Policing traffic quality: everybody’s job

This article is part of the Digiday Partner Program and is brought to you by DataXu.

Quality of exchange-traded inventory is a perennial concern. Just when we think we’re gaining ground on one problem, a whole new one arises. Bot traffic, impression fraud, low-quality clicks, brand safety issues, page clutter, pre-bid blocking … It all keeps us up at night.

And it should, because nothing affects campaign results and publisher yield quite like the quality of impressions. To a large extent, our industry runs on trust; buyers need to assume that the inventory they purchase in ad exchanges actually has real consumers behind them. The greater the trust, the more the programmatic industry will grow and thrive.

With numerous parties operating between the publisher and advertiser, who should take primary responsibility for ensuring traffic quality? In our view: Everyone.

Let’s break it down. There are three main issues to quality assurance: eliminating fraud, measuring viewability and verifying context. All three require active participation from publishers, ad exchanges and advertisers to ensure overall traffic quality, though some have more active roles than others.

Fraud

Publishers and ad exchanges have always been on the front line of fraud prevention. They invest untold millions in systems to detect non-human traffic. After all, if it’s just a machine behind their impressions, no conversions will occur. Poor campaign ROI will drive advertisers away from that publisher or ad exchange again.

As John Murphy, VP of Marketplace Quality at OpenX points out “There is a class of inventory we know is nefarious. Without a concerted effort to tackle the problem – and constant policing – even the best supply sources can fall prey to fraudulent traffic.”

But the supply-side also has a role in preventing fraud. As Mr. Murphy also explains, ad exchanges are one step removed from the end advertiser, and lack access to the advertiser metrics that can identify and reveal fraud. That means buyers have a responsibility to raise the flag whenever they see suspicious activity, regardless of its origin.

As buyers ourselves, DataXu shares best practices on what nefarious behavior looks like. We also share referrals on promising technologies and testing practices. At the end of the day, the success of the programmatic market lies in our collective ability to stop fraud entirely; simply moving it on to another supplier won’t get us to that goal.

 Verdict: Supply side with cooperation of demand side

Viewability

All advertisers want to ensure that the impressions they pay for were actually seen (even partially) by the desired audience. No one wants to pay for a service they didn’t get.

Both sides have a lot to gain from viewability. For publishers, viewability translates into higher CPMs. It’s also a critical step in finding the Holy Grail of digital advertising: channel attribution and identifying paths to conversion. Buyers also reap tremendous benefits in terms of campaign efficiency; for slightly more money, they’re assured that the targeted consumers have actually seen their ads. By analyzing real results, buyers get more insights into their best consumers and markets.

So who’s responsible? Certainly, viewability lies in the publisher’s court; they need to establish a mechanism on their sites for measuring and reporting on how much of an ad is present in a user’s browser, and for how long. From the buyer’s point of view, standardization is a challenge. There are two viewability methodologies in use today (geometry and measuring screen paint), and at least a dozen or more vendors who implement it. If viewability is key to brand goals and bidding practices, the buyer should select the preferred system of measurement.

Verdict: Both supply and demand side

Contextual Verification

If you asked 10 brands how to classify Perezhilton.com, you’d get at least 5 different answers (gossip, entertainment, social media, blog, long tail, premium), as well as utter disagreement on whether it was brand safe.

Content verification and classification is extremely difficult to standardize. DataXu works with over 20 exchanges and, to date, we’ve counted 10 different classification systems. We can argue over whose classification methodology is the best, but in the end, it’s the advertiser’s classification that matters most.

Contextual verification should rest with the buy side at time of purchase. Doing so provides advertisers the flexibility to choose their classification partner based on methodology, as well as define by brand what they deem acceptable.

Verdict: Demand side

Make no mistake about it, traffic quality is everybody’s business, and benefits everyone. Supply-side reputation and campaign ROI are riding on it.

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