Sourced Traffic Can Spark Big Trouble for Marketers | About the ANA | ANA

Sourced Traffic Can Spark Big Trouble for Marketers

 New Study Says Advertisers Should Beware of Fraud and Lack of Transparency

NEW YORK (May 19, 2016) — Sourced traffic in the digital media ecosystem poses serious problems for advertisers, especially in the areas of transparency and ad fraud, according to a new study by the ANA (Association of National Advertisers).

The study, called Sourced Traffic: Buyer Beware!, revealed that a substantial number of advertisers are unaware of the problems caused by sourced traffic and lack sufficient information about the intricacies of the practice.

“Our study shows that sourced traffic is not understood sufficiently by marketers,” said ANA President and CEO Bob Liodice. “Sourced traffic needs to be monitored carefully and marketers must be increasingly diligent about their digital media buys. Media agencies must educate clients, safeguard client investments, and challenge media companies to be much more transparent.”

The report revealed that almost two-thirds of major advertisers surveyed are only slightly familiar with — or completely unaware of — the concept of sourced traffic in the digital advertising ecosystem. When asked if their companies’ digital buys included any sourced traffic, the majority (54 percent) were either not sure or did not know. Of the remaining 46 percent, half said yes and the other half said no.

The report defined sourced traffic as “any method by which digital media sellers acquire visitors through third parties.” With sourced traffic, a publisher pays a third-party vendor to send users to its site by advertising on other publishers’ sites. Sourced traffic may occur when a seller needs to meet the audience delivery requirements of a campaign and has to increase visitors to its site, the report stated.

The study said sourcing traffic is a fairly common practice in the ad industry, as many publishers rely on it to achieve their audience targets. Furthermore, sourced traffic can affect any type of ad buy — display, video, native, mobile, premium, direct, via networks and exchanges, programmatic, and non-programmatic.

The study surveyed ANA members in April, and generated 134 responses. Specifically, the survey revealed:

  • 61 percent of respondents were either unfamiliar or only slightly familiar with sourced traffic.
  • Only 19 percent were either very familiar or extremely familiar.
  • The remaining 20 percent were moderately familiar.

The report warned that sourced traffic can be problematic for many reasons. Of primary concern is that sourced traffic is not transparent to advertisers who are unfamiliar with the practice or unaware that they are even participating in it. Audiences delivered via sourced traffic may be less valuable than audiences delivered via a publisher’s organic traffic, or even completely outside the target audience of the media plan. That’s because sourced audiences do not have the same interest level in a publisher’s site as that publisher’s organic traffic.

Another major concern is that sourced traffic results in an alarmingly high level of digital ad fraud in the form of non-human traffic. In the 2015 ANA/White Ops Bot Baseline report, sourced traffic had more than three times the bot percentage of unsourced traffic.

The ANA encouraged advertisers to take steps regarding sourced traffic:

  • Be Aware, Ask Questions. Advertisers must be aware of sourced traffic and should work closely with their media agencies to clearly understand the use of sourced traffic in their media schedules. They should probe their media partners to find out if/how they source traffic and how they monitor the quality of that sourced traffic.
  • 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.
  • Request Reporting from Agencies. Marketers need to hold their media agencies accountable for reporting and analytics, and such reporting should include sourced traffic. Clients deserve to have a clear understanding of what was bought, what was sourced, and how much was paid for each impression.
  • Set Reasonable Campaign Goals. With overly aggressive goals, sellers may not have the organic inventory available to fulfill the targets and may then turn to traffic sourcing, so reasonable goals are essential.
  • 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.
  • Establish Guidelines on Sourced Traffic. Advertisers should consider having formal, written guidelines on sourced traffic that are shared with agencies and all media companies soliciting their business. 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.
  • 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 PSDRs are intended for publishers which 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.



The mission of the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) is to drive growth for marketing professionals, brands and businesses, the industry, and humanity. The ANA serves the marketing needs of 20,000 brands by leveraging the 12-point ANA Growth Agenda, which has been endorsed by the Global CMO Growth Council. The ANA’s membership consists of U.S. and international companies, including client-side marketers, nonprofits, fundraisers, and marketing solutions providers (data science and technology companies, ad agencies, publishers, media companies, suppliers, and vendors). The ANA creates Marketing Growth Champions by serving, educating, and advocating for more than 50,000 industry members that collectively invest more than $400 billion in marketing and advertising annually.


John Wolfe
Director of Communications
Office: 212.455.8011
Cell: 914.659.8663