While the advertising industry is taking steps to combat ad fraud – reversing the tide and contributing to ad fraud’s decline – it’s still predicted to cost $16.4 billion globally this year. It’s clear futher actions need to be taken to foster a more trusted and secure environment.

Historically, the responsibility for ad quality standards was laid at the door of advertisers – with other industry players holding little accountability. But in reality, ad quality is an industry-wide challenge, involving a substantial amount of work that must be tackled by participants across the board.

While watchdog organisations such as the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) have already put standards in place and should adopt a zero tolerance approach to non-adherence, it’s important to note the role each individual participant has in improving quality as well. In addition to following industry standards themselves, companies must also demand compliance from their partners in various ways.

Quality controls  

Ad exchanges and networks have a responsibility to provide publishers with tools and controls that enable them to determine the types of ad they will allow on their websites. This could include setting thresholds on load speeds and ad sizes to avoid latency issues, determining permissible ad formats and defining the content categories that the publisher’s audience would find appropriate and acceptable.  

As well as empowering the publisher with their own controls, exchanges should implement further processes to improve ad quality, combining automated systems with expert human review to ensure they meet their own ad quality standards – which should build upon the guidelines suggested by industry bodies. After all, exchanges are advocates of their publishers and in that role, they must take ownership of the user experience.

Filtering malicious ads

Demand-side platforms (DSPs) also have an obligation to publishers to deliver high-quality ads. Programmatic advertising has many benefits in allowing advertising to precisely target specific audiences, but the same mechanisms that drive precision targeting online could also be exploited by criminals to infect user devices with malware. Many DSPs are already aware of the risks around malvertising and use sophisticated technologies to filter out potentially malicious ads.   

Taking a hard stance

Naturally, publishers are keen to deliver a positive and valuable user experience to protect the integrity of their websites, but they also need to generate revenue to survive, which creates something of a conundrum as the bad ads often pay higher CPMs than the good-quality ads.

All too often the real-time nature of programmatic means publishers aren’t aware when they have slow loading, inappropriate, intrusive or unsafe ads running on their sites, so the first step for them is to identify these ads. Malvertising – ads that spread malware – is a serious concern for publishers, but ads that deteriorate the user experience can be just as harmful. Unsavoury content on a children’s website, for example, or oversized ads that slow loading times have the potential to create poor user experiences.

To better understand the ad performance on their pages, publishers can leverage ad quality platforms such as The Media Trust, GeoEdge, RiskIQ, and AdLightning or useful Chrome extensions that also provide ad performance insights, like Ad Footprint.

Once they understand the quality of the ads on their websites, publishers need to make a judgement call on the types of ads they will allow. Deciding between high-yield bad ads and lower-paying, high-quality ads shouldn’t be difficult. Revenues will drop far quicker if users install ad blockers or boycott the site than if appropriate quality policies are enforced. By taking a hard stance, publishers can send a message to the rest of the industry that poor quality ads won’t gain access to premium inventory.      

Ad quality impacts the entire digital ecosystem and industry participants must take united action to clamp down on unsafe, intrusive, irrelevant, and slow loading ads and improve the user experience. While the quest to achieve a cleaner advertising ecosystem has only just begun – and there’s a long way to go – the action taken so far indicates we’re on the right track.