The Case for Media Quality

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As online advertising matures, new technologies create greater efficiencies, as well as greater worries. Programmatic buying in particular has been praised for streamlining processes and creating scale, but it has also introduced new challenges in terms of media quality.

The quality of the advertising environment and exposure becomes increasingly important as brand dollars begin to enter the market, and we are forced to extend our focus beyond measuring success with clicks and hard conversions. Brands want to leverage online advertising to raise awareness and drive positive interest in their products and services. This, of course, works best when ads are actually viewed by a consumer, ideally in a relevant, well-lit, reputable environment.  Efforts are being made now to draw attention back to this issue.  New viewability standards and measurement technologies like viewable impression tracking are a great first step in highlighting the fact that quality doesn’t just matter; it is an essential component of every ad campaign.

However, in order to truly raise the standards and insist upon quality advertising environment, we have to go beyond measuring viewability. Poor viewability is just one symptom of a poor quality environment. Viewability suffers where there is clutter and fraud, issues that also must be addressed as they can contribute to the inaccurate measurement of viewable impressions. Rather than focusing on the symptoms, it’s the total quality of the page  — or ideally the quality of the specific ad placement — we need to consider.  Fortunately, this is now quantifiable.  Page quality consists of elements including the content matter and structure of the page as well as the placement of the ad.  This includes:

  • Number of ads on a page.
  • Size of the ad relative to the content.
  • Professionalism of the page content.
  • Average number of ad collisions.
  • Average length of time an ad is in view.
  • Average time the page is view.
  • Share of view.
  • Context of the page content.
  • HTML code structure.

While some of these elements certainly can be subjective, the majority are clear objective elements that can now be measured and rated. These characteristics not only determine the quality of a page of media, but also the quality of the ad exposure itself.  Best of all, this information can be used to increase quality without sacrificing scale or automation.

But while we can measure media quality and begin raising standards, there are core issues that must first be addressed. One critical issue is essentially cultural: historically, in our industry, we have rewarded the quantity of view through impressions and clicks over their quality. This sends publishers the clear message that quality doesn’t matter, and doesn’t incent anyone to lift a finger to improve the advertising environment.

To make matters worse, this may lead to even poorer results. Consider this scenario: without the assurance that ads are actually in view and placed on legitimate, quality sites, how do we know what we are optimizing to? We could be optimizing to standards set by low cost, not in view or fraudulent placements that tend to generate high view throughs. If we do this, our “optimization” efforts actually have the opposite effect, as this will never lead to increased sales despite what attribution analysis may conclude. Ultimately, this will negatively impact the publisher as well as the advertiser, because good publishers will be losing out to lower quality, cheaper inventory providers.

This does not have to be the reality.  We can change this by shifting our click-obsessed culture to one that values quality at least as much, if not more than, quantity. It begins by not only quantifying quality, but also measuring performance based on the quality of impressions rather than just the quantity.  If we start recognizing and rewarding superior quality, publishers will take note. In an industry where advertisers are willing to pay more for better impressions, the demand for such inventory will elevate market prices. Moreover, as the market price for quality inventory rises in exchanges, premium publishers will have greater incentive to put more of their impressions into the exchanges and keep the market accessible for advertisers of all budgets. That’s better for everyone.

As prices increase for quality inventory, it will ideally be incentive for both writers and established publishers to begin to focus on creating higher quality content. In this scenario, lower quality media will be recognized for what it is, and the supply will shrink as the demand rapidly decreases. Scale will not be an issue, as there’s already too much available inventory today. As buyers and sellers gain new insights and data around what is quality and what isn’t in terms of environment and exposure, we’ll see the quality content grow and the exchanges become more efficient marketplaces.  Ultimately, the web will effectively become a better place for all parties.

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