“Remember These Child Actors From The ‘80s? You’ll Never Believe How They Look Today!”
If you’ve ever clicked on a link like this, you’ve likely found yourself transported to a digital space that looks more like a carnival midway ride than a normal website: ads flashing, inventory refreshing, and call-to-action buttons leading you to other websites with even more pop-up ads. Worst of all, it takes dozens of clicks to find out what happened to those child actors!
These digital spaces are called made-for-advertising sites (MFAs), and a recent study found that brands spend about 15% of their programmatic ad budgets on them. But do MFAs help advertisers reach their business goals, or are they simply generating revenue for the people who build and manage them?
To help advertisers break through the clutter, we spoke with Ayse Pamuk, Manager of Platform Operations at Basis Technologies. Below, Pamuk breaks down how MFAs work, and shares insights on how advertisers can avoid low-quality ad inventory before a campaign starts.
Ayse Pamuk: An MFA is a generic website that is not the result of any quality content creation or journalistic effort. These sites are built just to generate traffic: They usually pay for traffic to their site and then generate multiple ad impressions on each page. So, good old arbitrage (buying website traffic for a low cost and monetizing it via higher-paying advertisements).
It starts with a clickbait headline. Once a user clicks on that headline, the site tries to make them scroll down or click through a slideshow to reach the promised content, thus generating even more ad impressions. In the end, the user gets almost nothing out of the content, so they often leave frustrated.
AP: Technically speaking, an MFA is a real website and there are real ad impressions being served—so they don’t necessarily fall under the category of ad fraud. However, MFA sites are definitely low quality, and they certainly don’t drive any actual performance. Just because ads served on these sites are displayed on the screen for more than five seconds and people technically see them doesn’t mean those ads create awareness for a brand, or that they drive sales or anything else an advertiser would want from an ad placement.
AP: Wasted budget is the biggest risk associated with spending on MFAs. Again, it’s not fraud, but it could pose some brand safety and brand suitability issues. This is an especially important topic to understand now, because with more and more digital content being generated by AI, we are going to see MFA sites popping up by the dozen almost every day. And when money gets funneled to them, that’s money wasted on websites and inventory that aren’t helping brands meet their campaign goals.
AP: I think it’s about understanding the real mathematics around this, and using those insights to set the right goals and KPIs. As an advertiser, I can either try to achieve very low CPMs and generate a substantial number of impressions, but get low to no action as a result; or I can spend the same amount of money and generate fewer impressions, and get much better performance and much more beneficial action.
If you only care about spend and how many impressions you generated, then maybe you do want to spend on MFAs. But if I were a business owner working with an agency, I would ask, “OK, you generated this many impressions, but what impact did they make?” I would want that connection between objectives and KPIs to be clear.
AP: Not surprisingly, since MFAs’ only goals are to make money from advertising, they include some distinguishable characteristics, like having a large number of ads on the screen, ad inventory that auto-refreshes at a higher-than-average frequency, and numerous links to other MFAs. By working with partners who prioritize strong brand safety protocols and tools, advertisers can avoid having their ads end up on these sites. For example, Basis Technologies’ partnership with Jounce media gives users the ability to use a dynamic MFA block list to avoid serving ads on those sites.
AP: One responsibility of adtech providers is to give advertisers access to high-quality inventory. The advertiser should be able to get the most out of their budget: They should be able to spend one dollar and generate a thousand. So, their money should be spent on ads that will show up in places that provide the outcomes advertisers want.
Adtech providers also have a responsibility to create an efficient environment for clients and to seek out solutions that help advertisers more easily avoid MFAs. Getting the best impressions for advertisers takes historical data, machine learning optimization, and algorithmic optimization. Those tools allow advertisers to spend less time, effort, and energy to create high ROI.
I always say it takes a village to combat industry problems like MFAs. Advertisers, data and inventory partners, and adtech providers should keep each other informed because each new topic presents new avenues for fraud, or gaming the system, or other shady practices. It’s an ongoing battle. Everyone involved must be proactive to prevent these things from becoming bigger issues.
Need help navigating the world of MFAs and avoiding low-quality digital ad inventory? Connect with our experts to learn how to build your most efficient and impactful digital advertising strategy.