Using “Honeypot” Banners to Detect Click Fraud

In our previous article, we discussed the prolific damage fake traffic continues to cause the online advertising industry. To recap: approximately a third of the total traffic transmitted through online ad agencies is fake, accounting for over 15 Billion US$ worth of traffic.

Fake traffic and bots have become an accepted reality for advertisers. Most advertisers set a threshold to account for bots, known as “Maximum Level of Suspicious Impressions.” Said threshold for mainstream traffic is typically set to a maximum of 5%.

However, as online advertising continues to grow and evolve, bots are also becoming more advanced. In the past, bots were much easier to detect: by looking for abnormal behavior generated by a common IP, a common user agent, or alternatively, could be easily tracked by source, time on site, bounce rate, number of new sessions, average pages per visit and other behaviors. Advancements in scamming have generated bots with the startling ability to mimic human reaction. Bots can now open several pages and click on many buttons, simulating a human user. These new bots are much smarter and harder to track.

So what is the best method for an advertiser or a domain owner to identify click fraud? At, alongside the traditional scouting techniques, we use the “honeypot approach.” It can be your best solution when CAPTCHA is not an option.

When we suspect fraudulent clicks, we create a banner that is not visible to human users. We design it to fit the context of the web properties that we want to control and give it similar nomenclature to the rest of the banners. Basically, these banners are identical to a normal, visible banner, with one important exception: bots will click on them, but humans will not (with a small margin of error for accidental human clicks.)

This little trick is a great way to find your usual suspects, and to cut down on bots and fake traffic.

The Cost of Fake Online Traffic

Online advertising is a booming industry that continues to grow exponentially. Online advertising accounted for around 50 Billion US$ in 2014 and these numbers will increase dramatically each and every year. There is an international mobilization at the highest levels of the governments to close the gap of the digital divide. The latest example is the US government’s initiative to provide high speed access to Cuba. (Ref )

The graph found below does an excellent job at depicting the current trends: (ref: )


There are many fundamental differences between online advertisements and conventional advertising platforms such as newspapers and TV Ads, but one difference stands above the rest: the existence of FAKE traffic in online platforms.

When an advertiser places an ad on the cover of a magazine, one can safely assume that the ad in question has been viewed at least as many times as the particular edition of that magazine has been sold.

When it comes to web traffic, however, one cannot make the same assumption, due to the existence of fake traffic.

Fake traffic is generated by bots and programs. This traffic is highly profitable to the select few that operate it, but highly damaging to everyone else.

Fake online traffic accounts for about a third of the total traffic transmitted through online ad agencies.


If you do the basic math, the numbers are staggering: one third of 50 Billion $ is around 16.7 Billion US$. That’s over 15 billion dollars’ worth of fake traffic being sold and bought and proliferated around the internet.

With this information in mind, it is crucial for advertisers to seek quality traffic over quantity.  Your conversion ratios can be 36% better than they currently are.  Numbers don’t mean anything if they don’t reflect quality traffic.

We developed our ad serving platform with the goal of improving our advertiser’s conversion rates by at least one third. Our focus is not on having billions of daily impressions, but rather to have high quality traffic coming from real users who are genuinely interested in the offer advertised.

To conclude this article, next time you are setting an advertising campaign, focus on quality and conversion over sheer quantity!