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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

What advertisers really want from digital publishers

December 16, 2019 | By Brian Condon, EVP, Commercial Development – Alliance for Audited Media@auditedmedia

Losses due to digital ad fraud made headlines in 2019. Such staggering reports have led some marketers to evaluate their media buying processes and become more selective about where they place their investment. So, what exactly are they looking for? We recently spoke with Jeanne Finegan, chief media officer at HF Media, the media arm of Heffler Claims Group, and vice president of media solutions at Prime Clerk, to gain insight into her selection process and discover what qualities she seeks in a digital advertising partner. Here are some key takeaways:

A quality environment

Advertisers want to partner with sites that provide them with the greatest return on investment. To do this, some are creating formal processes to assess whether a publisher has created an environment that provides minimal risk of ad fraud. Steps marketers have taken include reducing the number of intermediaries through supply-path optimization, using whitelists to separate premium websites from the rest, and dealing directly with publishers for their transactions.

Finegan’s team uses a multi-step process to evaluate potential partners. “We have a pretty extensive vetting process which includes proof of service,” Finegan said. “We ask a lot of questions running various scenarios for timing, quality, responsiveness and transparency.”

Part of this process determines whether the publisher can help the advertiser reach their target audience and ensure that the audience is legitimate.

Unfortunately, bots that generate clicks and fake traffic continue to be a contributor to the ad fraud problem. However, since bots don’t provide any real interaction – such as making purchases – they don’t give advertisers any return on their investment. As a result, marketers are steering their buys toward platforms that offer legitimate audiences even if that means fewer clicks.

“Quality environments, accountability, and human engagement are being valued over clicks,” Finegan added. “There has been a long-established narrative in the digital ecosystem that more is better. Smart marketers will increasingly value quality over quantity.”

Leveraging quality

Publishers can leverage their quality ad environments in several ways:

  • Create Quality Content. Regularly publishing well-written articles and videos are likely to attract more human traffic.
  • Use Legitimate Marketing Practices. Tactics such as social media promotions and email marketing attracts real audiences. While purchasing traffic may generate an influx of clicks, it is also a large source of bot traffic on legitimate websites.
  • Prevent Bots. Implementing tools such as registration forms, paywalls and CAPTCHAs can prevent bots from accessing the site and produce more genuine traffic reports.

Implementing industry solutions

Marketers also look for publishers that have implemented a variety of industry-vetted solutions.

One such tool is ads.txt. This initiative created by the IAB Tech Lab allows publishers to list all authorized sellers of their inventory, which helps demand-side platforms detect unauthorized digital sellers in programmatic buys. DSPs crawl these files to make sure that they are buying from legitimate SSPs. 

Another solution is the use of MRC-accredited fraud detection software. There are several solutions in the market that help detect invalid site traffic.

While fraud detection tools are important for fighting fraud, human oversight is equally as important. The 2019 ANA/White Ops Bot Baseline report revealed that less than half of all ad impressions are able to be fully, transparently validated by measurement tools.

Third-party website audits add another layer of protection by examining the processes the website has in place to detect and reduce fraud. “Through third-party audits, buyers can differentiate quality sites, analyze traffic and clearly see the difference between audited publishers and those who are sourcing traffic or running fraudulent sites,” Finegan said.

A website audit demonstrates a publisher’s commitment to transparency and separates premium sites from the rest by providing evidence that the site is doing everything possible to reduce fraud risk. It also helps media buyers make more informed decisions, leading to more successful campaign outcomes.

“Proof is critical. Clients need to demand proof of where ads appeared ­and proof that the campaign resulted in specific valued outcomes and then pay for performance,” said Finegan.

A holistic approach

While there are many tools available to publishers to fight ad fraud, no single solution can solve the entire problem. It’s important for publishers to include a variety of tools in their fraud-fighting arsenal. By taking a holistic approach to reducing fraud, publishers can stand out to advertisers and provide them with high-quality ad platforms likely to deliver real audiences and results.

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