How to make $100k a month.

Fraud isn’t funny, unless you’re defrauding a clown, but here goes.

When friends ask me what Ad Tech is, for the longest time I would say “It’s somewhere you can make $100k a month as long as you don’t get caught”. 

This was true for a much longer time than the industry was willing to admit. Ad tech businesses turned a blind-eye to fraudulent traffic because it was literally (not literally) crystal meth to the CEO’s and their revenue figures. Ok, “blind-eye” is a bit strong, more of a “let’s not try really hard to get rid of it”.

Let’s answer 2 questions, how and why.

How to get stinking rich

  1. Buy 25 domains on verticals like gardening, gaming, news, lifestyle, whatever.
  2. Fill these domains with articles written by an army of $2 per article keyboard junkies based somewhere cheap.
  3. Run the sites for 3 months.
  4. Sign up to a bunch of SSP’s/Networks.
  5. Run the ads for a small amount of time to gauge average cpm.
  6. Pick up the phone to your friendly Russian/Armenian/Latvian traffic seller who can send you users at a rate significantly less than the CPM you’re earning.
  7. Repeat to fade.

I’ve met more than one person who did this, earning ridiculous amounts of money (you want a number? $100k+ per month… profit…) “But, don’t the anti-fraud systems catch this?” Well yeah, they do now because they had no choice to.

Let’s look at why this went on for so long.

Before I start, this is NOT referring to Switch Concepts.

You’re an SSP and you’re growing nicely, you’ve doubled revenue year on year and you’re now up to 100 employees. However, you’ve just discovered that 65% of the inventory flowing through your platform is fraudulent. You can’t cut it all off because, well, you’ve got 100 salaries to pay. 

There’s the dilemma, you’ve achieved a portion of your success from fraud, how do you clean up? If you’re Portsmouth FC you just declare bankruptcy and screw the people you owe money to. Pay up Pompey, Pompey pay up.

Some LARGE companies got caught up in this on a massive scale and to their credit were completely transparent. At ATS…hmm…2016 I think it was, some poor bastard at Appnexus got up in front of thousands of people and announced they had cut most of the fraud out of their platform – they then put a huge graph on the screen showing the reduction of fraud over the previous 5 years. 

At the time people were like “holy crap, Appnexus just admitted to transacting fraud for years and there’s the proof” (I was one of them!) but in retrospect, fair play to them. Ultimately, every single platform was running fraud and whilst most had to fight to identify it, there were definitely a few who knew. Appnexus set the bar for how to deal with fraud honestly and transparently.

We’re in a much cleaner place now. Ads.txt, sellers.json and that ilk are not the silver bullet, but they raised the bar enough that the bad players are no longer with us.

And the guys who were making the big bucks from fraud? I know some who retired, some who are running fraud-free start-ups, but I know at least 2 that are still doing it. 

Anyway, I’m off to throw a stink-bomb at Fratton Park.