The IAS Threat Lab deep dives into ad fraud trends
It’s no secret that the digital advertising landscape is rampant with malicious bots designed to commit ad fraud. Safeguarding any campaign from fraud is essential — but the threat of fraud is especially present during the holiday season. With ad budgets at their highest for the year, fraudsters are prepared to take advantage and ramp up their operations.
In this report, the IAS Threat Lab investigates bot activity to determine trends over time. The team set out to answer: How does bot traffic vary in a 24-hour period? How does it vary over a week? A month? The Threat Lab observed bot traffic over a 391-day period, analyzing billions of impressions each day to understand how bot attacks vary and how predictable — or unpredictable — these attacks may be.
Here’s a sneak peek at what we found.
People sleep, bots don’t
The Threat Lab analyzed billions of impressions across both human traffic and bot traffic. The impressions showed that bots mirror the activity patterns of the humans they are trying to impersonate: both bots and people spend the largest chunk of traffic between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
However, human traffic is sporadic, and bot traffic is quite consistent. We noticed this pattern in late-night activity — human traffic drops dramatically during the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., while bot traffic showed less variation. Conversely, during the early morning hours of 4 a.m. to 9 a.m., human traffic picks up much faster than bot traffic.
Fraudsters take their weekends off
Weekdays tend to have higher bot traffic volume than the weekends. On average, weekday bot traffic tends to be 21.2% greater than bot traffic on the weekends. For humans, weekday traffic is only 6.9% greater than weekend traffic.
But why is weekday traffic so much higher for bots? At the end of the day, although bots are largely automated, they still require oversight from their human operators. These individuals, like any employee at a corporation, most likely work on the weekdays and take their weekends off, causing a dip in bot traffic.
Look out for the holiday season
From an ad fraud perspective, holiday seasons are a particularly dangerous period for marketers and publishers. Bot traffic is at its highest during the holidays, with November seeing a higher volume than any other month of the year. Bot traffic in November is 22% greater than the bot traffic in October, and 57% greater than bot traffic in January.
Even within November, bot traffic grows as the month progresses, peaking in the fourth week. It then continues to stay high throughout December, making marketers particularly vulnerable to ad fraud and warranting extra protection against malicious bots during the holiday season.
Ad campaigns can be seriously impacted by timing — no matter the time of year. It’s crucial to ensure your brand’s ads are shown to real people, in the right place, and are free from fraud during this holiday season and as we enter the new year.