25 March 2024

MFA in the eye of the beholder

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In summary

  • A recent industry report takes aim at the proliferation of Made For Advertising (MFA) websites and the arbitrage practices that are becoming rife in the supply chain
  • Louder discusses the MFA category and the need for more accountability and the premium publisher websites that are not much different to MFAs
  • What can businesses do to mitigate risks of their ads appearing on less than desirable websites

Industry report scrutinises MFA websites

Made For Advertising (MFA) websites are created by publishers with the sole purpose of generating high yield advertising supply, prioritising ad placements over user experience and content. These ad-heavy properties, are usually sites cluttered with ads and offer little value from a content perspective.

Made for advertising websites (MFA’s) are fast becoming advertising’s biggest conundrum, with no clear guidelines on what defines an MFA website, the interpretation of quality remains in the eye of the beholder.

Most recently, the widely publicised, industry commented and LinkedIn distributed Adalytics report (Adalytics Research LLC, March 2023) highlighted the proliferation of MFA websites that are gathering in numbers and arbitrarily finding ways to circumvent policy and verification through cluttered ad placements, that seemingly meet brands desire media metrics. This has left many buy and sell side platforms scrambling to understand how this type of inventory is being bought at such scale, compromising the functions within buy and sell side technology, the specific tools that are in place - designed to mitigate and increase the quality of impressions being bought.

What makes the reality of this problem more complex is the need for clearer defined guard rails, metrics and benchmarks that can hold both buyers and sellers to account. Without any type of benchmark the space will remain ripe for small publishers to continue to increase yields through arbitrage practices. Practices such as ads.txt and app-ads.txt endeavour to provide transparency on these challenges, but the MFA websites can sometimes be very similar in nature and in content to legitimate websites.

What is less clear is how programmatic verification vendors can continue to promote context-blocking, other forms of site or domain blocking, as well as other pre-bid methods as avoidance or safeguard strategies - these are not standing up to the web of MFA’s that are taking advantage of the supply chain and/or that the buyers are not applying the appropriate rigour in their setup processes to follow media policies and standards set by their organisations.

How different are MFAs to premium publisher websites?

What do we define as a MFA website in this ever increasing blurry space? First, we should look at the broader publisher landscape to contextualise what environments we deem as suitable digital experiences to reach customers.

If we look at some of the largest publishers in Australia that are receive vast volumes of traffic, there continues to be prevalence of click bait articles designed to draw attention and increase ad yield. This is resulting in a cluttered and intrusive experiences by which ads are auto played with sound on and a takeovers that consume 50% of the on device real estate.

One only has to continue scrolling down further below the fold on some of these ‘premium’ publishers reveals ‘suggested content’, a long tail of native ads from “approved” vendors designed to keep you engaged through salacious shock jock headlines.

If these content types, are the defining characteristics of what is seen as “wrong” with MFA websites in the first place, we should consider the broader mix of publishers, not just the subjective MFA labels being talked about in the mainstream press - who ultimately are experiencing the downside of less media dollars going to their publications.

The industry needs to accept that all digital publisher inventory are in fact designed as MFA websites in some manner; Marketers/agencies want to deem as quality whilst balancing performance outcomes that will help solve this problem.

Note: This viewpoint does not include a view point on sites made to commit ad-fraud. Ad-Fraud sites may be recipients of bot-laden traffic, carry advertising intended to deceive advertisers into thinking that the site contributes to user purchases through fake purchases and low-value interactions to falsify engagement metrics and conversion optimisation signals.

MFA mitigation strategies

What are the things we can start doing now to ensure that ads are being displayed on reputable websites that are relevant to the users’ experience.

  1. Media Governance policy - Define your controls, and acceptable levels of risk - Develop and follow policy on platform and data ownership to effectively curate a high quality and cost efficient source of supply.

  2. Allowed list and blocklist review - You are in full control of your publishers - Curate your targeted inventory with channel lists that will prevent your ads from showcasing around unwanted publishers apps/sites.

  3. Content exclusions - Limit your exposure to nefarious and negative content types. Utilise DSP level targeting settings to prevent ads from serving against inappropriate content.

  4. Viewability thresholds - Prevent ad spend wastage by targeting inventory that is likely to result in a viewable impression.

Get in touch

Get in touch with the team at Louder if you need help with reviewing your ad strategies.

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About Pablo Rey

Pablo is a Consultant at Louder, specialising in programmatic technology solutions. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, fishing, cycling, and is an avid AFL & EPL enthusiast.