Made For Advertising (MFA) websites are set up solely to show as many advertisements as possible – they are poison for your campaign, reputation and the environment. They are a form of ad fraud.

 

MFAs are described by the US-based Association of National Advertisers (ANA) “MFA sites typically use sensational headlines, clickbait, and provocative content to attract visitors and generate page views, which in turn generate ad revenue for the site owner. MFA sites also usually feature low-quality content, and may use tactics such as pop-up ads, auto-play videos, or intrusive ads to maximise ad revenue.”

 

Clickbait Made For Advertising site MFA

 

The ANA’s Programmatic Media Supply Chain Transparency study released in June 2023 contains some startling figures regarding MFAs:

 

“Made for Advertising (MFA) Websites Represent 21 percent of Impressions — Indicating Advertisers are Not in Control of Media Placement Decisions – “Made for Advertising (MFA) websites comprised a startling 21 percent of study impressions and 15 percent of spend.”

 

You can often see MFAs advertising through chumbox platforms that allow advertising arbitrage – the aim here is for the MFA to pay, say, $0.01 for a click and hopes to earn $0.02 from showing the user as many ads as possible on the following pages – that is their sole reason to exist.

 

You may see these sites linked to from the chumbox platforms across many publishers.

 

Tim Burrowes from Unmade [paywall] comments “the out and out superspammy websites created just to bring in grubby traffic and then max out as many page impressions as possible. A lot of that is now low value AI-driven content, remixed (stolen) from elsewhere on the web…

 

The issue is that agencies are buying this cheap but incredibly low value inventory because it helps them achieve their client targets. Badly constructed incentives reward them for buying on the lowest possible CPM, even if it has little likelihood of achieving any sort of brand objective.”

 

What harm do Made For Advertising (MFA) websites do?

 

Budget, fraud and trust destruction

The ANA found “It is deeply concerning that the average number of websites for study participants was 44,000 top-level domains. It is hypothesised that the “long tail” of the web adds minimal reach yet likely performs badly in areas such as fraud, viewability, and brand safety, assuming such issues can even be measured there.”

The sites are low quality, exist only to show more ads, reduce the effectiveness of the campaign and devalue digital advertising as a whole.

 

Environmental destruction

The ANA found “Sustainability issues are of increasing importance to the ad industry. The programmatic ecosystem has grown rapidly and has had a negative environmental impact, given that it’s energy-intensive. Every impression and ad call for every ad anywhere along the supply chain creates carbon emissions. The longer the supply chain and the more ad calls, vendors and SSPs, the higher the carbon emissions. Some of the lower quality websites, especially Made for Advertising sites, create more carbon emissions than the average site. That is because they have many ads per page and indiscriminately make ad calls to as many demand sources (like SSPs, DSPs, and ad networks) as they possibly can. According to Scope3 (a new industry organisation with the mission to decarbonize advertising), MFA sites are 26 percent higher in carbon emissions than non-MFA inventory.”

 

 

Further reading

AdExchanger – Is Chumbox Economics Feeding The Industry’s MFA Problem?

If you can pay an ad network $0.01 for a click to your website, then generate $0.02 in advertising revenue from real brand advertisers, that’s a juicy profit margin. You just need to get away with the scheme by making it difficult for advertisers to find out what you’re really doing.

MIT Technology ReviewJunk websites filled with AI-generated text are pulling in money from programmatic ads

IAB UK – A guide to identifying Made For Advertising websites

IAB UK have a handy checklist of the characteristics of an MFA website:

  • Ad placement and density: Made for Advertising sites tend to have excessive ad placements and a high density of ads on their pages. Ads may overshadow or disrupt the user experience
  • Quality and relevance of content: Made for Advertising sites often lack high-quality, professionally produced content.
  • Traffic Patterns: Sudden spikes of traffic to a new site can be concerning, especially when this is inorganic traffic.
  • Navigation and user journey: Made for Advertising sites will often have unusual navigation and user journeys in order to maximise ad exposure. For example, they may tempt users to view ‘20 actors from the nineties, you won’t believe what number 17 looks like now!’

 

DoubleVerify announce new MFA measurement – Feb 2024

In Feb 2024 DoubleVerify announced a “new tiered brand suitability categories to address “Made For Advertising” (MFA) measurement and protection in a more nuanced and brand-specific way.”

The press release appears to acknowledge that some advertisers knowingly run advertising campaigns across Made For Advertising websites in order to scale their campaigns cheaply:

Our MFA controls enable brands to boost campaign performance and optimise media investments, by carefully balancing brand protection and campaign scale based on their specific requirements.”

DoubleVerify will classify MFAs in three “suitability tiers”:

  • MFA High: Identifies sites exhibiting the most extreme MFA content or characteristics, including, but not limited to, significant ad density relative to page content, a predominant dependance on paid traffic sources with little to no organic traffic, and an average ad intensity – a measure of the viewable time duration of an ad – that is significantly lower than the DV benchmark.
  • MFA Medium: Identifies sites with varying degrees of MFA behavior. For example, a site might employ high ad density relative to page content, but the average ad intensity might be near the DV benchmark.
  • MFA Low: Covers sites or sections with a blend of MFA and non-MFA content – for example, sites where only a section or a subdomain exhibits MFA content or characteristics. DV’s approach allows for the deepest and most nuanced level of analysis, preventing miscategorisation and false positives. For example, a website may feature a significant number of ads, while still registering high rates of direct and search-enabled traffic. In this instance, the publisher would not meet DV’s definition of an MFA website.

 

Adalytics find huge waste of spend – Mar 2024

“Over the last few months, Adalytics assisted a Fortune 500 advertiser to analyze the efficiency and efficacy of their ad spend. The Global Head of Media thought their brand was minimally exposed to “Made for Advertising” (MFA) inventory in the second half of 2023. This reflects a general sentiment throughout the industry about MFA exposure, following numerous highly-publicized statements from ad tech vendors and agencies touting their work to block MFA sites and eliminate brands’ exposure to these sites. Adalytics conducted an analysis on behalf of the aforementioned Fortune 500 brand. Adalytics found the brand spent over $10 million on MFA websites through a comprehensive analysis of their programmatic, private marketplace, direct buy, social media, and retail media investments.”

Read more:

Are ad tech vendors serving ANA members’ ads on “Made for Arbitrage” websites in 2024?

Inside the “Made For Advertising” crackdown and why it isn’t working – Almost everyone officially hates MFAs, but Adalytics finds they’re still trading in them anyway

 

Marketers fear uncovering major ad issues – AdAge – Mar 2024

A sense of FOFO, or Fear Of Finding Out, floated around the Association of National Advertisers Media Conference in Orlando earlier this week … marketing executive explained that it’s not always welcome to learn about when a brand’s ads have turned up on click-bait, heavily ad-laden, low-cost-per-impression made-for-advertising (MFA) sites where they’re not supposed to—because it’s uncomfortable explaining it to higher-ups.”

 

Row over MFA label for publishers hits boiling point – The Media Leader – Apr 2024

“Publishers have recently been put on edge by concerns that they could be labelled as akin to made-for-advertising (MFA) sites.

… advertisers should take more personal accountability for their media selection when trying to avoid MFA. Rather than chasing after the long tail to target people for “the lowest common denominator possible”, he suggests marketers should look to flock towards higher-quality publisher environments.

Spears summarises the solution even more simply: “Stop buying crap.” ”

 

What is Sophisticated Invalid Traffic (SIVT)? – Apr 2024

One example of SIVT is if the URL of a site is deliberately obscured in bid requests sent to programmatic platforms. Ad verification and security software such as IAS and DoubleVerify is supposed to catch such discrepancies because it is an indicator of SIVT. According to AdExchanger “The Media Rating Council (MRC) considers domain spoofing to be a marker of SIVT.”

 

‘Made for Advertising’ Websites Are the Marketing Industry’s Latest Messy Situation – WSJ – Apr 2024

WSJ reports “The ad industry is railing against online publishers that get visitors largely by advertising clickbait headlines around the web, then turn a profit by serving a barrage of ads to anyone who bites.

These “made for advertising” sites stand accused of giving visitors a poor experience, delivering dubious results for advertisers and elevating carbon emissions because they run many more energy-consuming instant auctions for their ad inventory than websites with typical ad loads.

MFA sites also often aggressively refresh the ads they display, potentially showing visitors the same ad thousands of times in a single session, according to a report by the research firm Adalytics. That means unwitting brands could be paying astronomical prices to reach one consumer. For example, Comcast paid an ad rate to reach one consumer on an MFA site that was far higher than the rates advertisers pay in the Super Bowl, the Adalytics report said.

But the sites attract significant spending, and not just because of rapidly reloading ads: MFA publishers win roughly 15% of automated online advertising spending, or $10 billion in annual ad revenue, according to an estimate late last year from the Association of National Advertisers, or ANA, a marketers’ trade group.

Warnings against MFA sites are being undermined by inconsistent definitions and cases of sites being erroneously included on “block lists” designed to help advertisers avoid them, experts say. Some publishers of sites labeled MFA also say their businesses are being unfairly targeted. If marketers want to appear on their sites, the publishers and others say, that is their prerogative.”

 

Further reading about Made For Advertising (MFA) sites:

Digiday – WTF are made-for-advertising sites (MFAs)

Digiday – Ad tech industry gears up to combat MFAs

Digiday – Made-for-advertising sites lack a clear definition, causing confusion among the advertising industry

Digiday – GroupM is removing MFAs from its inclusion lists

DoubleVerify press release on Mumbrella – DoubleVerify announces new tiered suitability categories for MFA measurement and protection

AdNews – Hundreds of major brands unaware their ads appear on ‘Made for Advertising’ sites

Forbes – The Rise Of ‘Made For Advertising’ Sites: How Responsible Brands Can Take Action

 

More

What is Native Advertising?

What is a chumbox?

 

This article was written by Julian Peterson and may contain elements that are his opinion rather than that of Dianomi PLC.