The COVID crisis has forced digital media professionals to question some principles that we had previously taken for granted. We believe high-quality content attracts highly engaged audiences. Advertisers will pay fairly for that engagement.
Threats to ad security and ad quality affect all publishers industry-wide, but the value of the content to the user will ultimately triumph over those challenges.
However, in the face of a pandemic and economic uncertainty, users feel anxious about the future. News develops extremely quickly, analysis abounds, entertainment helps steady the nerves. All of this spells extremely engaged — you could even say captive — audiences. Time spent in front of screens is high.
When CPMs Fell, So Did Publishers’ Defenses
But publishers are facing real challenges monetizing that engagement. Brands are wary of their own prospects and of the risks associated with advertising in potentially brand-unsafe environments.
Since the end of January, 80% of brands reduced their spending for 2020. As a result, publishers saw their CPMs drop by 50% versus this time last year.
This opens the door to predatory or fraudulent advertisers — bad actors of the ad ecosystem. High CPMs are normally a deterrent to bad actors. But with CPMs down and premium brands pulling their spending, a vacuum opens, and bad ads flood into it.
Think No One Clicks on Ads? COVID Changes That
In another twist, engagement on COVID-related content is so high that users are doing what many in the industry had thought was a lost cause: clicking on ads, namely for face masks and other necessary but hard-to-find medical products.
And when a lot of those medical ads are of low-quality bait-and-switch moves ( the ad creative simply isn’t related to the content of the landing page content it links to), predatory surge pricing, ads for flimsy masks or “phantom products” ( non-existent COVID home test kits) — those users are at great risk to be scammed or phished.
The True Cost of The Mask
There are some aspects to the COVID-related ad/revenue crisis that feel familiar to publishers. For years, publishers have been balancing the need to monetize against the need to preserve good user experience.
To monetize a user’s session with ads that give the user a negative view of the publisher is short-sighted. User loyalty over time is the long game for monetization.
While some publishers in the past may have felt medical-equipment ads might cheapen the look and feel their sites, similar ads today could actually put the user at risk.
In order to combat these risks, publishers need to develop strategies for monetizing and thriving in a COVID-focused media landscape. The overarching theme is about taking control — of your page content, your advertising, and your user experience.
Communication with all vendor partners is more important now than ever. Speak with your partners about what they are doing to keep the ad supply chain safe from fraudsters, opportunistic bad actors, and security risks. Learn about the technology they use to monitor the ads they see. Understand their goals, and explain yours to them.
Take Control of Your UX – Carefully
As always, publishers are the last line of defense before the user’s screen. It’s imperative to monitor and block problem ads in real time, before they reach the page. At the same time, ad QA demands nuance right now.
Blocking entire categories of ads (like medical ads) may be a rational quick solution, but it’s not a sustainable one.
Publishers need all the ad dollars they can get, and they can’t risk blocking trustworthy advertisers simply out of unfamiliarity.
Publishers need their security and QA tools to go beyond simply blacklisting keywords, and to clarify conditions under which certain types of ads may be appropriate or inappropriate for the content, the audience, and the moment.
At GeoEdge, technology and service are at the core of what we do. GeoEdge tools block bad ads in real-time, automate the QA process, and provide levers of control for optimizing ad revenue while reducing risk to UX. This is the time for publishers to be proactive, and to assemble the right toolkit to move their business forward no matter what the challenges.