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Black-hat tactics that break CPA marketing

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We highlight an important topic that CPA networks and advertisers will need to seriously consider and make it part of their daily fraud prevention practices. We talk about grey-hat or black-hat tactics that are breaking the rules, and how to detect and fight them.

Adult traffic is strictly forbidden!

For most kinds of desktop and mobile CPA offers, cheap adult traffic demonstrates high click performance (CTR - Click Through Rate), but it results in lower lead quality and advertiser’s bad feedback. This traffic can generate tons of misclicks, fake registrations, and even incentivized installs and make the advertiser go mad with their offers associated with hot XXX content. Rule-breaking publishers use these black-hat tactics to drive fraudulent conversions to CPA campaigns and make money on that.

Despite a CPA offer did not allow to use adult content/apps for promotion, some affiliates would send adult traffic anyway. Due to the restriction, they would try to hide forbidden traffic, for example, they would not be using same sources for the offer, but would be switching between 4-5 new sources until they see results - e.g. on-page registration or app installs. Because of that, it is often hard to detect fraudulent traffic, especially if the advertiser does not use ad spying tools, ex. AdPlexity or Anstrex.

Adult traffic is cheaper than quality mainstream in certain geos, allowing black-hat marketers to manipulate with CPA rates trying to stay ahead of the competition. Besides, those fraudsters often use a traffic mix strategy to sell adult and non-adult leads to the same offer, so that average KPIs (like in-app engagement rate and lead quality) will still look acceptable to the advertiser.

No incentivization allowed


Incentivized traffic happens when web or mobile users do only what is necessary and receive a promised reward in return. Users can be rewarded with in-game virtual currency (bullets, coins, extra lives, etc.), digital content (premium subscription, ebook, audio/videos), physical products (free iPhone), even cash.

Thanks to user incentivization, publishers can generate higher numbers of conversions, with an increased conversion rate (e.g., 25% or higher), comparing to non-incent traffic. But incent traffic is often seen as less-valuable because users would be less likely to go through the conversion flow to download and install the app if they weren’t rewarded for that.

For sure, all publishers know about low lead quality of incent traffic. But as this type of traffic is fairly cheap (ex.: for US, mobile incent CPI $0.25 versus mobile non-incent CPI $3.50) and can be easily scaled, some affiliates can mix incent and non-incent sources into a single channel, so that the advertiser often hard to detect incentivization.

Incent CPA traffic allowed


Pay attention that some performance offers do allow incent traffic. Check offer’s restriction before you begin to send incentivized downloads. You can buy this type of traffic from self-serving ad platforms or affiliate networks.

No use of content locking

Content locking employs the same principle of user incentivization we previously mentioned. The idea behind content locking is that users get access to restricted digital content after they complete a necessary action. For example, you get an ebook or video file after you download and install a mobile application on your smartphone.

Content locking is similar to incentivization - users get rewarded for a desired (payable) action. This traffic is cheap and results in low lead quality (e.g. Retention Rate < 3% in mobile). That’s why advertisers usually do not allow content locking for their CPA offers.

Authorized creatives only allowed

Non-incent offers are always supposed to run with banners, interstitials, video etc. When an advertiser plans a media buying campaign for their mobile or desktop application, they design creatives (promotional images/video/ad copies). It is supposed that publishers will use only those authorized creatives with their traffic sources.

But black-hat CPA marketing breaks this rule. Some affiliates and media buyers can design their own creatives to promote the campaign. These unauthorized creatives can be misleading or making fake claims to the target audience, and ultimately this can hard the advertiser and their promo campaign.

No false or misleading content

Perhaps everyone faces misleading or fake content on the web, unfortunately. When you’re visiting a landing page or just surfing the web, you are often persuaded by invasive (pop-up, pop-under, on-page) ads that incline you to take some action - e.g. download an app or fill in a survey form. This may include fantastic or fake claims like “You’ve won a prize!”, “Your device is infected with 3 viruses! Download Antivirus software to recover your smartphone”, or “Miracle pills for weight loss”.

Actually, this is another black-hat tactics in action, made by rogue publishers about the products or services they’re assigned to promote. This type of ads gives users a misconception about the stuff they’re offered. Also, Google refers to misleading content as fake advertising, unrelated text, or ads that misrepresent products/services.

In terms of fair affiliate marketing, you promote CPA offer with the help of honest and transparent tactics only. Make your call to actions (CTA) as unambiguous and authentic as possible (for example, make it simple like “Press here”, “Download now” or “Subscribe here”). Such CTAs are likely to engage high with target audiences and perform with natural CTRs.

To note, some ad campaigns allow for invasive ads and promotion, which can be an effective approach for affiliates. However, ad networks and advertisers always track and analyze traffic for quality metrics and KPIs by using fraud detection software like FraudScore for networks or AppsFlyer for mobile advertisers.

Be careful with misleading content tactics and remember that fake ads won’t ever give users what they look for because those ads won’t bring them any value or improvement. On the other hand, mislead users will deliver poor-quality traffic and lower engagement rate.

Use of brand names and copyrighted content

There’s nothing new that using logos and brand names of authoritative companies that visitors know well can boost traffic and campaign ROI. However, copyrighted content is restricted or forbidden to use in promo campaigns, and this is clearly stated in respective policies (e.g. Apple’s Advertising Guidelines and Affiliate Program).

Google, Facebook, Instagram, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon are the most often used names in digital advertising, and these have to protect their branded content. For example, Facebook and Google block the ad where their names are mentioned. So, don’t play with branded content, don’t to abuse, and don’t give a false impression about your product or service.

Don’t use brand name right to a tee. Name device brand and model, ISP, browser or mobile operator. Anyway, everything goes well until a black-hat CPA marketer starts writing some kind of fake claims. See the part of misleading content above.


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