The In-App Ad Quality Guide for App Publishers

App Publishers Want More Control Over Ads. Here’s How They Can Have It.

For years app publishers puzzled over how to address the seemingly evergreen challenge of reducing app abandonment. However, as all of our lives rapidly became more digital, users’ engagement with apps naturally grew as well. In 2020, users around the world downloaded 208 billion apps. And they spent time with those apps: GeoEdge and Admonsters recently conducted a survey of app publishers, and a full two-thirds said they saw an increase in app usage since the beginning of 2020.

Survey respondents shared a chilling reality: None of the respondents said they had never had bad ads in their apps. Nearly 70% said unwanted in-app ad content is a recurring problem, and 57.9% said they’re seeing as many or more bad ads than they saw before the pandemic. 

No Universal Fix for UX and Brand Suitability

Users come to mobile apps on a small screen, expecting uninterrupted flow. Any inappropriate ad formats or creative can be disruptive enough to lead to app abandonment. To 69.23% of app publishers, poor ad quality diminished their UX; and for 46%, bad ads contributed to user churn. A full half of respondents said offensive ad content and malicious ads (including redirects) were drivers of that churn. 

App publishers feel pressured to improve UX and provide brand suitability — beyond just brand safety. Ads need to be aligned with the app’s functionality and the audience’s expectations. The consequences are great, and top-of-mind: 78% are seeing ads that could cause reputational damage, 93% received negative reviews in the app store as a result of bad ads, and 71% said bad ads led users to uninstall their app. 

One key takeaway of the research was just how reactive, rather than proactive, app publishers’ ad quality strategies are. App publishers feel they have the tools it takes to prevent bad ads — but not to explicitly find ads that will enhance UX. The volume of ads is too great to try to solve the problem simply by whitelisting trusted advertisers. App publishers need visibility into their apps, and they don’t have it: 22% say they don’t have the control they need over their ad inventory, and 57% say they have some, but not total, control.

Full Inventory Visibility Is the Brass Ring

Full visibility matters: Brand suitability is relative, and the publisher is the best judge of it. It can vary based on app functionality (e.g., utility vs. gaming), by the audience (e.g., children vs. adults), by geographical area (e.g., areas where categories such as gambling ads may be prohibited), and much more. App publishers aren’t even united in what “brand suitability” means: It may indicate relevance to the app, relevance to the audience, or incentivization for users to stay in the app.

App publishers need proactive measures to ensure ad quality: They need a fuller view of their inventory than their users have. As it stands, publishers are often unaware they’re getting bad ads until users report them or leave negative reviews. 

And app publishers need customized solutions, too. They report seeing a wide variety of bad ads — misleading ad content, adult or offensive content, non-compliant creative, ads that lead to unsafe or low-quality landing pages, violent content, redirects, competitor apps that may or may not take users out of the app — and the number of instances of each type also varies considerably from app to app. Malicious code, technical problems, and inappropriate formats may each call for a different tactic, but all harm UX. 

App publishers need meaningful visibility into their inventory. This would entail categorizing ad content into categories relevant to the app and/or audience, sorting ads into those categories, and automatically flagging unsuitable ads. The downside is that ad platforms themselves may not allow for granular, custom categorization, and may not be able to share ad placement-level details with publishers.

Start Taking Control of User Experience Now

App publishers are plying a number of different ad quality strategies, including manual ad filtering, selling to pre-qualified advertisers only, maintaining blocklists, restricting selling models, and using automated ad quality tools. Aside from using automation, any of those tactics used on its own will sap a team’s productive hours, leave potential revenue on the table, or both. 

Ensuring the best possible in-app UX, brand suitability, and monetization calls for a nuanced approach, and a combination of automation and the specific institutional knowledge of your team. App publishers can start to develop a strong in-app ad quality strategy by:

User experience that not only meets but exceeds audience expectations

  • Defining what brand suitability means for each of your apps. Seek solutions that allow for granular control of your standards.
  • Monitoring incoming ads for brand suitability. Automated tools can lighten this load.
  • Regularly assessing ads’ creative content and landing pages. Machine learning, character and image recognition, and contextual analysis can help do this comprehensively.
  • Using an SDK that can flag and block ads by incident type (malicious code, phishing, etc.) and automatically report issues back to demand partners.

Bad actors are highly incentivized to target and exploit users at their most engaged — and when they do, publishers typically get the hottest of the heat, suffering immediate and lasting damage to their reputation and monetization. Comprehensive, efficient, customizable, real-time solutions that allow app publishers to serve their specific audiences are key to a sustainable ad-supported app business model. Look to a trusted partner like GeoEdge who gives publishers those solutions, to ensure the best UX and brand suitability, and to monetize to your app’s true potential. This year, ad quality is a strategic differentiator for app publishers.


Alisha is a Technology Writer and Marketing Manager at GeoEdge. Her writing focuses on current events in the AdTech ecosystem and cyberattacks served through the digital advertising supply chain. You can find Alisha on LinkedIn to discuss brand building and happenings in AdTech.

Malvertising, the practice of sprinkling malicious code into legitimate-looking ads is growing more sophisticated. GeoEdge’s holistic ad quality solution has you covered.


450+ Publishers & Platforms