Bad Actors, Bad Ad Quality, and just plain Bad UX

Bad actors, bad ad quality, and just plain bad UX

Cathena Langford Ad Ops

User experience (UX) refers to an end user's interaction with a brand, its products, and/or its services. For publishers, good user experience means that visitors will read a whole article, enjoy it enough to share or come back for more, and view some ads along the way. Ads must be relevant to a publisher's audience and in particular, unobtrusive. The last thing a publisher wants is for a reader to be offended or aggravated by an ad, causing them to leave.

Ads play an important role in the experience of a website user. Ads are meant to catch a user's attention and seamlessly flow within a webpage, but more often than not, they can be intrusive. Ad quality is an ongoing, industry-wide issue. Malicious actors, in particular, wait for opportune times to catch unsuspecting users, and their actions impact everyone in the ecosystem.

A time or two, you may have scrolled a web page and seen a bad ad. To clarify, bad is subjective. What one publisher considers bad may not be the same for another. A bad ad can contain anything from offensive or inappropriate content to competitive brands. At the worst end of the spectrum, bad ads may contain malicious code that hijacks a user's browser or redirects them to questionable domains. Bad ads aren't meant to be part of the user experience and can deter an existing or potential customer.

Overall, bad ads are bad for business. A user's experience, particularly if it's an unenjoyable one, can be reflective of their perception of your brand. Bad ads can scare current users away and prevent you from attracting new ones. Forget sharing or tweeting that article they just saw or even old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Ads are a revenue stream that allows publishers to offer their content without a subscription or paywall, fostering an open web, but only if they are good quality ads, contributing to a good user experience.

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Ad Ecosytem@8x

At Sortable, we know that you prioritize ad quality, and here's what we are doing to protect you.

1. Supply-Path Optimization (SPO)

Put simply, SPO reduces the number of intermediaries involved in the ad chain and increases the level of transparency. Sortable's own server-to-server (S2S) differentiated demand helps streamline this for our publishers. Sortable can work directly with a partner company to ban creatives, advertisers and buyers that we know to be untrustworthy. It is much more difficult to block bad ads when they come through a chain of multiple sources.

Another potential benefit of SPO is that it reduces the chances of bad actors infiltrating your ad. You can look at it like a game of telephone, where a sent message is very different from the message that is eventually received. When your ad goes through multiple intermediaries, it is vulnerable to manipulation and infiltration from malicious actors. Perpetrators of bad ads often search for different entry points where they can deploy their tactics. You can improve ad quality by optimizing your demand-side to supply-side platforms and reducing the number of entry points where bad ads can enter.

2. Real-Time Monitoring

In 2018, Sortable partnered with Confiant as part of our ad quality solution. Confiant scans ads in real time, and if a bad ad is detected, Confiant prevents the ad from serving on the page”protecting both the user and the publisher. Confiant continually updates their database as more bad actors are discovered.

Sortable saw a spike of malicious ads over Labor Day weekend, possibly because perpetrators knew people would be more focused on enjoying the last weekend of the summer and less focused on monitoring their websites. On the other hand, we saw very few ad quality issues around Black Friday, likely because this is when CPMs and fill rates are highest, and the malicious actors could not compete.

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Graph on Labor Day Confiant Blocking
Imprression by blockrate@8x

What makes ad quality difficult for publishers is a bad actor's persistence. Short of turning off ads, there is very little that publishers can do to prevent bad ads, unless they can find good demand sources or ad-ops partners (like Sortable) to work with. What makes it hard for the ad-ops industry is that bad actors are continually generating new malicious creatives, new malicious code, and serving from new domains, so that they are very hard to recognize and very hard to keep up with. As soon as one bad creative is blocked, a new one is created that will get around your blocking rules.

Sortable's strategy for ad quality goes beyond implementing ad monitoring software. Our ad quality team at Sortable further analyzes the data from Confiant, determines where malicious ads and security threats are coming from, and uses this information to make decisions about the demand sources and creatives that we allow to serve on our platform. We also work with our demand partners to remove bad creatives from their platforms. Advertisers or buyers that cause frequent issues are blocked from our network completely. This approach creates a better experience for everyone (end users, publishers, and advertisers), because instead of blocking an ad and losing revenue, known bad ads are prevented from bidding on inventory, allowing the impression to be filled with a paying ad.

Blocking low-quality buyers helps Sortable stay a step ahead of the malicious advertisers attempting to buy through these routes. It doesn't matter if they create new campaigns”they have no access to our network. Sortable also uses this data when deciding what DSPs to form direct connections with, ensuring that we maintain high-quality demand. Confiant's published average block rate across all their customers is 2.0%, but Sortable's averages around 0.2%, because of the steps we take to eliminate bad demand sources.

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Sortable takes ad quality seriously, especially how it affects the publishers we work with and their users. We care about your users because we know you rely on their readership. Advertisers benefit when they are able access your inventory without competing against bad ads. When the ad ecosystem runs efficiently, everyone's a winner.

Check out our webinar on display ad revenue and UX. If you have any questions about ad quality or anything discussed in this post, contact us at Sortable.