With more transparent buying at the URL level via real-time bidding, and a renewed interest in native advertising, it will be hard for publishers to generate fictitious traffic and fool the buyer.
In a world where most brand advertisers are now looking for more than just click-based results, premium publishers and media sellers are under real pressure to deliver value, service, and performance. There has been renewed interest in high-value inventory such as in-view ads, low-clutter environments, and inventory free of suspicious engagement activity - such as bots or forced impressions.
I would say that brand advertisers never were interested in buying inventory that was riddled with malicious activity, phantom people engaging, or hidden inventory below the fold, within 0x0 iFrames or web pages that force consumers to bounce from one domain to another. But more than that, the methods for buying inventory created a scenario where the quality of inventory was harder to track and less transparent. Plus, the agencies representing the clients had a vested interest in not waking the sleeping giant of lower performance.
What do I mean by the sleeping giant? For years many of us have known of these suspicious activities used by publishers to drive up performance on campaigns, increase traffic to websites, and add more and more advertisements per page in order to generate higher revenues. These tactics have littered the Internet with web pages unfit for brands and whose only function is to prop up performance on campaigns being measured by clicks. Agencies have perpetuated these tactics by rewarding publishers based on last-click attribution and not looking to more traditional brand metrics to measure success.
Breaking the last-click habit is very hard since we've sold clients on the amazing performance we've achieved for them. Are we really going to go back and let them know that all the great performance we provided in the past was based on fake traffic, phantom users, and robotic clickers? And in addition, we're now going to measure only legitimate traffic and the costs of media will be two or three times as much, with worse performance? As my old boss would say, "Whoopsie."
There is hope for our industry though. With more transparent buying at the URL level via real-time bidding (RTB), and a renewed interest in native advertising - where advertisers are placing custom content directly within publisher pages - it will be very hard for publishers to generate fictitious traffic and fool the buyer. This is going to have a serious economic impact on media buys moving forward. Inventory that is "real," has contextual quality, and delivers actual people will be worth significantly more than the robotic inventory that folks have been buying for the last few years. We should expect to see display inventory prices rise by three to four times and overall inventory availability to shrink dramatically.
Quality ad exchanges like Microsoft Ad Exchange have been militant about only providing inventory to buyers that meets the highest quality standards, is robot free, and showcases uncluttered pages with viewable inventory. To my knowledge, this is the first private marketplace that can stand the scrutiny of the new buyer who is focused on reaching real people in quality environments.
It will be interesting to see what happens to all the publishers who programmatically create content and force traffic across hundreds of domains to increase revenues. I believe they will be soon be called to the carpet and forced to choose between changing their ways or being left out in the cold. What do you think?
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Larry Allen is SVP, Global Platform Sales for Xaxis. He has responsibility for overseeing solutions for publishers including Xaxis for Publishers, Xaxis Exchange, and Xaxis Marketplace globally.
Larry has extensive experience in digital media, marketing, and business strategy unmatched by most standards. Prior to joining 24/7 Media (which merged with Xaxis in 2014), he held senior management positions at cutting-edge digital media companies such as AOL, Viewpoint, Unicast, Yieldex, Real Media, and TACODA.
Larry also ran his own consulting business where he advised many major media companies such as The New York Times, Meredith, 33Across, and Business Insider. He is a frequent contributor to a number of trade publications, blogs, and industry conferences.
A graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Business Management, Larry is based in Xaxis' headquarters in New York City.
Follow him on Twitter at @lawrenceallen2.
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