A Demand-Side Perspective on Video Traffic Quality

Murray Phillipson, OpenXThe Wild West days of video advertising are coming to a close. As VAN reported earlier in the week, viewability rates are improving and fraud rates are declining. But there’s still much work to do. Here Murray Phillipson, Platform Demand Director EMEA at OpenX, explains what buyers can do to safeguard their brands when buying video.  

For too long the programmatic ecosystem has lived in the shadow of fraudulent advertising traffic. With non-human bot traffic, ghost publishers, and masked inventory restricting advertiser’s performance and eroding trust in automated ad buying, the time has come to take a stand against poor traffic quality.

Some ad exchanges offer basic solutions to the issue by flagging suspicious publishers for later review, but the issue of poor traffic quality deserves fresh examination and a more sophisticated approach. We need to ensure marketing messages in advertising reach human eyes – eliminating views via non-human traffic – and make certain that every ad is viewed in a clean environment.

From a demand side perspective, how can traffic quality be improved and whose responsibility is it to drive that improvement?

Use Advanced Statistical Techniques

User behaviour patterns can help determine whether inventory originates from a non-human source. Exchanges must have the ability to identify and block suspicious inventory in real time – using advanced scoring and filtering techniques – before it is exposed to buyers. This could include scanning sites for signs of activity such as social media interactions, assessing editorial quality, and flagging sites with a large proportion of ads on each page. As systems detect patterns of fraudulent activity they become increasingly effective at identifying suspicious impressions.

Employ the Human Touch

Automated filtration of suspicious impressions should be combined with rigorous human review. This could include bans on pages that support piracy, unmoderated user-generated content, and ads that are not viewable by design, such as those displayed below the fold or in hidden frames.

Evaluate at Impression Level

All too often decisions are made at publisher level – allowing individual impressions to slip through the filtering system once the publisher is approved. Traffic should be evaluated on an impression-by-impression basis, allowing only high quality impressions into exchanges.

Policing the Ecosystem

Traffic quality has become such a challenge in the programmatic ecosystem that a comprehensive RTB quality rating standard has been developed – the Pixalate Global Seller Trust Index. This index evaluates RTB quality from exchanges and ad networks.

Essentially the responsibility of improving traffic quality should be equally shared between all parties involved – publishers, brands, DSPs, ad exchanges, and SSPs. Publishers must assume accountability for all the ads they carry, whether they answer directly to buyers or measure yield via an exchange.

Make-goods – where adjustments are made to make up for an error – present little compensation. Time is of the essence in brand, and performance campaigns and make-goods are insufficient if those ads appear after a holiday sale, season premiere, or opening night.

Ad exchanges need to provide advertisers with a secure environment in which to purchase ad inventory. This means ad exchanges must make traffic quality a key priority, and build a dedicated team of data experts to implement a robust quality assurance program. Initially this is likely to have a financial impact on exchanges as they will reject more publishers and impressions – reducing the inventory available to sell – but the enhanced reputation gained as a result, and the ability to attract more legitimate publishers will make the investment worthwhile. Ad exchanges require strict policies to filter which publishers can use their exchange, and should utilise real-time traffic filtering systems. They can also partner with leading brand-safety and fraud-detection companies to provide an additional layer of protection.

Although it can be difficult for advertisers to detect suspicious activity themselves, they can play an important role in improving traffic quality. While advertisers continue to buy inventory from less trustworthy sources – for example masked inventory from pools of sites – suppliers will carry on providing it and so fraud will continue. The IAB outlines how buyers have a role to play in winning this battle and its report Traffic Fraud: Best Practices for Reducing Exposure recommends that advertisers ask their partners in-depth questions about traffic quality assurance programmes. Advertisers have a responsibility to demand legitimate inventory and to find out where it is sourced.

While the tactics of those looking to exploit the online advertising ecosystem are becoming increasingly sophisticated, so are the measures used to fight this issue. If every sector of the industry can work together – combining automated statistical techniques with human review and evaluating inventory on a real-time impression-by-impression basis – advertisers and publishers will be provided with an environment in which they are able to trade impressions transparently, safely, and with confidence.

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