12-letter ad fraud. Sports manias

On April 5, 2017, Sadbottrue.com has published the “12-letter ad fraud” investigation. The ad fraud scheme includes more than 1000 unpronounceable 12-letters domains, that sent more than billion of simulated visitors on different sites, that have made hundreds of billions of ad views total.


Among largest recipients of simulated visitors and beneficiary of 12-letter ad fraud were the blog “travel wednesday” and the site...


Sportsmanias.com


The domain Sportsmanias.com was created on April 11, 2011, the site was launched October 2012. The Sportsmanias mobile app for iOS was released in January 2013, and Android was released in March 2013.



Content type


The site is the endless sport news feed, consists of units 300x300px. There are 4 different types of content inside the item.

1. Tweets of sports teams, top players, and sport news twitters.

2. Previews and links to other sport news sites articles.

3. Links to Instagram video posts.

4. Banner advertising 300x300.


In fact, the site has only 4 endless content pages. Every 5-th item is an ad unit, it could be up to 15 ads on the page. After 2 screens scrolled down, there is feed break with dedicated video advertising appearing. It will be up to 5 video ads per page.



The site and the app have no own content at all. All units are posted to the feed automatically.










Traffic stats


Since the initial launch, the site was on Alexa top 20,000. For some reason, it has lost audience 14 Feb 2016 and fall down to 200,000. Since February 2016 the site climbing to current global top 20,000 again. Now the site is among top 100 US sports news.


Alexa stats of sportsmanias.com




In November 2016 the site had 3 million visits per month. The average traffic for next three months was 2.2M. The two main types of traffic were direct and referral. In January the site has 45% referral traffic. In February, 33% of traffic was from referrals it means, that 700,000 visits were directly from 12-letter domains.


Top referrals for February 2017.

qiqrguvdhcux.com 15.20%

nklivofyjkbt.com 10.81%

chytrrvwvabg.com 9.14%

fpvfeyjrwlio.com 5.94%

bdozkocgkljj.com 5.72%


Next month most of the traffiс was converted to direct. The site has only 3% of visits from 12-letter domains. According to Alexa, the audience has not changed at all. It is the primitive simulation, that is the same for travelwednesday.com (89% referral traffic from 12-letter domains).


It is technically simple to convert one type of simulated visit to another. The same bot now can visit the site with the ads without visit 12-letter domain before. The simulation of loyal audience growing is the only reason for conversion the referral traffic to direct. Imitated core audience is the necessary for cheating on analytical systems.




Audience behavior


According to daily traffic stats, it seems, that 5 years old popular site Sportsmanias.com has the core of 100,000 fans. But in fact, it has the weeks of anomaly periodic audience absence.


In the case of visits by real humans, it means, that all 50,000 people have synchronized lost all interest in the sports news in the same day. And hundreds of thousands of loyal audience forgot about the site and have ignored all links to sportsmania.com for a week. And after 7 or 11 days of total oblivion, eventually, 100,000 or 200,000 have synchronized recalled the site on the same day, have visited it directly or have clicked on links.


For real human audience, it is impossible. And that behavior was repeated four times during three months.




The site has no visits 5~8 January, 21~25 January, 9~14 February, 8~12 March. All periods includes weekend and a couple days. It looks like, admin of Sportsmania.com has had the vacations every 3 weeks.


The periodic traffic speaks and the falls are the symptoms of the simulated audience. In fact, all traffic on the site was the simulation of a human audience. According to Similar Web, the average pageview per visit is 1.9 and visit duration was 11 seconds.





Advertising systems and ad impressions stats


The site has installed main programmatic on it. We have found 38 adsystems. Since September 2016, the site had 14.2 millions visits and 28 millions pageviews. Every page has 15 ad spots. 420 millions of banner ad views should generate $2,100,000 for 6 months. All pages have two or more video ads. The site has made 56 millions of expensive video ad views and generates at least with it $2,500,000.


$4,600,000 per 6 months. It ‘s not bad for the site with both automated copied content and simulated visits.


The main ad optimization partner is Sonobi. It has the programmatic partnership with all Open RTB members.


Video ads partners were Moat.com, Innovid.com, and Teads.tv All companies focused on video advertising. Moat has own audience attention measurement platform.




Affected Advertisers


We have found 18 affected advertisers with fake video ad views. Every company has more $1B in revenue.


P&G, Unilever, Lego, Verizon, T-mobile, Microsoft, Ferrero International, Intel, General Mills, Restaurant Brands International, Moen, TruGreen, Chevrolet, Charles Schwab, Tempur-pedic, Alcon, Comcast, Canada`s government.


All screens you can see in the appendix.





Beneficiaries


The owner of Sportsmanias.com, Sportsmanias LLC, have earned $8,500,000 for 2015. It is founded by mother-son team of advertising executive Aymara Del Aguila and programmer Vicente J. Fernandez. Sportsmanias.com has two investments rounds, the first round $1M was in 2013 and $3,5M next year. The only investor is Jorge Mas, Mas Equity founder and Mastec Chairman (NYSE: MTZ). Mastec, Inc. is an American multinational infrastructure engineering and construction company based in Coral Gables, Florida.




The appendix. The screenshots with affected brands video ads