Advertisers and publishers engaged in the fight against ad fraud got some welcome news a few years ago when big tech announced the eventual phasing out of third-party cookies. The phasing out was supposed to be completed sometime in 2023. Now it looks like it won’t happen until late 2024. That means cookie stuffing is still on the table.
Cookie stuffing represents just one of many ways bad actors perpetrate ad fraud. The prevalence of ad fraud in third-party cookies is one of the reasons behind phasing them out. But apparently, Google and its colleagues will not be able to rid the world of third-party cookies for at least another year.
If you are a PPC advertiser, this means you still need to continue the fight against cookie stuffing. You need to know what it is, how it works, and how you can keep scammers at bay. A good starting place is with an click fraud prevention software package, like Fraud Blocker.
How Cookie Stuffing Works
Fraud Blocker’s designers say that cookie stuffing relies on third-party cookies to artificially inflate click numbers and/or hide click fraud activity. Both strategies can cost advertisers dearly. Not only do they lose money on fake clicks, but they are also subject to misleading data that makes it appear as though their ads are doing better than they really are.
Cookie stuffing occurs mainly in two forms:
1. Wrongful Attribution
When a publisher advertises through Google’s PPC ad platform, Google may or may not actually publish the ads itself. They publish ads on their own search engine result pages, but they also send ads to third-party publishers. Both Google and the eventual ad publisher get paid for every click.
Cookie stuffing can rob both advertisers and legitimate publishing networks through something known as wrongful attribution. The scammer drops cookies into a consumer’s browser, cookies that change click attribution should the user click on a targeted ad. Instead of the rightful publisher being paid for it, the scammer gets paid.
2. Inflated Impressions
Scammers can also use a different kind of cookie designed to inflate the impressions a particular ad gets. Inflating impressions doesn’t necessarily generate revenues directly. However, it does mislead advertisers in terms of how their ads are doing.
If an advertiser believes a certain ad published on a certain platform is doing extremely well, he is inclined to renew that ad time and again. Every renewal gives the scammer more opportunities to ramp up the clicks and drive revenue. The advertiser doesn’t realize he’s spending money without generating sales because his impressions are being manipulated.
Both types of cookie stuffing have an adverse effect on both marketing budgets and analytics. Getting rid of third-party cookies will ultimately eliminate this particular form of ad fraud. But that will not be at least for another year.
Data and Monitoring Are the Keys to Prevention
Cookie stuffing is by no means the only effective method of perpetrating ad fraud. Scammers have access to all sorts of strategies including click bots and farms, ad stacking, and accidental clicks. In every case, the keys to prevention are data and monitoring.
Click fraud prevention software can monitor traffic and collect data. It can also analyze data to detect potentially fraudulent activity. Suspect traffic can be red flagged, quarantined, or outright blocked. But ultimately, software works best when it’s supported by human experts skilled in ad fraud prevention.
Cookie stuffing is a big problem for advertisers. It is going away by the end of 2024. But for now, scammers still have plenty of opportunities to use it.