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  • Julie Moline, Avenue 3

5 reasons to be careful about buying ads programmatically


There’s actually a simple way for you to know exactly where your online ads are being placed. If you choose the right publishers and the right platforms, you can avoid these issues:

1. Disreputable environment. When you buy programmatically and placement is determined only by an algorithm, you could be placed on an inappropriate site or next to content that doesn’t align with your company’s values, or is simply incompatible with your product or messaging—and there’s nothing you can do about it (until it’s too late).

2. Fraudulent traffic. When you don't work directly with the publisher and you don't know where your ads are appearing, it’s hard to know whether clicks are coming from bots or real users. A trusted publisher has a known audience, so it will be easy to tell if your response rate ever seems aberrant. If your traffic suddenly seems unusually high, for example, it’s reasonable to doubt the authenticity.

3. Lack of control over ad placement. With some programmatic buys, you don't know if your ads appear above the fold and whether anyone will ever see them. When you are paying based on impressions (cpm), poor visibility turns your ad buy into a waste of money.

4. Clutter on the page. When ads are placed programmatically, marketers don't know how many other ads are on the same web page, what they look like or what products they promote. Most users find a cluster of ads to feel noisy and intrusive, and marketers run the risk of turning off customers who then associate the advertiser or their brand with a bad experience.

5. Bait and switch. Disreputable publishers are posting ads that look like content but are not marked clearly as such. The user clicks on what they think is editorial but is sent to the advertiser's website, which counts as a click but is a clear manipulation.

Ad fraud isn’t a small problem, and it’s not going away any time soon. Marketers should follow the same advice consumers always should: caveat emptor. Your safest bet may be to cut back on programmatic buys and deal exclusively with trusted sites directly, or commit to working with transparent ad networks that share the list of all their participating sites.

When you only book online ads through a technology platform, trouble can ensue.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a disturbing article about ad fraud, committed when advertisers are charged for traffic that’s either bogus (originating from bots) or from manipulation (by making an ad deliberately look like interesting editorial). The piece went on to discuss another serious issue: ads that appear next to “hateful or otherwise unsavory videos.” It’s been a particularly bad problem on YouTube, the author noted, adding that advertisers have battled with Google (which owns YouTube) to “let them access more of its extensive data to help them improve how ads are targeted and measure whether they are effective.”