Ad Stacking—Ads Hidden In Plain Sight
Ad fraud is responsible for nearly $100 billion in losses for businesses globally. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult for businesses to keep track of the different forms of ad fraud that fraudsters are using to exploit their ad campaigns for financial gains.
Often, businesses will see low click-through rates on display ads—while we can attribute some of these to poor audience response, the majority can result from a form of ad fraud called ad stacking.
With ad stacking, fraudulent publishers put different ads in a single ad unit on their websites by layering them on each other—making only the one on top visible to the user.
Although the advertisers won’t notice these, they’ll still end up paying for each ad even though users don’t see or engage with them.
In this guide, we’ll discuss all you need to know about ad stacking, how it works, and ways to protect your ad campaigns from such activity.
What Is Ad Stacking?
Ad stacking is a form of ad fraud involving placing multiple ads on top of each other in a single ad space. As we mentioned, this way, only the top ad is visible to you, and other ads aren’t. This tactic is common among shady publishers in programmatic advertising looking to generate revenue from ads users don’t see.
In advertising, advertisers have to pay either on a cost-per-mille (CPM) or cost-per-click (CPC) model.
For CPM — Advertisers are paying for every 1,000 real human impressions on their ad. In this case, that means any time someone sees the ad. In most ad-stacking attacks, CPM ads—especially mobile ads and in-app video ads—are the most affected.
For CPC — Advertisers are paying for each click their ad receives.
In both of these advertising models, publishers can deceive advertisers with fake impressions and clicks by layering ads. So, when a user clicks or views a single ad, it records for other ads which are invisible to the user.
How Does Ad Stacking Work?
Ad stacking is simply placing multiple ads on each other. Take a look at the CPM ad on this website. Every impression goes to the top ad.
Meanwhile, there are several ads hidden beneath this one all getting the same impressions, but users don’t see those ads.
For an attack like this, looking at your data might not prove effective if you don’t know what you’re looking for. And not only will ad stacking ruin your brand’s reputation, its lasting effects result in poor marketing decisions due to false data from your marketing campaign.
As an advertiser, you’ll be walking in the blind with no sense that your campaigns are effective.
Some fraudsters have a way of executing ad stacking attacks on your campaigns without your ever noticing—they do this using 3 methods:
Using Static Placeholder Images
Fraudsters use scripts to load static placeholder images on the user's view port while running video ads in the background. The user is unaware of these ads in the background, but the system will count this as impressions.
Fake Banner Slides
Fraudsters have taken ad stacking up a notch by masking it as a banner slide. They’ll load invisible ads into banner slides that’ll stay up long enough until it receives an impression, and after that, it’ll load another set of invisible ads. To the user, this is a banner slide, but there are countless ads behind each one.
Instead of placing one ad in a unit, fraudsters will layer ads by stacking them together in a single unit. They’ll make the top ad visible, but will reduce the opacity of other ads to 1 or zero—making it invisible to the user. Overall, ad stacking gives you false impressions on your ads. When users aren’t seeing your ads and engaging with them, your business won’t get any positive ROAS.
How Can You Protect Your Ad Campaigns From Ad Stacking?
Noticing the signs of ad stacking can be a bit tricky. The various ways of carrying out ad stacking puts the ordinary advertiser at a disadvantage. However, ad stacking is easy to detect, and neutralize. Here are two indicators to look out for so you can do exactly that.
Keep Track of Your Click-Through Rate
Your click-through rate is one of the key indicators of ad stacking. Although depending on your industry, your CTR will be different, but it can never be zero or near it. If you notice some of your ads are returning zero or a near-zero percentage even though they’re getting high impressions—then it’s definitely ad stacking or other forms of ad fraud.
If you’re running multiple ads with the same publisher who’s stacking your ads, this will be easy to detect and report. Say you’re running three ads with a publisher, and for some reason, all 3 ads have the same impressions. Then, something is wrong. Request a report from your publishers to see the traffic sources and possible interaction with your ads to analyze why all three have the same result.
Use An IP Exclusion List
You can easily detect any case of ad stacking through its IP region. From your campaign tracker, check to see from where your publisher is sourcing most of its traffic to you. If this traffic is shady and responsible for low CTR, it’s best to exclude it so it doesn’t ruin your campaign.
Now doing this manually will not be effective as much as you want it to be. However, using an ad-fraud solution will help you flag IP from regions in your exclusion list. For example, Edgemesh’s IP exclusion feature helps you add known fraudulent IPs to your IP exclusion list—and it’s updated every day for you at no additional cost.
Don’t Get Stacked Again With Edgemesh’s Ad Fraud Analysis Protection System
Ad stacking is a result of a publisher’s greed. If not addressed, can cost you money, time, and possibly skewed data due to false impressions.
Preventing these fake clicks and impressions is an important part of your ad campaign to avoid cases of wasted marketing budget. However, detecting any forms of ad fraud manually can be time-consuming, challenging, and also prone to errors.
You can prevent all of the above by using Edgemesh’s ad-fraud analysis and protection system. Our solution helps prevent possible ad fraud activities by tracking and monitoring your ad campaigns.
If you’re interested in protecting your ads from fraudsters, try out Edgemesh today. Sign up for a 14-day free trial.