Sourced Traffic: Buyer Beware!

May 19, 2016

By Bill Duggan, Group EVP, ANA

Today, ANA released the white paper, “Sourced Traffic: Buyer Beware!” The concept of sourced traffic, or traffic sourcing (any method by which digital media sellers acquire visitors through third parties) is unique to digital advertising. Marketers investing in digital advertising need to understand sourced traffic, the issues associated with it — including lack of transparency and high levels of bot fraud — and the action steps required to safeguard investments and optimize spending.

Sourced traffic can be problematic for many reasons:

  • Marketers lack familiarity with sourced traffic and are often unaware that their digital media buys include sourced traffic. According to a new ANA survey, sixty-one percent of marketers were either slightly familiar or not at all familiar with sourced traffic. When asked “Do your company’s digital media buys include any sourced traffic?”, the majority (54 percent) don’t know/were not sure.
  • Since the sourced traffic audience is a step or more removed from a publisher’s organic audience, the quality of such traffic could be inferior.
  • Sourcing traffic results in an alarmingly high level of bot fraud (i.e., non-human traffic). In the 2015 ANA/White Ops Bot Baseline report, sourced traffic had more than three times the bot percentage than unsourced traffic.
  • Media companies can arbitrage sourced traffic. A media company can buy traffic from a third party for one price and then sell it back to the advertiser for a higher price.

ANA encourages advertisers to take the following action steps:

  1. Be Aware, Ask Questions: Advertisers must be aware of sourced traffic. Work closely with your media agency and media partners to clearly understand the use of sourced traffic in your media schedule.
  2. Request Transparency: Buyers should request transparency from publishers around traffic sourcing and build language into RFPs and insertion orders that requires publishers to identify all third-party sources of traffic.
  3. Request Reporting from Agencies: Marketers need to hold their media agencies accountable for reporting and analytics, and such reporting should include sourced traffic.
  4. Set Reasonable Campaign Goals: Advertisers should set reasonable campaign goals for audience delivery. With overly aggressive goals, sellers may not have the organic inventory available to fulfill the targets and might then turn to traffic sourcing.
  5. Pay Particular Attention to Mid- and Long-Tail Publishers: When looking at sourced traffic from a risk perspective, advertisers should pay particular attention to mid-and long-tail publishers, as they are more likely to have issues with sourced traffic, given their smaller audiences.
  6. Have Guidelines on Sourced Traffic: Advertisers should consider having formal, written guidelines on sourced traffic that are shared with agencies and all media companies. Such guidelines could set rules about what good/bad practices of publishers are and could even prohibit sourced traffic or limit it under certain circumstances.
  7. Support TAG’s Publisher Sourcing Disclosure Requirements: The Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) is working on guidelines for disclosure of traffic sources through its Publisher Sourcing Disclosure Requirements (PSDR). The PSDR is intended for publishers who buy traffic from third parties, requiring such publishers to disclose the percentage of their sourced traffic on a quarterly basis. Additionally, the PSDR provides a protocol by which publishers can optionally disclose their sources of traffic. More at www.tagtoday.net.


In an era where marketers have transparency concerns related to their advertising investments, sourced traffic serves as a contributing factor in the erosion of trust in the digital supply chain. Let the buyer beware.


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