Domain Spoofing, Fraud, Arbitrage, Oh My!

By OpenX in Publishers|February 1, 2018

5 Questions Buyers Should Be Asking Their Exchange Partners

Late last year, Business Insider found 10 million to 30 million falsified impressions on low quality exchanges claiming to be their own. In one case an advertiser thought they purchased $40,000 of Business Insider inventory but in actuality only $97 of that was legitimate. This example is one of many, including P&G’s brand safety concerns and FT’s ad fraud issues, that has ramped up the industry’s call for greater clarity. Brands and agencies need to take a closer look under the programmatic hood and have a more proactive role in the supply chain.

Increasingly, as buyers seek to gain greater control over their media buys, some brands are taking programmatic in-house; some are moving away from managed service providers while others are only paying for 100% viewable ads. Despite these moves, the industry is still progressing towards programmatic and buyers are, on the whole, still ramping up investment through programmatic channels. The solution to issues like inventory arbitrage is not turning away from programmatic. Rather, the way forward is greater transparency into where your inventory is coming from. Do your homework and be diligent researching and vetting your programmatic partners.

One of the first steps for buyers to get a clear view of how their dollars are trickling through programmatic pipes is for them to understand how their exchange partners work with publishers. Buyers should be working with exchange partners with a maximum of “two hops” from the inventory they are selling. Exchanges with direct publisher relationships are ideal but there are instances where authorized resellers may be necessary. Any additional degrees of separation between exchange and publisher increases the risk of misrepresented inventory.

An easy way to check which exchanges a publisher works with is by looking at their ads.txt file. Based on our global audit of comScore 1000 publishers’ implementation of ads.txt, over half have now adopted ads.txt to ward off unauthorized resellers. Several major DSPs and buyers have already announced that they will no longer buy inventory that isn’t authorized in a publisher’s ads.txt file and we are the first major global exchange that will block all reseller traffic that is not authorized on a publisher’s ads.txt file from entering our exchange. According to Ad Ops Insider, the average publisher identifies fewer than five trusted exchanges via ads.txt that are authorised to sell their inventory – meaning only the highest quality partners are being chosen. Anyone can view an ads.txt file by adding “/ads.txt” to the end of a publisher domain. You can also use an ads.txt web crawler to automate this process and save a couple of hours.

Another way to see how committed your exchange partners are to reducing fraud is to check for TAG certification. When The 614 Group looked at over 6.5 billion display and video impressions in campaigns run through TAG certified channels by GroupM, IPG/Mediabrands and Horizon Media, they found fraud was 83% lower than the industry average. Seek exchange partners that support third-party verification and are doing their part to raise standards industry-wide.

Along with checking ads.txt files and TAG verification, buyers should be asking their exchange partners questions including:

1. What is your relationship to the publisher? Are you a direct partner or a reseller?

2. Do you share a preferred sitelist or whitelist with clients prior to campaign launch?

3. Do you partner with 3rd party ad verification and/or viewability companies? If so, which ones?

4. What level of reporting is available on the backend to review ad placement and rates? How do you reconcile your reporting against that of 3rd party partners agencies or brands may use?

5. How do you ensure a brand-safe marketplace for buyers? How do you manage your traffic and ad quality?

The future of programmatic advertising can be bright so long as there is greater trust between buyers, sellers and technology partners. When buyers are in tune with their exchange partners, they can gain a higher understanding of where their dollars are going and ensure the vast majority are going to meet campaign goals.

For more actionable tips to bring more clarity into your programmatic strategy, check out our transparency checklist for buyers here and feel free to drop our Buyer Development team a line at