example, every media buyer should know and have access to three things:
1. NHT (non-human traffic) Percent – If a vendor doesn’t know the percentage of non-human traffic viewing your ads, it’s time to shop somewhere else.
2. Viewability – How often is your ad spot located on a viewable part of the page?
3. Placement Performance – The vendor should share information regarding how ads perform based on page placement.
Which Metrics Matter to You?
• Cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM)
Focus on Quality, Not Price
The big mistake media buyers make is in focusing only on CPM. The result: we go after the cheapest media possible, forgetting that sometimes you need to spend money to make money. Focus on getting a high return from purchasing high-quality media.
Don’t Retarget Consumers to a Point of Annoyance
Retargeting is a great way to remind a consumer to return and actually buy those items he was looking at, or even left in her cart. But no one wants to see the same ad on every site she visits for the next two weeks. This is a sure way to send a consumer searching for the “Clear Cookies” button, or worse, it may drive him to ad block. Definitely use retargeting, but couple it with these techniques:
• A frequency cap on how many times the consumer will see the same ad
• A time frame based on the product (short times for impulse buys, and longer times for long-term decision items)