In an ideal world, advertisers publish their ads only on websites and platforms that are on the same page with the brand’s mission, views and beliefs, and never give money to shady, deceptive, driven only by profit sites. Right? And so, how are made-for-advertising (MFA) sites still luring advertisers into their web and getting an important part of their digital marketing budget?
Advertisers must keep up with all the fast, almost constant changes in the industry and obtain results that please the algorithms, in order to achieve their goals. This involves, usually, a lot of pressure. But there is a way to simplify this. They can buy programmatic ad inventory which, ideally, sells ad space on reputable sites where customers engage with quality content. Well, it isn`t always like that.
Firstly, what are these MFA sites?
MFA sites are exactly what their name says, which is: sites that are made solely to poach ad revenue, without giving many thoughts about the content and the user experience. Picture a web page that has banner ads all over, video players as pop-ups that make the content impossible to see, ads that are difficult to close with a tiny X button and all that annoying commercial input that is tiring for the eyes and an awful experience in general. Looks familiar? Then you might have stumbled upon an MFA before.
Whereas high-quality sites focus on what they are publishing in terms of information, MFA sites use content without editorial value and aggregated news. They reach the audience by using aggressive and non-ethical tactics, primarily on social media, like clickbait headlines. But, even though we find this kind of website unacceptable, the very machines that facilitate ad purchases perceive MFA sites as golden opportunities.
Why is it such a bad investment?
Usually, advertisers don’t know that they are buying ad space on this kind of website as they are simply searching for cost efficiency. An MFA site`s page is mostly ads, so, even if a user comes there from a clickbait and never returns, the site will still have a high viewability rate. Also, because MFA websites spend very little on content creating costs, CPMs are also much lower than on quality-focused sites. And just like that, the programmatic algorithms are manipulated to optimize the targeting parameters in the favor of MFA sites.
But there is no real benefit for advertisers. In fact, seeing a brand`s ad on this kind of website may lead to losing interest or trust in the company and even driving customers away. In the end, these metrics provide no real-life value and there will be no return on investment per ad, so it might be a win lose situation, but in favor of the MFA sites.
Who can solve this problem?
Even though Google’s ad placement policies specify explicitly that “Publishers are not permitted to encourage users to click on Google ads in any way, […] and bring unnecessary or unnatural attention to their Google ads”, these rules seem to not apply to the MFA sites. But, this means that MFA websites are not in compliance with Google’s guidelines and may be penalized. And still, it seems that there is always a loophole that allows avoiding repercussions and deceiving the system, for example by targeting with a large number of advertisements only those who reached the site through an ad and not directly.
Legally, by industry standards, MFAs do not meet the criteria for invalid traffic (IVT). This means that real users are seeing the ads, but the duration of their engagement is typically short and leads to an insignificant impact on the consumer behavior. As a result, MFAs tread a fine line between legitimate traffic and potential IVT and they are not considered a fraud.
In the end, it becomes the responsibility of advertisers to make the right choices when it comes to media investment. MFA sites complicate this job even for the best-intentioned advertisers, but it doesn’t make it impossible. By searching “made for advertisement” in the platform they’re using, advertisers can control their strategy better and not support this kind of practices anymore.