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Malicious ads are down. But don’t rest easy yet.

August 28, 2019 | By John Murphy, Chief Strategy Officer – Confiant Inc. @WeAreConfiant

Even among the largest SSPs, there is an enormous difference in quality: The worst performing SSP is 60 times more likely to deliver a malicious ad than the best. Premium publishers need to vet their SSP partners carefully and be aware of how each SSP deals with malicious, low-quality, and In-banner video ads.

Confiant recently conducted our fifth research study on malvertising and ad quality in the digital advertising ecosystem. Confiant’s Demand Quality Report analyzes a normalized sample of over 120 billion impressions and captures unique insights into the quality of ads served by the programmatic marketplace. 

How’s the industry doing in Q2?

The chart below shows malicious, In-banner video (IBV), and low-quality ads as a percentage of total impressions over the past five quarters. In Q2, we saw a significant drop in malicious ads and In-banner video (IBV) ads. Malicious ads are down from a high of 0.54% in Q4 2018 to 0.25% in Q2 of this year, the lowest rate observed in our five reports. In-banner video ads are also at an all-time low at  0.10% of impressions in Q2, down from 1.40% one year ago. We suspect that if this trend continues, IBV ads will be all but extinct by the end of 2019. 

However, this isn’t to say trouble isn’t lurking, given the highly dynamic nature of online advertising. Low-quality ads continues to be problematic with an increase from 0.14% in Q1 to 0.18% in Q2. 

What’s driving these declines? 

The decline of malicious and in-banner video ads defies a single explanation. However, trends suggest collaboration efforts from the following could be helping:

  • The near-universal adoption of ads.txt on top sites, which is driving out arbitrage and unauthorized resale. 
  • Increased vigilance on the part of the SSPs when it comes to ad quality issues
  • The use of creative-verification solutions to improve industry defenses
  • Industry initiatives like TAG’s Certified Against Malware program
  • Better coordination between publishers and ad platforms, which narrows the brief window of time that malvertisers have before their exploits are detected and removed. 

What challenges lie ahead? 

Even with these improvements, we found that one in every 200 impressions are marred by a serious security or quality issue. We also found that rates of malicious activity vary significantly based on the day of the week. Impressions served on Sunday are three times more likely to deliver a Malicious payload than those served on Thursday. 

Although we are seeing a decrease in malicious and In-banner video ads this quarter, security and quality issues continue to change and evolve. Our data identifies what’s on the rise and what publishers are monitoring and blocking in accordance with their business needs and expectations of their audience. The rate of ads that have audio on startup continue to be a top issue that publishers flag with 92% blocking them from their sites. We are also seeing a large increase of publishers blocking heavy ads (800kbs or higher), Audio on Click, and Audio on Hover. Lastly, Malicious ads remain a fairly concentrated problem, with over 50% of impressions coming from just five providers. 

It’s worth it

There are huge disparities in quality across top SSPs. Thus, it’s imperative that publishers thoroughly vet SSPs prior to integration and monitor them on an ongoing basis. Ad quality issues are often highly concentrated. So, an informed publisher can minimize user-experience issues by avoiding  poorly performing SSPs – often with little impact to monetization.

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