What to do when you find invalid traffic on your site

03/25 By Gerry Marketos

Advertising is fundamentally a business based on trust. As a publisher, your job is to build trust between your audience and your content. But you also depend on your advertisers to help build that trust. Their presence not only impacts your reputation, it impacts your ability to secure new advertising dollars, generate revenue from your content, and grow your bottom line. So what do you do when you discover invalid traffic on your site?

The web is rife with invalid traffic, some of it helpful and a great deal of it malicious, but such activity on your pages can imperil the trusted relationship you’ve built with your advertising partners and cost you real dollars. At IAS, our Threat Lab team spends their days studying the latest tactics and malware applications used by fraudsters to extract dollars from the advertising ecosystem, so we know that there’s more than one kind of invalid traffic. Before you press the panic button, follow this simple checklist to eliminate common causes of invalid traffic:

  1. Identify the source

If you’re detecting non-human traffic to your pages then it has to be coming from somewhere. Determining the geographical point of origin is the first step toward solving the problem. You can use IAS reports, seen below, for a regional breakdown of invalid traffic. If your site traditionally serves specific countries or regions, using this report to identify outlier traffic sources can help to detect potentially invalid traffic sources.

Geography isn’t the only way to spot traffic outliers. Most publishers have a fairly consistent, and unique mix of traffic sources and no one knows better than you which devices and channels (mobile web, desktop, in-app, etc.) are your strongest. Using IAS reports to look for outlier channels can further help to narrow down where fraud is originating from and help to identify the source.

Ad fraud by device:


  1. Review your traffic sourcing practices

If you’re using paid traffic sources then the possibility of fraudulent or bot-based traffic can be higher. Conduct a thorough review of your traffic-sourcing methods and traffic suppliers. Discount traffic suppliers often rely on bots or click farms to generate views and impressions. Insist on extra transparency where necessary to ensure that any traffic you pay for is authentic. If a supplier’s offer seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

  1. Check for sources of data center traffic

There are variations of invalid traffic that are not always the result of fraud, meaning no deceptive activity is involved. Even data center traffic (traffic that originates from data centers rather than from residential or corporate networks) can be the result of legitimate business activities, but it can still sometimes appear as non-human traffic and may confuse advertising partners looking for authentic audiences.

If you’ve detected large amounts of data center traffic you should first confirm that you aren’t running any software tools that would require data center traffic to hit your site. Running traffic-driving tools can produce invalid traffic that advertisers find undesirable. You may also want to be aware of any cybersecurity, testing or analytics tools you might be using that could cause data center traffic to hit your site and therefore trigger IAS invalid traffic detection models.

In cases where large amounts of data center traffic is present without good explanation, IAS can provide a deeper analysis to help identify potential sources or active solutions. In most cases, positives result from specific solutions redirecting traffic through data centers. This can often be corrected by adding data center IPs to exclusion lists and looking for steep declines in invalid traffic.

  1. Speak up about invalid traffic to your advertising partners.

The steps described above are useful for understanding what causes invalid traffic. If you’ve run through all three of these steps without detecting any anomalies, then it’s possible that your site has been targeted by genuine fraudsters without your knowledge. Bots are often instructed to visit premium sites to pick up desirable cookies which can then be used to monetize fraudulent sites. If you’re operating a premium site then this may explain some low-level invalid traffic. If you’ve detected invalid traffic on your site, then it’s possible your advertising partners have too. Being proactive and well-informed can go a long way toward ensuring that you and your advertisers present a united front against fraud.

To learn more about the possible causes and forms of ad fraud, visit IAS Insider and to learn more about how IAS can help you fight fraudulent traffic, check out our Publisher Solutions.