Arthur Hainline, Director of Analytics, Bidtellect
Cory Lamay, VP of Supply Operations and Programmatic Integration, Bidtellect

The current threat of Fake News looming over the digital content ecosystem has caused many brands and marketers to become increasingly aware and sensitive of where their ads appear. Several brands with some of the largest budgets in digital advertising recently pulled media dollars from one of the top digital supply sources due to concerns about the content their ads were appearing next to.

The concept of brand safety is not new, and most companies that handle a digital ad between a brand and publisher have both technology and operational procedures to reduce one’s exposure to it.  The challenge arises from the ever-increasing abundance of supply combined with the desire to scale programmatically.

Websites chasing advertising dollars can have a site up and running in hours with only a credit card and a catchy headline to start arbitraging traffic. A site with catchy headlines and fabricated news stories has a chance of passing many brand safety filters, but most brands would find that running on these types of sites is detrimental to their image. With this free rein and no third party monitoring the entire internet for quality and truth, it’s not surprising that many brands end up serving ads next to content that is not explicitly brand safe.

Tying in the Notion of Quality

Despite the term “Brand Safety Solutions,” brands are not completely safe if that is where they place all their trust. Working in conjunction, there needs to be a method for determining the quality and respectability of websites that is not captured in typical brand safety filtering.

The best way to approach this is through traffic sourcing data. How users arrive at a website is an important, and often overlooked method to determine quality and brand safety of content. The key differentiation to make is between sites that primarily source their traffic organically via search or typing the URL directly in the address bar, and sites that primarily source their traffic through social channels, paid advertising, or link exchanges.

Websites that attract users organically have proven themselves to provide quality content worthy of repeat visits, and are more likely to be respectable, widely recognized publications. These are the sites a user has bookmarked on their browser, or when they start typing in the domain the browser auto populates because the site is visited often.

Websites that rely on social and arbitrage clicks to generate traffic, while not inherently unsafe for brands, should be viewed with an added layer of scrutiny. These websites rely on catching the eyes and clicks of users typically with provocative headlines. These are the sites that users visit after clicking a link from their Facebook feed. The user probably won’t be able to remember the name of the site and he or she is not likely to visit again, outside of another paid or shared click. Most of their traffic is either bought or shared. This important distinction should serve as the backdrop to any truly effective brand safety decision making.

Value of Understanding Supply Quality

Distinguishing inventory sources by their traffic sources has other benefits besides setting a foundation on which to develop a brand safe programmatic buying strategy. Quality inventory that sources its traffic organically leads to consistently better post-click engagement with users, higher conversion rates, and fewer fraud signals.

To have a truly effective, brand safe buying strategy on programmatic, even sophisticated tools should be complemented by a quality strategy, or the notion of separating supply inventory into buckets based on the trustworthiness of the sites. One of the most important steps toward brand safety is the distinction that can be made in the primary traffic sources of sites.