What is Shadow Traffic, and Should Publishers Be Worried About It?


What exactly is "shadow traffic"?

Shadow traffic is legitimate web traffic generated by real web users. As a result, publishers are unable to gain insight into their customers or their actions because their data is not captured by traditional analytics software.

For a better understanding of shadow traffic, it is necessary to first understand how analytics tools function:

When a genuine visitor arrives on a website, the analytics software records the visit in real time and notifies the website owner of the event. The information is sent in the form of codes (referred to as 'events'), which are short descriptions of a user's activity on a website.

A few examples of these activities include page view events, ad clicks, video launches, as well as sign-ups for resources or how-to guides.

If these events are unable to be transmitted for whatever reason, your analytics software will not record anything. Users who participate in a group activity will not have any information about the page views, downloads, or sign-ups they make.

Here's an illustration of what shadow traffic looks like. Even with the red X, the data did not make it to the analytics tools. These failed events become part of shadow traffic, which is as follows:

As an illustration, when analytics events fail to reach the server, publishers lose out on valuable information. Despite the fact that some of your users are real people, the analytics software will not be able to gather any information about them or their behavior.

Shadow traffic is exactly what it sounds like: legitimate traffic that fails to reach the analytics server.

What is the significance of addressing shadow traffic?

According to a study conducted by parse.ly, shadow traffic accounts for more than 20% of all internet traffic.

When this portion of visitor data is not taken into consideration, it can lead to poor revenue and other undesirable business outcomes.

We are all aware that analyzing user data from a variety of sources allows us to gain a better understanding of our audience and develop more effective marketing strategies.

In order to combat shadow traffic, publishers should prioritize improving data quality while also taking into consideration user experience and privacy concerns.

Factors that contribute to shadow traffic include the following:

  • Ad-blocking software is available.
  • The privacy settings of the user's browser

Because of the use of ad blockers and privacy settings in browsers, events from a user's device do not reach the analytics tool, resulting in "shadow traffic."

1. Ad blockers: 

Ad blockers are pieces of software that prevent advertisements from appearing on websites from being displayed. It should go without saying that the most obvious reason for internet users to use ad blockers is to eliminate advertisements from their browsing experience.

Page load time is reduced, and the overall user experience is improved as a result of removing advertisements.

The proliferation of ad blockers is having a negative impact on publisher revenue. According to a report published by PageFair and Adobe, the number of people using ad blockers has increased from 21 million in 2010 to more than 181 million in 2020.

Additionally, according to the same report, ad blockers have resulted in a revenue loss of more than $40 billion for web publishers:

2. Privacy settings in your browser:

Shadow traffic can be caused by browser privacy settings, in addition to ad-blocking software. Here are a few illustrations:

  • Safari's Intelligent Tracking Prevention system protects you from being tracked.
  • Firefox's Enhanced Tracking Prevention feature helps protect you from being tracked.
  • Microsoft Edge's tracking protection is a great feature.
As a result of the built-in ad block features of well-known browsers, additional shadow traffic is generated.

3. Privacy tools: 

A small number of privacy tools that internet users employ can cause shadow block issues. 4. Other factors: As an illustration:

  1. The use of network-level blocking tools can cause shadow traffic problems for publishers because they can prevent ads from appearing across the entire network.
  2. Virtual private network (VPN) level blocking tools: VPN-level blocking tools such as NordVPN prevent publishers from tracking the online behavior of their customers.
  3. Disable DNS blocking tools on devices: Disable DNS blocking tools on devices prevent communication between the browser and the analytics software, resulting in a significant revenue loss.
  4. Device-based ad-blocking tools: These tools prevent advertisements from appearing in any apps that display web pages using browsers such as Safari.

Why do people use ad blockers on the internet?

As the use of ad blockers becomes more widespread, it is critical to understand what motivates people to employ them. The following are the three most common reasons why people use ad blockers:

1. To improve the user experience on a website:

Internet users are relying on ad blockers to improve website user experience because they believe ads slow down their browser loading speed, resulting in a poor user experience.

Some types of advertisements, such as image-rich banners, pop-ups, animated videos, and large numbers of advertisements, can negatively impact the user experience on a page. When you install ad blockers on your browser, they prevent advertisements from loading on the page, resulting in a faster loading time.

2. In order to avoid being intimidated by behavioral tracking:

In order to avoid intimidating behavioral tracking, many ad networks take advantage of the user data they already have and sell it to a third party who then uses it for cross-site tracking. Such practices constitute an invasion of privacy, and as a result, users are justified in installing ad blockers as a response.

3. To prevent irrelevant ads:

To avoid invasive, annoying, and irrelevant advertisements: A large number of internet users find advertisements invasive, annoying, and irrelevant. According to research, more than 10% of web users express discomfort when targeted advertisements are displayed to them based on their online activities and histories. In order to avoid behavioral tracking, they rely on ad blockers to do so.

What is the best way to deal with the shadow traffic?

Shadow blocking can be resolved if the appropriate strategy is implemented and the user experience is prioritized over revenue generation.

Before you try to force your way into people's wallets, make sure you provide a positive user experience that draws people to your business on its own.

You can accomplish this by:

  • Avoiding the placement of large advertisements
  • Keeping a good balance between the number of advertisements and the number of visitors
  • A/B testing to determine the most effective ad placements
  • Increasing the speed at which pages load
  • Maintaining compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation

These are general best practices that will help you build trust with your users and provide them with a positive user experience. However, in order to minimize the impact of shadow blocking, you'd need to take some additional steps:

1. Logs from the server

The interaction between an internet user and your servers occurs every time they visit your site. These servers keep track of all user interactions and log them. Consequently, the goal is to make efficient use of the server logs in order to identify actual traffic.

It is, however, a time-consuming procedure. To manage logs from multiple servers, sites, and CDNs, you'd have to put in a significant amount of time.

2. First-party analytics providers

The use of first-party analytics providers allows publishers to gain access to and track their visitors' behavior and events in a more efficient manner. This approach enables them to track both visible and shadow traffic while also maintaining the user's privacy and confidentiality.

3. Providers of advanced analytics services

Using your analytics provider's service in such a way that you gain access to aggregate analytics without jeopardizing the privacy and confidentiality of users would be an excellent option. This solution addresses the issue of shadow traffic.

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