Fraud in the Google Display Network

Updated: Feb 16, 2024 | |

In the dynamic world of digital advertising, Google Ads campaigns stand as a pillar of many marketing strategies. However, most businesses only run Google search ads, not realising that there is a whole world of advertising awaiting them, spread across four Google networks: Search, Video (YouTube), Shopping and Display. In this article, we’ll be exploring the issue of fraud in the Google Display Network.

The Display Network refers to ads that are run on websites and apps (such as banner or footer ads), is made up of more than 35 million websites and apps, and reaches over 90% of Internet users worldwide. When you run ad campaigns on the Display Network, you can use targeting to show your ads in particular contexts (like “outdoor lifestyles” or “cnn.com”), to particular audiences (like “young mums” or “people shopping for a new sedan”), in particular locations and more.

Where Does Fraud Fit into All This?

Although the Google Display Network offers immense control when it comes to targeting your audience, fraud sites are a pervasive issue that plague the Display Network, particularly ‘Made for Advertising’ (MFA) sites. These deceptive platforms not only drain advertising budgets but also compromise the effectiveness and integrity of Google Ads campaigns, and can be difficult to avoid.

Integrated Ad Science’s 2022 Media Quality Report notes that Australia has ad fraud rates of 1.4% for desktop display ads, and 0.4% for mobile web display and mobile web video ads. Although this may sound like an insignificant amount, considering that billions of dollars of campaigns are being run every year, the scale of the fraud soon becomes evident.

The Direct Impact on Google Ads Campaigns

MFA sites are expertly disguised as legitimate content platforms, drawing in unsuspecting users through alluring headlines and endless slideshows. This deceitful practice significantly impacts Google Ads campaigns in two primary ways:

Wasted Ad Spend

Billions of dollars are diverted annually into these fraud sites, leading to a considerable waste of advertising budgets. According to research from CHEQ, in 2022 the total cost of ad fraud reached $61 billion, and advertisers are finding their ads displayed on sites that provide little to no return on investment, diminishing the overall effectiveness of their campaigns.

In some cases, we’ve taken over accounts where up to 70% of the ad spend was going towards fraudulent sites. When you’re encountering levels of fraud that are that high, it’s almost not worth running a campaign.

Brand Reputation Risk

In addition to wasting your ad spend, MFA sites can also tarnish the reputation of your brand. Consumers associating a brand with misleading, low-quality, inappropriate or harmful content can lead to a loss of trust and credibility, something that can be hard to recover from even for well-established brands.

Identifying MFA Sites in Google Ads

Recognising MFA sites within the context of Google Ads is crucial to ensuring your campaign spend is not being wasted. Indicators include:

  • Non-Original Content: MFA sites often feature content that is either plagiarised or generated with minimal effort, lacking genuine value or relevance.
  • Spammy Ad Behaviour: These sites tend to display an excessive number of ads, often refreshing them at high frequencies.
  • Dubious Content Formatting: The use of infinite scroll, oversized fonts, and large image blocks are tactics to increase ad exposure.
  • Clickbait Headlines: MFA sites frequently employ sensational or misleading headlines to drive clicks.
  • Unrelated Names: MFA sites will often have URLs that are incongruous with the content displayed on the page. Common names and domains that frequently appear on MFA sites include words such as: games, toy, play, meditation, baby, child, children etc.

This website – note, if you are using an anti-virus then you will receive a warning about a dangerous site – is a classic example of a fraud MFA website, and features several hallmarks including its name (Simple Game Guide)

The Power of Whitelisting in Google Ads Campaigns

One effective strategy to mitigate the impact of MFA sites is the creation of ‘whitelists.’ Whitelisting involves curating a list of approved, reputable websites where advertisers prefer their ads to be displayed. This proactive approach offers several benefits:

  • Enhanced Control: Whitelists give advertisers more control over where their ads appear, ensuring alignment with sites that match their brand’s values and target audience.
  • Improved ROI: By focusing ad spend on high-quality sites, advertisers can improve the return on their Google Ads investment.
  • Brand Safety: Whitelisting reduces the risk of ads appearing on inappropriate or harmful sites, safeguarding the brand’s reputation.

Implementing Whitelists in Your Strategy

To effectively implement whitelists in Google Ads campaigns, consider the following steps:

  1. Research and Identify: Compile a list of sites that align with your brand’s values and have a track record of delivering quality content and engagement.
  2. Use Google Ads Tools: Utilise the targeting options in Google Ads to specify where your ads should be displayed.
  3. Regular Review and Update: The digital landscape is ever-changing. Regularly review and update your whitelists to include new reputable sites and remove those that no longer meet your standards.
However, while whitelists can be great for ensuring brand safety, Google ad campaigns need scale in order to be successful. Limiting your whitelist to the top 10, 50 or even 100 sites will prevent them from building scale and generating return on your ad spend.

Trust Retain Media for Ad Campaigns that Deliver

The challenge of fraud sites, particularly MFA sites, poses a significant threat to the efficacy of Google Ads campaigns. By understanding the impact of these sites and employing strategies like whitelisting, advertisers can protect their investment, maintain brand integrity, and optimise the performance of their campaigns in the digital advertising arena.

If you’re struggling to get results with your Google Ads campaigns, we can help. Our team of Google-certified ads experts have helped deliver thousands of quality, qualified leads to our clients while maximising ad spend. Get in touch with us today to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation and start making the most of your Google Ads campaigns.

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