Woman in white shoes sitting in a dim room
Customers expect quality ads that are safe, appropriate and behave well. PHOTO: Tommy Tong

Bad ads serve no useful purpose for legitimate publishers, advertisers, website visitors or AdTech companies. On the contrary, the proliferation of bad ads threatens the growth of programmatic marketplaces.

Ad exchanges have a big role to play in improving ad quality, but demand-side platforms, publishers, brands and agencies must also be proactive about eliminating the scourge of bad ads.

Defining a Quality Ad

Quality ads must possess three characteristics. The first is the most obvious: quality ads are safe. They don't deliver malware, try to compromise a user's machine, force fraudulent redirects, or create other such mayhem.

Quality ads are also appropriate. They're relevant, useful to their audience, and age-appropriate. No one wants to serve alcohol ads on sites designed for kids. They want to show ads that match a viewer's interests.

Lastly, quality ads behave well. They identify themselves as ads, they aren't intrusive, and importantly, they load quickly. They don't make it hard to consume content, induce headaches with blinking, or automatically launch video with audio.

Standards Are Critical

Creating standards for preserving ad quality is a positive step forward, and that work is being done collaboratively by industry watchdog organizations like the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

However, ad exchanges and networks need to commit to their own higher standards of ad quality as well. As advocates for our publishers, exchanges must implement criteria to ensure the ads they deliver don't negatively affect the user experience.

Exchanges must empower publishers by giving them the control to determine which ad formats, behaviors, and categories they will allow on their sites. Ideally, exchanges take it a step further and use a mix of expert human review with advanced automated systems to keep ad quality strong.

Meanwhile, demand-side platforms have responsibilities to deliver quality ads to publishers. They must be aware of risk factors and put in the right safeguards to filter out malicious ads, as many sophisticated DSPs already do. After all, the same controls of programmatic that let advertisers find targets can be exploited by bad actors to find victims.

Publishers Aren't on the Sidelines

Publishers, meanwhile, very much want to provide a good user experience but face complexities in controlling the ads that can threaten that ultimate goal. One problem is that many publishers don't actually know what ads are running on their own sites from programmatic sources.

When they do learn what's appearing — often with help from ad quality platforms like Curiosity's PubNation — they may face a judgment call: some campaigns that lack quality actually pay high CPMs. By allowing the ads to run, publishers may see revenue gains at the risk of losing irritated customers.

Often, though, decisions about what kinds of ads should be allowed to run are quite easy to make. There are categories of ads that publishers and users just won't tolerate, like forced redirects, and publishers can set policies to keep those kinds of disruptive ads off their sites.

Such policies signal to DSPs, agencies and brands that bad ads won't gain access to premium inventory.

The Speed Issue

One aspect that shouldn't get downplayed in the ad quality discussion is the way ads can slow down a site, and we know speed is a big reason users are installing ad blockers.

While many publishers are optimizing images to reduce page load time, an ad on their site may be loading 100 uncompressed images to show a rotating carousel ad. 

The industry needs to give publishers more insight into latency and controls so they can run ads that are tailored to the user experience they want to offer. Longer term, widely adopted protocols like OpenRTB could advance these kinds of conversations between the buy side and the sell side.

Clearly, there's room to improve ad quality at every level of the supply chain, and the best time to start is now.