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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

How publishers can reclaim their audience relationships

April 19, 2023 | By Tobias Silber, CBO – GeoEdge @tobiassilber

Today’s advertising experience can feel like a daily exercise in pain and frustration as users navigate bizarre offers and deceptive ads promoted by shady advertisers.

The digital media industry faces mounting obstacles in building audience trust, largely stemming from deceptive and intrusive ad experiences. For media professionals, trust isn’t just another buzzword – it holds tangible monetary value. To regain trust and prevent any further damage, publishers must weed out deceptive ad experiences that threaten their readership. 

Dangers of false advertising in the digital age

According to GeoEdge research, misleading product offers and financial scams have become the primary tools for fraud. Publishers’ sites have been saturated with clickbait ads in recent months. 

In 2023, one in every 170 ad impressions in the U.S. contains a malicious ad. Due to daily run-ins with these ads, audiences approach digital ads – and content – with a healthy dose of skepticism. Frustrated readers who become annoyed with bad ads leave the site and seek out alternatives, which can spell disaster for publisher monetization. The fallout includes reduced engagement rates, fewer click-throughs on ads, and ultimately, diminished ad revenue. Additionally, the reputational damage may lead to declines in traffic over time.

What digital media gets wrong

The media industry started building a house by installing the latest and greatest programmatic technology, only to realize they forgot to lay a sturdy foundation of audience experience. Since then, advertising has become increasingly bizarre and dangerous as programmatic pipelines are susceptible to nonexistent products, counterfeit goods, and unrecognizable gadgets. 

Navigating ad experiences is a hurdle for many publishers. What does digital media get wrong?

  • Passing the responsibility of ad quality to upstream partners.
  • Treating the ad experience as separate from the user experience.
  • Failing to utilize technology to identify and remove misleading or clickbait ads.

So, the big question is: Who bears the blame for lousy ads and shoulders the responsibility for eliminating them?

How digital media can course correct  

Publishers must acknowledge that ad experience and user experience are intertwined, with one influencing the other. A negative ad experience can detract from the value of content, or prevent audiences from ever reaching publishers actual product: their content. 

Despite the high stakes involved, digital media professionals tend to shift the responsibility of ad quality onto Ad Tech partners up the chain, leading to a false sense of security. Relying solely on upstream partners to weed out harmful ads is wishful thinking. Publishers cannot depend on tech giants as gatekeepers for ad quality since they are often the same culprits responsible for delivering them.

GeoEdge analyzed ad quality ranking and malicious ad trends over the last 90 days by tracking impressions from the top nine global SSPs. The results revealed that 87% of all scam ads originated from just two SSPs. Yes, Google was one of them.  

Luckily, publishers aren’t in an unwinnable programmatic trench war. Implementing publisher-centric ad quality control allows them to prevent misleading ads from appearing on their sites. By filtering out clickbait ads, publishers can protect their audience from ad scams involving fake products or questionable cryptocurrency schemes.

The Journey of Responsibility 

The junk ad epidemic undermines the entire digital media industry, posing a significant threat to its sustainability. If digital media professionals continue to ignore the impact of clickbait ads, they risk driving away audiences and losing their credibility in the process. By implementing technology that prioritizes user protection and experience, publishers can regain control over the audience relationships. 

Failure to take action can trigger a chain reaction, starting with a decrease in ad clicks, followed by reduced engagement, eroded trust in content, and ultimately, far-reaching negative consequences for the wider ad supported media industry. 

The ads appearing on trusted sites must offer a guaranteed, risk-free experience. Publishers’ ad quality values must demonstrate that the customer’s content experience, which includes advertising, is their highest priority.

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