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The Issue with Quality in Programmatic


Programmatic media buying. The new (old) frontier. Once seemingly not too long ago, this method of digital media buying was the shiny new toy in the industry. Compared with the old way of buying digital media (that is, with meticulous, manually negotiated publisher deals), programmatic was meant to be a savior of sorts, saving time and energy on the agency and publisher sides, and increasing advertising efficiencies for brands and advertisers alike. But that was then, and this is now. Fast forward over a decade since modern programmatic media buying began to take shape, and we’re still facing a prominent issue that has plagued advertisers attempting to master this space since the beginning: the issue of programmatic advertising quality.


You Mean Programmatic Media Buying Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be?


Sort of. Theoretically, programmatic media buying should solve a lot of potential issues, making it easier for advertisers to place their message in front of a highly targeted audience at scale. In reality, this is much easier said than done. Brands have come to take it for granted that programmatic advertising is a safe place that is guaranteed to reach their target audiences in front of quality content across the web, and therefore drive increased performance for their business. However, those who have experience in the realities of the programmatic space know that there are several issues – including ad fraud, bot traffic, and “made for advertising” websites – that lead to wasted spend to unsuspecting advertisers. Although there are technologies that exist to prevent these types of bad actors from infiltrating the space, such as Integral Ad Science and its collection of technological offerings meant to increase the quality of programmatic advertising, the industry as a whole still has not quite figured out a common solution to nip these persistent issues in the bud. If programmatic media buyers are not careful in the way they conduct campaigns, a large chunk of the spend will likely end up going, at the very least, to low quality inventory that most brands wouldn’t want their ads to be shown against.


What Does Programmatic Quality Mean, Anyway?


When we talk about quality in programmatic media buying, we mean the quality of the content within which the ads are being served. Ad-supported websites, or “publishers” in the programmatic world, are a huge part of what makes up the world wide web. There are lots of “household name” publishers that most brands who approve programmatic media campaigns likely expect to show their ads against (think of ESPN, CNN, FoodNetwork, etc). However, what many brands don’t understand when they step into the programmatic media arena is that premium publishers such as these make up just a small portion of the total websites that exist on the internet. That’s not to say websites that don’t have worldwide recognition aren’t high-quality. There are thousands, if not millions, of websites and blogs out there that have strong brand recognition and usership among specific niches, such as camping and sports blogs for example. These publishers can be great for brands with niche contextual target audiences.


However, many websites in existence and accessible for programmatic media buyers are low quality in nature. An example of this that continues to permeate into the programmatic space comes in the form of what are called “made for advertising” sites. These websites, although not necessarily fake and therefore not qualified as “ad fraud”, are nevertheless low quality because they are not true websites that we would expect anyone to intentionally spend time on. Made for advertising sites can easily be identified across the web by paying attention to the clickbait content that exists in abundance on legit news sites, like Yahoo. We know you’ve seen them. But don’t worry; we won’t make you admit you’ve clicked on any of them. When you see articles with headlines like “Why No One Wants To Set Foot In Whoopi Goldberg’s House” or “Total Sham: The 35 Most Fake Reality Shows On TV” (two real life examples we found within 3 minutes of each other), these are sure signs of made for advertising sites. These types of headlines attract interest, which attracts clicks, which drives traffic to the website on which the article lives. These websites are completely covered in programmatic digital ads, oftentimes filling more space on the screen than the content itself. The ads are also designed to rotate every few minutes, creating more revenue for the site and less impact for the advertisers unfortunate enough to be showing there. We think you can figure out the game by now. The only reason such websites exist is to generate ad revenue against a manufactured audience driven to them by clickbait and sensationalist headlines. Because these websites technically cannot be considered fraud (it is real site traffic, after all), they oftentimes go undetected by fraud prevention and viewability technology and are therefore eligible to be included in most programmatic campaigns.


But who wants their ads to be shown against such cheap, manufactured traffic? Wouldn’t you want your ads to be shown on websites where people are engaged and visiting with a purpose? That’s what we believe. Unfortunately, made for advertising sites are almost impossible to cut out without taking strong preventative measures. Many unsuspecting advertisers (such as the ones below) will end up spending a great chunk, if not the majority, of their ad budget on these types of websites and potentially never know. Some agency and vendor partners choose to sweep the issue under the rug. Others are just plain unaware. At The Ward Group, we choose transparency and quality. Our programmatic media buyers monitor the sites that run in every campaign, and our clients enjoy knowing where their ads are running and have peace of mind that their programmatic media spend is in good hands. Unfortunately, the industry as a whole has a long way to go to escape the black box.


^Prime example of a “made for advertising” website. Ads out the wazoo, clickbait headline, and manufactured traffic.


Escape the Black Box with The Ward Group


When it comes to programmatic digital media, you don’t want to compromise the quality of your advertising. Our digital media buyers know how to navigate the space to make sure your ads are showing next to premium content. You have nothing to worry about when your media campaigns are in the hands of our media stewards. Contact The Ward Group to get started!