Bots and advertising - the real problem


Bots are a serious problem for the advertising industry – these nasty little creatures skew figures, suck cash, and lead us astray. John Donnachie, from The Story Lab team, looks at a new study which examines the bothersome bot.

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If an ad is served to a bot, should it be counted as viewable?

This new ComScore study - NHT: Why it Matters and Why You Should Care - highlights the damage non-human traffic has upon digital campaigns.

To state the obvious regarding ad fraud, if a digital ad isn’t reaching a real person, that’s a real problem. But taking a deeper look at the issue, non-human traffic (a.k.a. NHT) also affects other performance metrics typically used to demonstrate success.

Bots aren’t just annoying – they’re making it more difficult for us to measure, evaluate and plan.

And it’s not just traditional bots that are causing trouble – there’s adware, browser hijackers, ad injectors, domain laundering and data centre traffic into the bargain.

The ComScore report says only 57 per cent of all ads can be measured with an adequate degree of clarity – which leaves an awful lot of uncertainty.

And there are issues around transparency – with the recent reports that Google is charging for some YouTube ad views even when its own checks show the adverts were viewed by bots and not humans. 

So what’s the answer?

ComScore says there are loads of different approaches out there that claim to tackle the NHT problem – but the trouble is, they don’t all work.


  • NHT needs to be taken into consideration when setting KPIs and as part of recording campaign performance, as results will naturally be skewed. Campaigns optimized towards sales or revenue will be less affected than campaigns which target simple clicks and views.
  • Not all viewability measurement properly negates the effect of NHT.
  • Unduplicated measurement is the only way to achieve a clean number of impressions with the opportunity to have an impact.
  • Minimise the problem – This is an industry-wide issue that still isn’t being tackled to a degree where campaign results are completely accurate for digital campaigns. However there are ways to minimize the problem – by monitoring traffic, keeping blacklists updated frequently, and by concentrating ads towards when your audience is awake, and towards more modern browsers, as bot fraud is higher from older browsers, and when consumers are asleep but their computers are not.
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