Two guys in New York have created a programme they say will end ad fraud for good. And it's a real shame. Ad fraud was forcing the industry to re-examine how it measures online advertising. But if this tool works, it may not have to. The software's called Submit Guard and it can tell the difference between humans and internet bots with over 99% accuracy. Internet bots are responsible for fake clicks and views expected to cost the industry $6.3 billion this year.
The creators Eric Weissman and Jose Cotto told Business Insider: "Robots and humans interact with the web in drastically different ways. Robots scroll quickly and make herky-jerky mouse movements – we're able to detect all of that instantly and raise a red flag."
If it works, the software could restore faith in ad reporting again. And that's the problem. It'll be business as usual measuring clicks and views. Last year Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, published research proving how overvalued the click really is: "The more page views a site gets, the more people are reading, the more successful the site. Or so we thought…" Chartbeat analysed the user behaviour of 2 billion visits across the web and found that most people who click, don't read. More than half (55%) spend fewer than 15 seconds on the page they clicked through to.
The research left agencies unruffled, despite Haile outlining the advertising implications: "The media world is currently in a frenzy about click fraud: they should be even more worried about the large percentage of the audience who aren't reading what they think they're reading."
Chartbeat is one of a growing number of technology companies raising questions about the way we currently measure online advertising. I asked London-based Lumen MD, Mike Follett, 2013 Admap Prize winner, to tell me their view: "If you are interested in measuring attention, then measure attention."
Lumen uses eye-tracking technology to track how audiences engage with marketing. Then they use in-house psychologists to understand why the creative was engaging. "Attention to advertising online is visual, so let's measure the visual attention that the advertising receives," said Follett.
Publishers are embracing attention metrics. The Financial Times is trialling advertising blocks sold by the hour and The Economist Group now sells viewing time with their 'TimeGuarantee' product. TimeGuarantee was announced at the same time as their anti-fraud, visibility product 'ViewGuarantee'. That's what happens when you look at solving ad fraud: you see new ways to measure.
But the advertising world doesn't seem convinced. When Digiday interviewed Xaxis (WPP's ad buying network) about the new attention metrics, spokesperson Damien Healy said: "I am a little bit worried about introducing new metrics and new ways of delivering advertising because it has the potential to make things more complicated."
Medium, the publishing platform created by Twitter founder Ev Williams, doesn't think so. The company blogged, "Every web company should have some not-so-bullshit metrics that guide the business and provide an indication of its health. For content websites, you want people to read… A matchmaking service attempts to match partners." Medium now focuses on Total Time Reading (TTR). They say that for a business like theirs TTR is "the only metric that matters".
So what matters to brands? Clicks are useless to most of the big ad spenders. The likes of P&G, L'Oréal, GM don't need people clicking to buy. Or care about visits to their website. Measuring views seems a better way to measure brand campaigns but as Chartbeat, and other research shows, a simple view, on its own, can't tell us if the message was received.
Whether it's measuring attention, engagement, or whatever matters most to the advertiser, if we have the technology to measure better, then we should be using it. The IAB tells me that the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS) will make an announcement on the progress in defining ad fraud and industry guidelines. Don't expect it to rock the measurement world.
Maybe we're worried about new metrics because it could make things more complicated. For sure, ad tech companies such as Chartbeat and Lumen will have to make their offerings simple to understand and easy to use. But mostly it's apathy. Online advertising is decades old. The system of clicks and views is accepted. Oh, and revenue is still growing year on year. If ad fraud could disrupt digital advertising for just a little bit longer, we might be forced to reexamine online ad measurement.