This promoted content is produced by a publishing partner of Open Mic. A paid-for membership product for partners of The Drum to self-publish their news, opinions and insights on thedrum.com - Find out more
How low-quality MFA websites are impacting the advertising industry
October 20, 2023
In discussions surrounding media buying, a new buzzword has emerged - MFA, which stands for "Made for Advertising." This term encompasses a blend of paid traffic, clickbait content, and incentivized traffic with the sole purpose of generating ad impressions and revenue. These MFA websites, seemingly springing up overnight with millions of impressions, divert advertising budgets and impact campaign performance, making the online experience less enjoyable for users.
MFA websites operate on a straightforward principle: ad arbitrage. Their focus is on driving traffic to their websites, often through search engines and social media platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, or Instagram. They aim to attract this traffic at a lower cost than they can earn by selling ad space. They achieve this by creating filler content, crafting clickbait headlines, interlinking their network of websites, and producing multi-page articles, all designed to increase the number of display and video ads presented to users.
Media quality has been a prominent topic this year, with the industry making efforts to prevent funds from flowing to these made-for-advertising websites. These websites prioritize manipulating programmatic algorithms over serving the interests of readers, and eliminating low-quality content has proven to be a more challenging task than initially perceived.
Moreover, MFA websites significantly diminish the effectiveness of online ads. Users have grown fatigued with these sites, resulting in very few clicks on ads, translating to considerable budget wastage. Some estimates even suggest that more than half of the money spent on online ads ultimately goes to waste on MFA websites.
Advertisers face a multitude of challenges when dealing with MFA websites, with ad fraud being a predominant issue. Ads often find their way onto these sites without the advertiser's consent, leading to fake views and clicks. This not only results in financial losses but also tarnishes the reputation of honest brands linked with subpar content.
Publishers, who exert considerable effort to produce quality content, also suffer the repercussions of MFA websites. They find themselves in a competition for ad revenue with these sites, an inequitable situation that adversely impacts the entire digital publishing industry.
Nonetheless, eliminating subpar supply remains a formidable challenge. Despite industry-wide endeavors, low-quality supply remains entrenched within the programmatic supply chain. According to a report by Jounce Media, top supply-side platforms (SSPs) often distribute as much inventory from premium publishers as they do from sub-premium sources.
Sub-premium content encompasses materials from made-for-advertising websites, non-viewable ad placements, and intricate, challenging-to-access inventory. In contrast, premium supply grants direct access to content that has been proven to influence consumer purchasing decisions.
According to findings by Ebiquity, MFA websites gain attention due to their impressive viewability rates, averaging 77%, surpassing the World Federation of Advertisers' digital media benchmark of 63%. Furthermore, they offer a CPM that's 30% to 40% more cost-effective than non-MFA websites.
Efforts have been undertaken to combat MFA activity. The Media Rating Council (MRC) introduced the MRC IVT 2.0 Standards in June 2020, emphasizing the importance of reporting on the legitimacy of publisher traffic. Companies such as The Trade Desk have initiated measures to block MFA publishers.
While SSPs play a pivotal role as intermediaries for web content, they represent just one component of a more comprehensive system that encourages the monetization of low-quality content. Advertisers seek strong performance metrics at a reasonable cost, a niche MFA sites cater to. Publishers aim to stimulate demand, creating complexity within the supply chains.
As long as brands continue to procure sub-premium inventory, SSPs are compelled to market it or risk losing business to competitors. This challenge is exacerbated by the unreliability of metrics vital to marketers.
Nevertheless, it is possible to break the cycle. Kargo, for instance, prioritizes quality over quantity, offering a premium approach. However, this model may not be viable for all SSPs. Instead of entirely eliminating low-quality inventory, SSPs could segregate it into private marketplaces, thereby promoting premium content as the norm. In this context, buyers should actively opt for lower-quality inventory when appropriate, rather than stumbling upon it.
Running programmatic campaigns without low-quality inventory is possible, although it may necessitate diligence and effort. In conclusion, addressing the issue of MFA websites and creating a cleaner digital advertising environment requires a collective effort involving advertisers, publishers, regulatory bodies, and consumers. Stricter regulations, transparency, and ethical practices are crucial in realizing this goal.