How to Stop Ad Fraud, Fake News & Ad Blocking From Tanking Publisher Revenue
Ad fraud is probably the most pernicious culprit. It stems from sites, stuffed with programmatic ads, that attract bot traffic to yield false impressions, generating income that robs legitimate publishers. Bot traffic accounts for 51.8% of total web traffic, and ad fraud costs the industry $6.3 billion in 2015 alone.
Fake news is like ad fraud, but it attracts people instead of bots; it’s composed of content so emotionally-charged that viewers can’t help but click. The goal is the same: To yield the biggest programmatic bang possible. In addition to diluting programmatic effectiveness, it makes life harder for more objective publishers, who either see traffic fall or are driven to be just as salacious.
As the benefits of programmatic decline, largely due to ad fraud and fake news as well as healthy legitimate competition, the natural result is that publishers place more, and increasingly intrusive, ads on their sites. The relevance of ads to their context grows murkier as more ads are needed to fulfill quotas. Readers naturally get overwhelmed by the amount of advertising they see, yielding our next disruptor: ad blocking.
What Can Publishers Do?
Here are just a few ways that publishers can combat the negative effects of fake news, ad blocking, and ad fraud.
- For fake news, don’t take the erosion of ethics lying down. As people debate “alternative facts” and clickbait, fact-checking services have taken center stage among publications like The Washington Post. Demonstrating legitimacy is now a value-add, with the added bonus that it educates readers about how your content is created.
- Be honest with readers. A surprising number of ad block users switch ad block off when sites like Forbes simply ask them to and make a promise in exchange: An ad-lite experience, or an entirely ad-free experience for a limited time. This rebuilds trust; just don’t abuse it, or those blockers switch right back on and never switch off again.
- Decide whether programmatic is right for you at all. Programmatic is an easy way to connect advertisers and publishers without losing time building sales relationships or fussing over specs. What’s lost is relevance to content and the vetting of ads that appear on your site. (Notably, The Guardian dealt with NRA ads showing up alongside its content.) Taking a stance against programmatic, and promising a more qualitative “premium” ad experience, is a great story to tell when asking people to switch ad blockers off—and it conveys your values.
- Offer premium data. Advertisers already disillusioned with programmatic are often attracted to publishers who share that vigilance. So when courting ad partners, offer verification from sources like comScore for to gauge audiences, and Moat for viewability—demonstrating you care as much about squashing ad fraud as they do.
- Consider joining private marketplaces, which sets ad prices based on the value of a publisher’s inventory in relation to what advertisers seek. Answers.com, About.com, TEN and CafeMom have gone this route and hail the benefits—it’s a happy medium.
- Deal with your churn. Churn is a fact; the day you win a reader is the day you start losing them. But up to 50% of subscription churn is voluntary, usually lost in the payment renewal process. A really good churn management tool resolves that issue, plus it has an add-on benefit: It can predict who is likely to churn voluntarily, making it easier for you to zero in on people and provide what they want. It all comes back to the user experience. A good experience helps keep those customers, whom are already willing to pay for content. And buy building a stronger subscription base, publishers can lesson their reliance on programmatic.
Tackling ad blocking and fake news are long-term battles: The objective isn’t just about ensuring advertising respects users while valuing your content; it’s about systematically demonstrating your ethics as a publisher.
Many of these solutions provide opportunities to educate readers about the nuances of publishing. Ad block response messages by publishers paved the way for a model: By explaining the consequences of blocking advertising, users not only switch ad blockers off but learn how actions impact content. They are sensitive to that argument, as long as their trust is honored with qualitative advertising experiences.
There’s little that can be directly done for ad fraud; it’s simply a way many have found to exploit programmatic technology. But when publishers make more thoughtful decisions about how they use programmatic, or even eschew programmatic altogether that weakens programmatic’s hold on the industry at large, and could impact ad fraud long-term. Such models rely on how much money advertisers are willing to spend on programmatic, which is impacted by the prevalence and demand for ads in the sector at large.
For publishers seeking a rule of thumb, it comes down to something we already know: Find a way to keep putting readers at the heart of the experience. So much of what made programmatic attractive is the sense it saves time and yields more advertising so journalists can focus on what they do best. That model still holds, in moderation—but as readers begin to resist the accompanying effects, the time has come to revisit their changing needs.
Scott is a strategic and media technology professional with over ten years of U.S. & U.K. client service and leadership experience. As Senior Vice President of North America for MPP Global, Scott is responsible for leading a cross vertical organization by assisting media and entertainment companies with identity management, CRM, and eCommerce solutions. Over the past three years, Scott has worked at the executive level for MPP Global's U.S. headquarters in New York and is influential in developing long-term relationships with strategic partners.