The video ad tech firm Mixpo is taking on the bogus online ad crisis head-on as it attempts to weed out suspect Web publishers that it says generate tons of bad traffic using bots—which are robbing advertisers blind.
The startup says it has been tracking data from certain sites for up to seven years and has built a list of a thousand sites on its blacklist. Mixpo contends these sites either contain lots of nonhuman traffic or have been spotted shoving invisible ads onto their Web pages.
Among the sites Mixpo says are officially blacklisted are Mevio and Digimogul's Directorslive.com, two that were previously identified by Adweek's ongoing investigations into the bots issue, as well as Blinkx, one of the more notorious video players on the Web.
A few years ago, Blinkx was cited for supplying tons of ad inventory from screensavers to ad networks like Tremor, which subsequently ended that relationship. Blinkx also owns Adon, a company cited for selling suspect traffic as part of Adweek's investigation. The company recently acquired Grab Media, a Web video syndicator.
Other Mixpo blacklist members include Thirdage.com, Blend.com, Dailyfreshies.com and Filmannex.com. "These seven domains specifically show bot behavior," said Brian Cohee, Mixpo's svp of data sciences and core systems. "Not all of their inventory is from bots, but we can say with confidence that there is bot activity there."
For example, some of these sites will feature inordinate amounts of traffic from a single browser like Internet Explorer.
Besides this group, Mixpo has also identified a group of sites that "are not as obviously fraudulent but consistently show poor performance across a number of distinct ads," said a spokesperson. "This group performs more poorly than normal," added Cohee. For example, they feature skippable ads that nobody ever skips, autoplay ads below the fold and "super low clickthrough rates," said Cohee. "In some cases, this could be standard practice; in other cases, it could be last week of quarter and they are trying to make numbers."
That list includes:
UPDATE: Nlop has also responded. Stan Hunting, director of online advertising, Nlop, said "Our company develops and operates free-to-play online poker games on behalf of internal and external brands. As a matter of policy and practice we do not condone any bot or otherwise fraudulent activity on Nlop.com. Having built a loyal player base over many years, our free-to-play texas hold’em poker tournaments now deliver an average user session length exceeding 90 minutes. Consequently, these highly engaging user sessions present an unusually high amount of impression opportunities per user. All video ads are served above-the-fold with volume enabled in a user-initiated fashion when players start a new game and during natural breaks in game play."
UPDATE: Originally, FilmOn was included in Mixpo's list. The company vehemently denies having a problem with bots. FilmOn officials said that the company has had a problem with its iOS app generating high clickthrough rates due to a small ad skipping button. FilmOn has been trying to get Apple to modify the app for months, to no avail, said executives.
Also on Mixpo's watch list: Lijit.com, which is owned by Federated Media. Ironically, Federated CEO John Battelle is helping to head up the Interactive Advertising Bureau's committee tasked with cleaning up the bots issue.
In Mixpo's data, Lijit is listed as a network representing numerous sites—all as Lijit.com. "We see some of those subdomains are bad," said Cohee. "Not all of Lijit is bad. Unfortunately, we can't resolve it. It's suspect, not fraudulent. But we know that there is fraudulent content on that network."
Federated COO Walter Knapp acknowledged that battling bots is something Lijit is focused on. "The video market is well known to have a relatively large percent of suspicious traffic," he said. "Combating it is an ongoing battle and one we take incredibly seriously. We apply an aggressive set of filtering mechanisms and partner with various anti-fraud technology companies. We, of course, welcome any additional insights we can gain and implement from our work with the top 20 demand partners in the video, display and mobile space."
Just what makes Mixpo qualified to report on this stuff, anyhow? Cohee claims that because Mixpo's player is used across the Web, it has great visibility into the online ad ecosystem, and particularly the network and exchange space. According to Cohee, the Mixpo VideoAd platform serves over 1 billion impressions each month across video exchanges, DSPs and networks, and Mixpo's video ads run on more than half of the top 20 video publishers.
But what's behind Mixpo's drive to expose such a list? The company has been able to produce a Campaign Health Report, which it uses to identify suspect domains and networks. To crunch the data, the company employs Amazon Redshift's technology. "This wasn't possible until this year," he said.
The company is now turning that data into a new feature of the Mixpo platform called VideoVerify, which is designed to combat bad impressions. It's designed to classify impressions as "normal," "suspect" and "highly suspect" while also tracking viewability and audience legitimacy.
The hope is that buyers will use VideoVerify to identify bogus websites and suspect behavior, and steer their advertisers away from the bad stuff as their campaigns unfold. "An agency or a client who is concerned can monitor on a daily basis yesterday's traffic, and they can adjust their media buy for quality," said Cohee. "If there is any suspicion, our action is not to buy on those domains at all. We've seen such numbers dip from 70 percent to under 5 percent in a week."
Besides bringing Mixpo more business, the obvious question is, why is the company doing this?
"In this ecosystem, we don't have any relationship to these domains," he said. "We take a very scientific approach. We don't have any stake in the game. We use data, and we are confident that the data is anomalous."
UPDATED: Gamemazing.com released the following statement: "We do advertise across various networks and exchanges for customer acquisition purposes. We carefully audit all of these traffic sources, and can confidently say that bots are not an issue."