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TheStreet Open House

#Digitalskeptic: Malware and Bots Are Murdering Web Advertising

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Ari Jacoby is getting darn worn out of fighting the Internet advertising zombies all by his lonesome.

"Fifty percent of all ads are not seen by humans. And 50% of that traffic is nothing more than bots," Jacoby practically yelled at me over the phone. "It's insane."

The man's frustration is understandable. He's founder of Solve Media, a 43-employee advertising security firm that polices the Web for more than 7,000 advertisers and publishers checking that the people using Web ads really are people -- not some automated bot, malware or other sort of Web software zombie.

"That all means that only 25 some-odd cents of any ad dollar is going anywhere near a living person," he said. "Considering that bots cannot eat snack cakes and cannot drive cars off dealer lots, they don't add to the bottom line."

What's truly freakish about Jacoby's tales of Web advertising ghosts and ghouls is how blithe the Internet continues to be about advertising the automated threats Jacoby studies. He very articulately points out that even after 15 years of trying, the Web takes an almost grisly pride in caring not one bit about the automated criminal element in Web marketing.

"Shortly after organic SEO became a recognized marketing channel, problems with click validity arose," Jessie Stricchiola, founder of San Francisco-based search engine optimization firm Alchemist Media wrote in a company blog post.

Stricchiola goes on to say that click and automated ad fraud is in fact not only continual, but can spike in certain product types, verticals, keywords and bid prices.

There is "increasing evidence," Stricchiola said, "that the higher the bid price, the more rampant the click fraud."

Either way, Jacoby said, Web publishers and marketers simply covered the cost of non-human and fraudulent traffic. "Basically, it was all priced into the cost of a click," Jacoby said.

Brand advertising gets zombied
The laissez-faire attitude toward Web zombies began to change about two years ago when more sophisticated, so-called brand advertising dollars began to flow online. These types of brand advertisers are usually top-end marketers, such as carmakers and food companies. And since such ads are pricier investments for these advertisers, they become much fussier about where ads run, how they are viewed. And how well they perform.

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