From niche image sharing app to social media giant, today Instagram is one of the most popular apps online. With over one billion users, and around half of those active every day, advertising on Instagram is more popular than ever.
Instagram has had a problem with fake traffic and bots almost since day one. Some high-profile cases have highlighted the issue, but the platform remains attractive for advertisers thanks to its high engagement and young demographic.
In fact, Instagram’s ad revenue in 2019 was around $20 billion. And an estimated 75% of American businesses were forecast to advertise on Insta in 2020.
Instagram is also the platform of choice for influencers, with its visual nature which has recently expanded to include video and even IGTV. There were thought to be over 500,000 influencers using the platform as of early 2020. A separate major study by CHEQ and economists at the University of Baltimore details how influencers can buy fake followers and pay for bots to like or comment on their posts. That fraudulent activity is costing advertisers $1.3 billion this year.
Advertising on Instagram
There are several ways that advertisers can run ads on Instagram. These are:
- Photo ads: The original method of paying for a sponsored post in the image feed, usually one image
- Stories ads: Stories has become a popular channel for users, and in fact one third of the most viewed stories are ads
- Video ads: A similar method to the photo ads, video ads show a video in the image feed
- Carousel ads: Having multiple images in your photo ad gives users the option to swipe through up to ten images for a more in-depth look at your product
- Collection ads: Displays a composite of images or videos in the feed which links smoothly into your website
- Ads in explore: Those browsing the latest posts can also find some inspiring promoted content too. Don’t think this one is worthwhile? The explore page is viewed by 200 million accounts every day…
As well as these ad options, savvy brands can also use influencers to advertise their brand. Influencers typically have hundreds of thousands, or even millions of followers.
But this is where we get to the big question…
But what about fake engagement and invalid clicks on Instagram ads?
Instagram and fake clicks
Behind the growth in popularity of both the platform and some of its users, there is also a shadier element. Invalid clicks, or inauthentic activity, as it is referred to by Instagram, has been addressed by the platform.
To be fair to Instagram, they do run a relatively tight ship when it comes to fake clicks. Accounts that like, follow or comment too regularly are removed with regularity, and there have been cases of influencers who have complained that they have been hard done by thanks to Instagram’s no-nonsense approach to inauthentic activity.
Based on invalid clicks that CHEQ for PPC has seen on enterprise accounts, the two main sources of invalid click on your Instagram account are Data Centers and user agent spoofing.
1. Data centers and bots
The largest source of invalid clicks based on what we see through clients protecting their Facebook spend using CHEQ for PPC, is “data center traffic“. This is consistent with fake and automated bot account activity. The digital advertising industry regulator, the MRC, notes that known data center traffic is “determined to be a consistent source of non-human traffic; not including routing artifacts of legitimate users or virtual machine legitimate browsing.”
2. User agent spoofing
A sophisticated way to fool the ad algorithms is to use user agent switching software. This can basically make the Instagram app think it’s seeing traffic from a mobile device, but by using user agent spoofing practices, the traffic might be coming from a server or laptop computer somewhere in the world. This involves a mismatch between declared user agent, such as a web browser, and the actual user agent being used to interact with online content.
Despite a lower chance of paid ads being subjected to ad fraud on Instagram, the platform is not immune to fake clicks. Far from it in fact. When it comes to bots, some estimates put the amount of bots on Instagram at around 95 million, or one in ten accounts.
And any ad campaign where you’re paying out for impressions or clicks, only to have a percentage of these eaten by bots or fake accounts is something you want to defend against.
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