New parameters define spammy ‘made for advertising’ sites
The ad industry’s most influential trade bodies have come together to spell out new definitions for ‘made for advertising’ websites, which still hoodwink many media buyers daily. Will they work?
So-called 'made for advertising' sites often swindle media buyers out of quality impressions / Adobe Stock
A coalition of four leading advertising trade groups – the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) – today published new guidelines for defining so-called ‘made for advertising’ (MFA) websites.
Though they aren’t technically classified as fraudulent, these sites parade as prime ad real estate but are generally devoid of meaningful content and are instead designed solely to attract an influx of ad dollars. MFA sites often use clickbaity headlines and provocative content to attract visitors to low-quality content to generate ad revenue for the site owner. They often trick media buyers because they exhibit strong viewability and measurability, promise brand-safe environments and purport to have low rates of invalid traffic.
Recent data from the ANA suggests that MFA sites account for 15% of all ad spend and 21% of all impressions in the $88bn global programmatic market. However, media buyers are often unaware that they are paying for their ads to be delivered on MFA sites. (The ANA, in particular, is undertaking significant efforts to demystify the programmatic ecosystem; in June, it published a report on programmatic media supply chain transparency, followed by an accompanying report later this year on ad quality, pricing and supply-side platform optimization).
With the help of Chris Kane, founder of programmatic supply chain firm Jounce Media, and Rocky Moss, co-founder and chief executive of DeepSee.io, an AI platform specializing in detecting ad fraud, the trade groups have spelled out new parameters for what defines MFA sites to help advertisers make smarter buys.
To be categorized as an MFA site, the industry groups say, a site must “exhibit some combination” of characteristics, including:
A high ad-to-content ratio – usually over twice the internet average
Rapidly auto-refreshing ad placements like banner ads and autoplay video ads
A high percentage of paid traffic sourcing with little to no organic audience
Generic, low-quality content that may be syndicated, dated and non-unique
Templated and poorly designed website
Suggested newsletters for you
The new parameters will be a welcome development for media buyers, industry insiders say.
“Having a standard industry definition is definitely helpful as it allows advertisers to leverage the same yardstick to measure and address MFA challenges,” says Jack Smith, chief product officer at DoubleVerify, an ad measurement, verification and analytics platform. DoubleVerify has itself recently expanded its brand safety and suitability solutions to help advertisers better monitor and avoid MFA sites.
“Media buyers care a lot about addressing MFA sites – not only because they can be associated with fraud, but also because of brand safety and suitability concerns,” Smith says. “MFA sites are a brand safety and suitability issue in certain cases where advertisers find value in the content of the site even if it has general MFA characteristics.”
The characteristics spelled out by the ANA, 4A‘s, WFA, and ISBA may help stem some such brand suitability issues.
While the new unified definition of MFA sites represents a positive development for the industry, some point out that these parameters alone do little to remedy the ongoing problem of inadvertently buying MFA inventory in a less-than-transparent programmatic ecosystem.
“While providing guidelines around MFA characteristics is a first step, there are other considerations for advertisers seeking to avoid monetizing [these] websites. While the guidelines mention low-quality content, they don’t clearly define what that means or how to assess it, which is likely to lead to varied standards for assessing content quality without transparency for publishers or advertisers about the criteria,” says Veena McCoole, head of communications and marketing at NewsGuard, which provides reliability ratings for news and information sites. NewsGuard makes its ratings criteria available to all publishers and advertisers, enabling them to see how each publisher is evaluated for quality and trustworthiness.
McCoole says that the problem of MFAs proliferates across the internet. “To date, NewsGuard has identified thousands of MFA sites,” she says, ”including 487 websites that publish AI-generated information with no editorial oversight seemingly for the sole purpose of collecting programmatic ad revenue.”
Others agree that while a set of agreed-upon parameters provide a good starting point, bringing about real change in terms of media buying transparency will require further collaboration. “Now that this definition exists, advertisers will need to work with vendors who apply these definitions to actual domains to correctly categorize them as MFAs so they can effectively exclude them,” says Lou Paskalis, an adtech veteran and the chief strategy officer at Ad Fontes Media, a media watchdog.
Paskalis says that with greater insight into the kinds of inventory they‘re actually buying, advertisers will be able to reallocate spend and glean more value from their investments. “This spend can and should go to quality news inventory – good journalism – which has been over-excluded in recent years,” he says.
The ANA, for its part, recommends that media planners and buyers “determine, independently, if MFA sites fit with their brand suitability standards for content and user experience and clarify their tolerance for including MFA inventory in their campaigns,” per a statement published today.
For more, sign up for The Drum’s daily newsletter here.