We Know: AdBrite Fails Advertisers' Expectations and is Fraudulent (in our opinion)

Introduction: For this article, our senior online ad buyer created an AdBrite advertiser account with the goal of using it to gain targeted visitors to an e-commerce web site selling women's apparel. The experiment was a massive failure and this article attempts to explain the problems encountered with the goal of assisting other advertisers considering using AdBrite's services. The content of this article consitutes our experienced opinion only; others may have different experiences.

What is AdBrite?

AdBrite is an ad network that counts as its customers both Advertisers, the ones supplying the ad creative and purchasing the ad space, and Publishers, site owners who sell their ad inventory via AdBrite to host the Advertisers's ads. AdBrite currently supports text ads and banner ads along with various other types such as "full page" ads. AdBrite boasts a reach of 85 million online visitors across 70,000 sites as of the time of this writing. Creating an Advertiser account is quick and completely self-service, and you can load ads and configure campaigns and get them running within hours.

What are some of the known concerns about AdBrite?

Before we started our experiment we were aware of the following concerns about AdBrite, as expressed by other advertisers:

  • High propensity for fraud - no so much by competitors but rather by the publisher;
  • Difficult or inexact visitor targeting - the ability to truly reach out to target only the demographic(s) you want;
  • Inability to prevent your ads from running on adult web sites in a proactive manner;

How did you experiment using AdBrite advertising?

We created several online campaigns in a new AdBrite account, using text ads and a banner ad that we knew already worked well using other means such as Google Adwords content network. We attempted to target middle-aged women in the US on a variety of types of web site categories (Fashion, Fitness & Health, Home & Garden, Entertainment, etc.) that women are likely to visit.


We experiemented with a range of bid amounts and paid a cost-per-click (CPC) bid on our text ads and a cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) bid on our banner ad. We ran these campaigns for several days and closely monitored their performance.

What problems did you encounter?

1. The single largest problem we encountered was fraudulent clicks from a single publisher to increase their revenue. The publisher, or someone acting on their behalf, clicked on our text ads about 50 times before we caught the activity, costing us about $9.00. We identified the activity as fake/fraudulent for these reasons:

  • The ads we ran on this publisher suddenly received over 18% click-through rate (CTR), when they normally (and on all other publishers) receive less than 1% CTR;
  • 100% of the "visitors" to our site through these ads from this publisher all visited only one page on our site (instead of the average 3-4 page views). This is a bounce rate of 100% whereas the normal bounce rate for similarly purchased visitors through text ads is less than 50%;

2. The second biggest problem we encountered was the inability to effectively target the ads to publisher web sites relevant to the categories we had selected. Though we tried to target middle-aged women, our ads commontly appeared on male-oriented web sites (see problem #3);


3. We discovered that our ads were being displayed on adult web sites, or sites with graphic adult content, even though AdBrite's "Publisher Acceptable Use Policy" clearly states that publishers may not employ AdBrite ads on sites or pages with adult content. They are obvoiusly not policing or enforcing this policy, and we did not want our e-commerce site to be associated with this type of content, so this was frustrating.


4. Our inability to purchase a measureable amount of valid traffic, through ads that we can normally and easily buy hundreds of clicks per day using Google Adwords, for example, with similar bid amounts, proved AdBrite ineffective as a marketing tool for our puroses. After a week of attempting to buy traffic using moderate bid amounts (more than we spend on Adwords), we had received less than 20 clicks.


5. Lastly, we could not set a daily budget/limit per campaign less than $5.00 per day. We had intended to run a multitude of small campaigns with different ads sizes (not variations) and targeting, but due to the fraud, the risk of exposing us (or other small advertisres) to large expense with a minimum of $5 per campaign per day was too great.

What did you try to do about these problems?

1. We contacted AdBrite about the fraudulent traffic. Their help section clearly states that refunds for fraudulent or invalid traffic will be given in the form of account credits. This would have been acceptable to us for purposes of this test, but here's how the exchange went. Remember that we had already identified this traffic as clearly fraudulent through our server log and user behavior analysis:


Original message from our team to AdBrite. Some details removed, denoted with "...":

"Hi, I am reporting click fraud with this message. In my campaigns "..." and "..."
I have for the last 7 days, 47 clicks from "Right Celebrity". I am tipped off to
the fraud by the high CTR (over 18%) and then by the fact that there was a 100%
bounce rate and 1 PV per visitor for every visit. In contrast, my normal paid
traffic PV per visitor is over 3.5 and bounce rate less than 50%. I have paused
that publisher but would really like to see you refund me those costs ($9.24 as
shown in the console, probably higher due to reporting delay). I'm excited to try
out some banners next but need to be assured that I can be protected from this
type of fraud. Thanks in advance."

Though we expected a favorable response from AdBrite, this is what we received:

"We run advanced risk models and filters on every click to eliminate invalid or
malicious clicks before you are billed for them, and in the event an advertiser
contacts us we do a thorough review of the site traffic. We've reviewed this site
and have not found invalid traffic.

We offer you the ability to pause any site if you feel it does not meet your goals.
[Other useless information omitted]

Best Regards,
Tony Y.
AdBrite Trust & Safety
www.adbrite.com"

Not a great feeling when we just blew $9 and they're not going to help us better utilize their services and grow our relationship with them. It's true that AdBrite is going to have some filtering to identify some bad clicks but our thought in this case we that this publisher was causing fraud in such a way that AdBrite could not detect it. They are essentially saying "trust us, we'll catch it all" when that is highly unlikely. And rather than taking a customer-focused, conservative approach based on the facts we presented, they chose to blow off our regards and keep the money.


2. We pause bad publishers: Using AdBrite's reporting console, it's not difficult to get a list of what web sites/publishers are running your ads and pause any you don't like or are not performing to your expectations. We did go through the list and pause publishers whose sites were irrelevant to our desired target audience. When we identified the fraudulent traffic we immediately paused the publisher before contacting AdBrite customer support.


3. Researched what others had tried: We did more research on how other advertisers use AdBrite and the problems them faced. A great resource was WebmasterWorld.com, among other relevant discussion forums and web sites.


4. We cancelled our account in the end: Our trial with AdBrite was part test but was also intended to promote the e-commerce site over the long term. We really hoped it would prove useful, but in the end it was a waste of time and money. Given AdBrite's total failure to make a good "first impression" when we reported the fraud, and our inability to effectively buy a reasonable amount of traffic, we concluded that we had no other choice but to end our ad buys and close our account. Within four hours, they responded they had closed our account and asked why, but did not pressure us to keep the account or use delay tactics, which we applaud them for.

Conclusion

We had moderate (not high) hopes for AdBrite as a good way to reach a large expanse of web sites, and even though we expected low CTR and medium-level visitor quality, AdBrite really floored us with their outdated system, lack of basic features, and poor customer service.



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