Advertisers Scammed By Invisible Impressions

    October 13, 2009
    Chris Crum

There are sites out there that may be selling you ads that consumers aren’t seeing. We’re not talking about just a lack of traffic to the pages they appear on. There is a lack of traffic because the pages are simply invisible to viewers, making them essentially worthless.

A report from the Wall Street Journal says that even large corporations like Kraft foods, Greyhound Lines, and Capital One Financial are among the victims of such scams.

The sites use code, which makes it look to marketers like their ads have been appearing, but they do not appear to users. The report, based on research from Ben Edelman, cites and as a couple of offending sites.

"The Web sites can get away with it, he says, because online advertisers don’t always audit their campaigns for proof their ads are appearing," writes WSJ’s Emily Steel. "It isn’t clear how common these ads are or how much they cost marketers."

Ben EdelmanSo how is an advertiser to know who to trust? One solution mentioned in the report is to buy ads based on attaining a certain number of clicks as well as impressions. In such a scenario, a site would have no benefit to pull off such a scam. Another possible solution is to be more directly involved with who you are advertising with.

"Advertisers often buy display ads based on the number of times they are loaded onto a page, rather than the number of clicks they get," says Steel. "Over the past, year, an increasing number of scams have sought to take advantage of that pricing system as advertisers have started buying more of their online ads via middlemen called ad networks, instead of directly from the Web sites themselves. These networks sell ad space at cheap rates across thousands of sites, and they don’t always weed out illegitimate players."

Online advertising is having a big year. A number of recent reports show an optimistic viewpoint for the industry. There is no reason why that shouldn’t continue as long as advertisers take responsibility for monitoring and stay involved with their campaigns.