Killing It At The Source

Suppose you sit down at a restaurant and look over the menu.  Seeing a few things which seemed appealing, you place your order.  How would you feel if you found out that while the main course was cooked in-house, the starters and desserts were all made across the street and brought it?  I’d feel kind of cheated.  My expectation is that when I order off a place’s menu that they’re making what I’m served. They’re certainly taking credit for it.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what’s happening in the online publishing world and I think it’s suicidal. It’s called “sourced traffic” and this is an excellent definition:

The practice of sourcing traffic is essentially any means by which digital media publishers or vendors acquire audience (visitors) through third parties.  So, this is audience being sold by the vendor which is not occurring in the traditional advertising model (by which a publisher puts out content which attracts an audience and then sells ads to reach that audience).  In other words, sourced traffic is by definition not organic traffic to the publisher’s site.

In other words, publishers are selling audiences they don’t have just to add some audience to their delivery stats. The first issue I have is much the same as I might have with the aforementioned restaurant – taking credit for something that’s not yours. My guess is that most publishers – like most buyers – are very much focused on the numbers and not at all focused on the quality of what’s being delivered. I would be quite upset if I paid for a prix fixe meal and the quality of the parts not made in-house were substantially lower.

The bigger issue brings us right back to our old friend, fraud. A White Ops and ANA study of non-human traffic from 2014 found that while a direct audience is mostly human, sourced traffic is almost 90% attributable to bots. eMarketer reported this the other day about an ANA study:

According to the data, 34% of respondents—also ANA members—said they were not at all familiar with sourced traffic. Meanwhile, 19% said they were very or extremely familiar. But perhaps more interestingly, the majority (54%) of those surveyed, said weren’t sure if any of their digital media buys included some form of traffic sourcing.

And we wonder why digital doesn’t receive as much weight in media buying as the audiences warrant?  All players – publishers, buyers, and clients – need to step up their game here and fix the sourced traffic problem.  Otherwise, who is going to want to eat in this restaurant?

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