Metrics Fraud

Metrics fraud is a subject which is not discussed but I feel will come into mainstream conversations as Internet Advertising matures. I have been in the Internet marketing industry for five years now and I have seen many numbers come and go. The single ubiquitous truth, however, is that these numbers are often never questioned.

I have learned that in the age of Internet time, where decision-making processes are considered obsolete if they take more than 3 days and everything needs to be done yesterday, companies are spending millions of dollars on Internet ad buys without consideration towards fraud.

While we would all like to close our eyes and wish that any online business will deal with is respectable and would not deceive us we must realize what is actually occurring behind the scenes. In an economy where business valuations can gain millions of dollars in a short time based on trafficking analysis an unscrupulous businessman may be tempted to inflate his site's statistics for personal gain. Even though many Internet sites have their web trafficking numbers audited by third party vendors there are numerous sites on the Internet that police their own numbers. We are simply to trust these sites, on their good faith, that they will not deceive us.

Since the Internet is a wild land with no rules many sagacious and forward-thinking individuals are pushing for standards. Not just standards of a programming language but standards that can be applied to most facets of e-business. While we are all waiting for these standards however, we should be responsible consumers and questions where are ad dollars are going.

I know of one large Internet company that was spending several hundred thousand dollars per month for online advertising and was not even aware that almost a quarter of their ad buy was going to unaudited websites. These websites could have inflated their numbers or demographics to justify a higher CPM and there is no way to verify it!

I recommend that you apply a degree of common sense to ad buys for your site or your clients. When I organize ad buys for my clients I make sure I know where every dollar is going and who it is going to. Before I commit to a network buy I get a complete site list of every site that I will run on and I scrutinize each site individually. One of the questions I ask every site individually, yes I do contact each one individually, is whether or not the sites traffic is audited. I then discover which company audits that site and I verify that statement with the auditing house.

This may seem time consuming to some of you but I must insist that you consider the consequences. If you spend your clients ad dollars on websites that have the potential to over inflate their trafficking numbers then you have the potential to loose a client. Treat your client's money like your own money and learn where it is going and learn about what sites it will be spent upon.

I have run into roadblocks while seeking this information. Some networks see you as "just another customer" and if you being asking questions that they do not have a canned response for, they may begin to focus on easier customers. The key here is to be persistent. Explain to the network that you are not going to make the network money without answers to your questions. Many networks nowadays, particularly DoubleClick, have so many clients that they may not perceive you as important - when compared to PepsiCo who is spending millions a month with them. You need to open your mouth and use your voice and do not hesitate to switch to another sales rep at that network. The people working at the networks work on commission and if you threaten to shrink their wallet, they suddenly become more attentive to your concerns and needs.

Be sure to write everything down and try to verify the information that is given to you. Just because a website claims that they are audited by ABC Interactive does not necessarily mean that they genuinely are. Call the supposed auditing agency and verify their relationship with the website. Do some investigative work to ensure the facts are indeed facts and not fiction.

Just remember, it is a wild Internet right now and there is a great deal of money to be made or lost. Regardless of your capacity in purchasing online advertisements, it is your responsibility to spend that money in a wise manner. Scrutinize your ad buys and scrutinize whom you deal with. If a company is honest then they will have nothing to hide from you. If a company is dishonest then your simple investigative work should not only save your reputation bur ad dollars as well - and in this digital economy ROI is all that matters.

About the Author

Rob Emerick
Freelance International Internet Marketing Council
Director of Internet Marketing
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