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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Clickbait ads have no place in publishers’ monetization strategy

May 2, 2022 | By Tobias Silber, CBO – GeoEdge @tobiassilber

When the sole motive is profit, publishers fail. Clickbait creative may generate short-term revenue, but it sharply degrades user experience. When publishers put consumers at the center of their monetization strategy, revenue follows.

Digital publishers must recognize that user protection and user experience go hand in hand and act on the sizable gaps left in both. We define clickbait as creative engineered to intentionally elicit clicks through manipulation and psychological engineering via sensationalist text or imagery. With 85% of the ads served today delivered through programmatic channels, entry points are exploitable enough that 56% of publishers now regularly face clickbait ads on their sites.

When confronted with clickbait campaigns, users won’t hesitate to write off a publisher’s brand. Audiences will bounce from the site or avoid clickbait. So, even short of full scale audience alienation, clickbait damages the site’s metrics, which will discourage high-quality advertisers from buying inventory, and ultimately sinking CPMs and overall revenue. GeoEdge research revealed that in 2021 over three-fourths of publishers’ sites user experience was harmed by poor ad quality and 66% reported bad ads impacted their bottom line.

Securing landing pages from scams

Rooting out clickbait requires close scrutiny that goes beyond just the creative. The greatest risk to user protection is often found on an ad’s landing page. Once a user clicks on a salacious creative, they are often tossed to an entirely unrelated landing page that might be pushing a range of scams from investment schemes and counterfeit products to miracle cure products and services. Recent GeoEdge research in collaboration with Wizzco revealed that 81% of publishers are concerned that poor ad quality may cost them their users. Publishers agreed that quality pertains to ads and landing pages alike, with 65% stating that ad content and landing page safety are equally important.

While there is a range of intermediaries along the supply chain between advertisers and end-users, keeping a page clean of clickbait ads is a publisher’s responsibility. A user-first approach to monetization requires that publishers own all touchpoints with their audiences, from the editorial content to the ad content and all accompanying landing pages. Publishers can implement technology to tackle the three leading clickbait cases including:

  1. Financial scams use deceptive tactics to take advantage of financial products and services, including cryptocurrency and other investment opportunities.
  2. Misleading product offers typically include listings of unverified products and services promising miracle cures and results most commonly falling under health and wellness.
  3. Brand infringement offers well-disguised counterfeit versions of trusted goods by impersonating brands or businesses, advertising them at low-cost prices.

The future of publisher monetization

Every publisher maintains different standards for brand-suitable advertising, but the threshold for user protection is not subjective. Publishers’ primary purpose is to deliver valuable content to audiences. Therefore, the same attention must be put into curating ad experiences as into editorial content. Building a holistic user experience enables you to achieve meaningful, relevant engagement and increase user lifetime value.

It can be easy to overlook all of the places that users interact with your brand, so securing every touchpoint is crucial to a successful user-first approach to monetization. Enforcing user protection standards requires real-time technology to ensure landing page content, and ad content meets publisher standards.

It’s up to publishers to implement a user-first approach, educate their teams about the risks of clickbait ads, and find the right partnership to provide transparency in a complex supply chain.

The value of the trust relationship between the publisher and the user cannot be overlooked.

The strength of this foundation is what determines publishers’ long-term profitability.

Trust is elusive of a simple measurement. However, publishers must begin to recognize the cost of negative ad experiences. While the long-term future of publisher monetization is programmatic, we must be careful not to sacrifice audience loyalty in favor of short-term revenue.

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