People these days (me included of course) spend more time everyday online than offline, and that’s a fact verified by a careful observation of everyone I know except for my beloved grandma. So the thing is us publishers need to make the best out of all that time spent online, don’t we? Oh, I know it’s sad of course, but a fact is still a fact, and now all that remains are the remains of perfect advertising campaigns (yes I meant to do that). We know that display ads are now not as effective as they used to be, and we are all doing our best to create the best campaigns possible… So what happens when not even that’s enough?
Today’s online scenario has a conflict that a couple of years ago did not represent such a threat: the amount of ad and e‑commerce fraud has been growing non-stop, and is now something to watch out for during our online experiences. Ad fraud is a huge problem that most advertisers are freaking about, and so are the biggest brands. And even though most of us know a thing or two about what to look for when detecting if something is or is not fraud, normal users who are not that much into digital marketing don’t have the same luck. So today, we’ll be deep-diving into all the red flags that could be showing that a certain ad is, in fact, fraud, shall we?
- Pay attention to unreliable company names
This doesn’t mean that the company needs to be called “fradulentbusiness.com” to be a fraud, and any other name will be good to go. There are a bunch of non-obviously-fraudulent names that can also show that a brand is, in fact, unreliable or at least worth some research. Some examples of this might be companies named in a different language than yours (because why would you be targeted for an ad about a company that’s miles and miles away and whose regular audience would never be you?), URLs or names with a bunch of numbers (of course some brands actually have numbers in their names and are not unreliable, but watch out for names that look like “brandname1233453455752576.com”, and also for less exaggerated types), and names that, if you google them, appear in a lot of pages (meaning they created a lot of sites/companies under the same name).
- What does the description look like?
Does the description have an unusual amount of emojis? Does it look copy-pasted from a website, and make no sense with the post or ad? Does it have completely unrelated hashtags? Well, then you might be in the presence of a scam. Basically, whenever a company wants to launch an ad campaign, they hire a qualified PPC that will create a catchy and well-thought out copy meant to have users read it and say “whoa! I want to buy this well-advertised product!”. So, if the ad you are seeing has a description that makes you have at least a one-second thought, then maybe wait a second before you go ahead and click on it. As a side note, sometimes these “businesses” used shortened URLs to hide their very scammy true URLs, but there are also trustworthy brands that use them so maybe don’t take it as a universal law.
- Which photos did they use?
When it comes to display ads, and most everything in life, we can say for sure that a picture is worth MORE than a thousand words. Publishers care a lot about which illustration or photo they include in their ads because it’s the first thing that users will see, and probably what will capture most of their attention. So there are two types of images that you should especially watch out for:
- Images that look too professional or too good to be true: if you see an ad about a dating site, and all the images are literally headshots of models, then definitely do not subscribe to it. There are a thousand banks of images available online that for a couple of bucks (and maybe even for free) will get you a very professional picture of whatever it is you want to “advertise”. So if a picture looks too professional or too generic, then maybe dig a bit deeper.
- Images that you wouldn’t know how to google: most e‑commerce fraud sites throw ads with a bunch of very well taken photos of their products, in a camera roll kind of way. And since it’s a combination of photos, you will very likely be unable to do a reverse search of that image (meaning you can’t make a google search using that image), then you are probably in the presence of a scam. Think about it this way: which company wouldn’t want you actually searching online for their products?
- What does the link in the ad look like?
Again, it doesn’t have to say “fraudbusiness.com” to be a scam, there are many other signs you can look for. If there are a bunch of emojis in the link, then you can be facing a scam (what kind of company would non-ironically use a bunch of emojis in their links?). If it says something similar to “U.S store ->” it will very likely be a lie, and it will also be one if it includes some more selling features (such as made in the USA, produced with X material, etc.).
So basically, we can’t 100% escape from scams or ad fraud, but we can definitely watch out for it. And, since ads about scams can bring so many problems (especially if a website is doing stuff like, let’s say, impersonating the government), it’s definitely worth it to spend a couple of extra seconds and figure out whether or not it is a scam or not.
Mora is a PPC Analyst at Hellbent Digital at work, and a theater nerd when not at work. And it turns out understanding theater—that is, how to put on compelling live shows that engage the audience—is a very useful skill for understanding digital marketing.